The Huskers host Washington State on Monday in the Cayman Islands Classic. Here's a preview of the matchup:
When: 6:30 p.m. Monday
Where: George Town, Grand Cayman
Radio: 590 AM (Omaha), 1400 AM (Lincoln)
2018-19 record: 11-21 (Current record: 2-2)
Offensive efficiency (KenPom): 160th
Defensive efficiency (KenPom): 161st
Trending: Can you be trending anywhere but down if you’re a Pac-12 school who gave up a double-digit second-half lead and lost at home to UNO? Give the Mavs credit. Derrin Hansen had his boys ready. But it shows the difficulty Kyle Smith will have at Washington State. Wazzu fired Ernie Kent last year, who was a Bill Moos hire. Moos extended Kent, too, so he stuck around well after he probably should have. Smith comes from San Francisco, where he won 63 games in three years. Smith has never made the NCAA tournament or the NIT. Just the CIT and CBI. His teams have never been dynamic, but they don’t turn the ball over, and they don’t typically shoot free throws well, for whatever reason.
Players to watch
» Isaac Bonton is a junior college transfer from Casper College after starting his career at Montana State. The 6-foot-3 junior scores 16 a game with 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Bonton has taken 14 or more shots in every game, and scored 12, 19, 15 and 18. He’s not a great 3-point shooter, but he’ll let them fly. He was 4 of 13 against UNO from deep. A high-volume shooter, but if he gets hot, he's tough to slow down.
» CJ Elleby is most of Washington State’s offense. He scores 21.8 points a game with 6.5 rebounds. He’s a 49.2% shooter from the floor and is 10 for 28 from 3-point range. Again, WSU will launch these suckers from deep if they’re good shooters or not. He did make four 3-pointers against UNO. Elleby has scored 25 or more twice this season.
Three keys for Nebraska
1. These two teams are kind of made for each other. Neither turns the ball over. Both first-year coaches taking over historically poor programs. Two teams who have the ability to get hot, but rarely do. This first focus is on rebounding. And this season is going to be redundant, I apologize in advance. But Washington State has out-rebounded just one team this year, and that was a win over Seattle University. Nebraska won’t win the rebounding battle. They probably won’t win that category all year. But if NU can at least snag a few offensive rebounds, that’d do them some good. The Huskers rebound just 20.7% of their misses, which ranks 325th in the country. They also give up offensive rebounds on 37.9% of opponents’ missed shots. That’s 344th. Get a few offensive rebounds, keep WSU off a few, and that may be the difference.
2. You have to like what the duo of true freshman bigs is doing for Nebraska. Yvan Ouedraogo scored 11 points — 6 in overtime — with 4 rebounds in 22 minutes against Southern. Kevin Cross added 8 points, making 4 of 6 shots. In the last two games, Cross and Ouedraogo have scored 29 points with 19 rebounds and only six turnovers. You’ll take that, especially with the way Cam Mack and Jervay Green are playing. So the key here is keep Ouedraogo and Cross involved. Cross opened up NU’s offense with a few touches in the post against Southern, and Nebraska has lost without Ouedraogo in overtime. A reminder they are just freshmen, but they’ve stepped up.
3. Here’s Nebraska’s free throw performances this season: 9 for 19, 19 for 29, 13 for 23, 19 for 37. In total, that’s 60 for 108 on the year. That’s 48 free points Nebraska has given up in a season that already includes a one-point double overtime loss, a six-point overtime win and a seven-point win at home. Nebraska is not good enough to miss that many free throws and get away with it. What’s especially ironic is that Nebraska has a unique ability getting to the rim. They shoot about 27 a game, which is 14th best in the country. The problem? They’re 338th in free throw shooting percentage. Gotta be better in the Caymans.
KenPom: Nebraska wins 71-70.
Chris Heady’s take: The reason why this basketball team is hard to pin down so far this season is they’re a walking statistical anomaly. Consider, NU began the Southern game 7 for 13 from 3-point range, 7 for 17 from the free throw line, and 7 of 17 from 2-point range. In that, they missed nine layups. How a team misses nine layups and just six 3s in the first 30 minutes of a basketball game is an answer only God and maybe Fred Hoiberg know. The point here is Nebraska’s an old truck being driven by a 5-year-old on his grandfather’s lap. Most of the time, the ride is fine. But there’s always that possibility the 5-year-old will crack the wheel and the truck will go into a cornfield. I don’t know how well Nebraska will play in the Caymans. But I don’t think Washington State is very good. And I think Nebraska is in a good place mentally to make this trip. Give me Nebraska by a hair, 65-63.