The Huskers still have NCAA tournament dreams. Reinventing the offense can make that a reality

NU point guard Glynn Watson shook off a slump with 19 points against Minnesota, taking advantage of plays Tim Miles hadn’t used in two seasons.

LINCOLN — Nebraska’s first offensive possession against Minnesota caught the Gophers off guard.

Glynn Watson, Thomas Allen and James Palmer danced above the 3-point line, in a three-man dribble weave, waiting for a Minnesota defender to slip up. One finally did, and Watson attacked, slashing down the right side of the lane and scooping in a score to take a 2-0 lead.

The action is something Tim Miles hadn’t run since the 2016-17 season, with Tai Webster. It was a staple from 2013 to 2015 with Terran Petteway.

The plan was to keep it in the closet this season. Miles didn’t like the set with his current team. But with Isaac Copeland out, it’s back.

“I was watching Purdue. I was like, ‘We’re not downhill at all,’ ” Miles said. “So we just put in a couple sets and I liked it right away.”

During Nebraska’s seven-game losing streak, defense wasn’t a huge issue, especially at home. Maryland scored just 60 on Nebraska, Wisconsin just 62. Ohio State and Michigan State both scored 70, but below their average.

Sign up for Big Red Today news alerts

Get a daily Husker news roundup, recruiting updates and breaking news in your inbox.

It was the offense — or lack thereof — that really bit NU. In the final four games of that losing streak, the Huskers averaged just 27 points per half and 55 a game.

But the losing streak is over, thanks in part to the reintroduction of old Miles plays. The move is a mark of transformation, which Nebraska needed after the Copeland injury and during this late-season slump, and a transformation that may not be complete, but has the program feeling like it’s moving in the right direction.

“When you put together a play package and all this, you assume the worst at times but you say, ‘OK, when it’s crunch time, these are the guys we’re gonna have on the floor, these are gonna be our most reliable actions,’” Miles said. “And then when you take a versatile player and an efficient player like Isaac out and put in somebody else, it’s not the same. Now everything just changes a little bit. I think we have a better understanding of what our most reliable things are and what we have to do to get there.”

Whether or not the Minnesota win was a fluke, or a sign of things to come with an productive offense, will be tested on Saturday by Northwestern.

Chris Collins’ team is 12-12 on the season and 3-10 in conference play. Northwestern is in the middle of a five-game losing streak, and, in some ways, mirrors Nebraska’s recent slump. Offensively, the Wildcats have been underwhelming, with one of the worst effective field-goal percentages in the country. But they do defend. Just one team has scored more than 70 points on them during the streak.

“I think Chris Collins has done a wonderful job there,” Miles said. “I think they’ve played well even though they haven’t won.”

Nebraska may get Nana Akenten back after the sophomore was held out against Minnesota due to an illness. Akenten warmed up before the game, but never checked in. Miles said Akenten practiced full go for the first time on Thursday and will be 100 percent for Saturday’s tip.

The word of the weekend is hope. Nebraska has it again. National pundits are already back on the hype train, projecting an NCAA tournament bid. Northwestern provides Nebraska its best chance for a win for the rest of the year. After that comes a road trip to Penn State, where No. 6 Michigan just lost, then a slugfest with No. 12 Purdue, at Michigan, at No. 11 Michigan State and a home game with Iowa.

There’s a path to the postseason, Miles said, that his team sees. He’s not ready to talk about it yet. But seeing his team dreaming again is a good sign.

“As a coach, you worry about them losing hope,” Miles said. “I think you saw a group (that said), ‘Yeah, I see a path of where we can still be a viable team and make the postseason.’ And I think that’s important. Because you don’t want to lose that.”

Get a daily Husker news roundup, recruiting updates and breaking news in your inbox.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Chris Heady covers Husker football and is the Nebraska men's basketball beat writer. He started at The World-Herald in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @heady_chris. Email: chris.heady@owh.com.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Recommended for you

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.