The Huskers open the 2019-20 season at home against UC Riverside. Here's a preview of the matchup:
When: 8 p.m. on Tuesday
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena
Radio: 590 AM (Omaha), 1400 AM (Lincoln)
Online: Fox Sports App
2018-19 record: 10-23, 4-12 Big West
2018-19 postseason: None
KenPom offensive efficiency: 289th last year (NU: 30th)
KenPom defensive efficiency: 331st last year (NU: 79th)
Trending: Up-ish? It’s game one, so hard to tell if this UC Riverside team will be much better than it was last year. But it is year two under coach David Patrick, and the Highlanders bring back a handful of starters and bring in two Division-I transfers. Preseason projections show UC Riverside finishing the year 14-18, so a slight improvement from last season.
Players to watch
» Nebraska’s fatal flaw is size. So of course NU gets a 7-footer in game one. Callum McRae is a 7-foot-1, 275-pound sophomore who scored 7.6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last year. He was a late-bloomer with his best games coming in the final stretch of the season. He scored 20 with 14 rebounds against Cal State Northridge in late February. In UC Riverside's exhibition, he scored 15 with nine rebounds and four assists. A nice primer to get Nebraska ready for the Big Ten's size.
» Dikymbe Martin is a 6-foot-1, 170-pound senior guard. A hometown product from Riverside, he scored 14.8 a game last year with 2.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists. Martin is a shooter. He knocked down 44.2% of his 3-point attempts and 85.5% of his free throws. Can’t give him much space. Cam Mack — not known for being a tenacious defender — will get a good test early.
1. Find early energy. Nebraska was horrible in the opening five minutes against Doane, falling behind 10-2. They did recover and won big, but if they were nervous in a half-full Pinnacle Bank Arena, what will the reaction be to a full one? Even just making the first shot of the game can get everyone to relax. Run some early action for open shooters, knock those down, ease the nerves, put UC Riverside on edge.
2. Run McRae off the floor. This will be an interesting test run. Nebraska is always going to have a size disadvantage. It's going to play a few 7-footers in the Big Ten. Can Nebraska go so fast, get out in transition so often, that McRae gets tired and NU is able to neutralize the size deficiencies? Or will NU get bullied on the boards, slowed down due to an inability to grab a rebound, and let McRae and UC Riverside control the pace? A fascinating question with no simple answer, and we get a look at the experiment early. Nebraska wants to run, and they’ll have to be in the top 15 in terms of adjusted tempo to have chances against bigger teams, which is no doubt Hoiberg’s plan.
3. Gotta be a better shooting team than what happened against Doane. Nebraska shot 28% from 3-point range and below 50% from the free-throw line. Hoiberg’s teams averaged about 36% from 3-point range at Iowa State, slightly above average. For how small NU is, they need to be well above 28%, and maybe even closer to 38% to have a chance to finish .500 or better. The new players struggled inside PBA. They need to find a way to knock down shots at home.
Vegas: Nebraska is listed as a 15-point favorite.
KenPom: Nebraska wins 79-64.
Chris Heady’s take: A wonderful game of opposites. UC Riverside is slow, slow, slow. They ranked 340th in adjusted tempo last season and 347th in average possession length. They work it from the inside out to find a shot in the final few seconds of the shot clock. Which is Fred Hoiberg’s hell. Nebraska wants to get out and push it. Wants games in the 70s and 80s. UC Riverside’s final game last year was a 63-44 loss. McRae could feast on Nebraska’s bigs early. But expect Nebraska to figure it out eventually and one or two big runs to be the difference. Nebraska cruises for Hoiberg’s first win, 70-52.
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