It was a rough night for Nebraska basketball on Tuesday with a blowout loss to Illinois. Here are three takeaways.
Nebraska basketball still has a long way to go in the Big Ten conference and that was apparent on Tuesday night as the Huskers were dominated on their home floor by Illinois, 76-50.
The Fighting Illini looked like the preseason Big Ten favorite they were supposed to be, scoring 1.16 points per possession offense, while holding Nebraska basketball to a measly 0.76. Derrick Walker was held without a field goal in the first half.
Illinois forced Nebraska to turn the ball over on 22 percent of its possessions. The Illini also rebounded 37 percent of their misses and when you do all of that and shoot the ball well, you are going to win.
Nebraska attempted just 14 3-pointers and that’s part of the Illinois defensive plan — force tough 2s and individual plays. The Huskers couldn’t make them and frankly, the game was never competitive.
Here are three takeaways from Nebraska’s 26-point loss.
A sharp dose of reality
This Nebraska basketball team is better than last year. It’s more of a team, but Tuesday was a night when the Huskers could have used a player like Bryce McGowens. The Huskers don’t have anyone who can go get a good shot. Sam Griesel is a solid point guard and can do some nice things in the post but he shot 4-of-11 against Illinois.
Griesel just isn’t a guy you can isolate into a good shot all the time. The ball-screen offense didn’t do much and the Illini suffocated Nebraska. Walker only attempted seven shots all night. Keisei Tominaga and CJ Wilcher attempted just two combined 3-pointers in the loss.
It was a master class of defense from Illinois. The offense was really good too hitting eight triples and grabbing 13 offensive rebounds (losing Juwan Gary hurt). Illinois forced 17 turnovers compared to 10 forced by Nebraska and won the rebounding battle 39-29 making it an all-around butt-kicking and also serving as a reminder that this program still has a long way to go.
Juwan Gary injury will be crucial
Fred Hoiberg didn’t have much of an update on Juwan Gary. The forward didn’t return after suffering some sort of shoulder injury and it was definitely a factor.
Not only is Gary one of Nebraska’s best defenders, but he’s also a quality offensive player and has been a reliable 3-point shooter. He’s also a really good rebounder and has been essential to this defensive identity.
Gary is a bit undersized, yet he’s a perfect four. He can also play the three or even two if needed and is a glue guy for the Huskers. If he’s out for any extended period of time, that will be a killer.
One thing this Nebraska basketball team doesn’t have is depth.
Wilhelm Breidenbach continues to trend up
There weren’t many positives to take away from the Nebraska basketball loss, but one thing that I was encouraged by was the play of Wilhelm Breidenbach.
The former top-100 recruit was limited last season due to injury and started slowly in the 2022-23 season. However, in the last six games, he’s started to find some consistency. Last night, he knocked down two 3-pointers, which was the first time all season he had done that, on his way to 11 points.
It was the third time in the past six games that Breidenbach has reached double figures. He’s averaging just under eight points per game in that stretch, as well as four rebounds. He’s also made five treys in the last six games and has at least one make in four of the last six games.
Not only is it a positive development for this season, because quality minutes will be needed if Gary has to miss any time, but also for the future. Breidenbach needed to develop into a starting-caliber player and over the past few games, he’s started to look like he’s got that ability.
It wouldn’t be shocking if he was in the lineup on Friday at Purdue, and we’ll see if he can continue to build on his recent string of solid play.
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