Fran-Graphs, Nebraska

Frangraphs-nebraska_medium

[Video still credit: Big Ten Network/RKO Pictures/Charles Laughton]

Ye gods, this game was unsightly. To give you an idea of just how ugly, the Hawks didn't score from the 5:31 mark in the first half until the 19:06 mark in the second half, and still led by four points before Josh Oglesby ended the drought with a three-pointer. Iowa couldn't make anything and turned the ball over repeatedly, but Nebraska somehow managed to look them look like a model of efficiency. The Huskers were clanking jump shots, wandering around on offense, and throwing the ball into the stands inexplicably. Nebraska shot just 28.6% on field goals in the first half and was 1-11 on threes, while Iowa was only scarcely better at 37.5% and 1-7 on threes. It was inevitable that one of the two teams would start making shots in the second half, and thankfully that team was Iowa.

I would like to make it more complicated than that, but I really think that explains most of the game. There's a pretty great XKCD strip that seems to apply here:

Sports_medium

Iowa played decent defense, I suppose, as did Nebraska, but there were open looks for both teams all game. The shots just started to fall for Iowa in the second half. The crucial stretch of the game came midway through the second half when Matt Gatens, Devyn Marble and Bryce Cartwright combined to score 18 points over the course of about four minutes, with Gatens and Marble draining four three-pointers between them. The Hawks made a smart adjustment by getting into their offense earlier in the shot clock and were rewarded with a couple of open threes by Marble. Nebraska had actually done a pretty good job locking down Gatens until that stretch, with the 6'6" Toney McCray playing very tight on him on the perimeter, but during this stretch the shorter Brandon Richardson was on Gatens, and that allowed him to get a couple of decent looks at three (one thanks to a very nice back pick by Cartwright).

The game had a very 2011 feel to it, with Cartwright playing well for the most part (11 points, five assists, but four turnovers), and important minutes on defense by Eric May and Andrew Brommer. Iowa went to their zone for much of the second half and May and Brommer did a fine job of rotating out to the perimeter and then crashing the boards when the shot went up. Iowa increased their lead to 14 and then more or less coasted to the end of the game. The nail in the coffin was a very unaccustomed Cartwright three with five minutes left. It was far from Iowa's most attractive victory, but it counted; that makes three Big 10 road wins and a conference record of 8-9 heading into the regular season finale with Northwestern.

Stray observations

  • This game was on ESPN U, which meant (for me) a highly pixelated game that would frequently freeze and then jump ahead 15 seconds. It also apparently meant that we got ESPN's trainee crew of production staff, as the camera would frequently switch back to the action three seconds after play had resumed. The really annoying thing is that it must be impossible for many Iowans -- those without high speed internet or the right cable TV package -- to see the team play at all many nights.
  • And just to highlight the inequality between the fans of the teams and the teams themselves, the broadcast team showed a brief video of Nebraska's new basketball facilities: iPad 2 stations for every player, two 103-inch high definition TVs in the lounge (surrounded by several other "smaller" HD screens), TV screens in the toilet stalls, and personal robot butlers. Okay, the last part isn't true, but the rest is, which is disgusting enough. Maybe Iowa matches Nebraska in its opulence, but if so, it's hard to see what these kind of "facilities" have to do with basketball, or what separates them from simple bribery. If my guess is correct, it would count as some kind of NCAA violation if a coach just went to Best Buy and purchased iPads and HDTVs for their players' apartments and dorm rooms, so why is it kosher to buy the same stuff as long as it's within the confines of the stadium? Will we see the day that teams add "sleeping" and "driving" facilities in the form of king-size beds and Lamborghinis? I'm all for better compensation of players, but can't we do it in a more straightforward and less sketchy way?
  • It was Nebraska's Senior Day, which the students celebrated by having Señor Day. This was offensive for two reasons: 1) That's our bit, you bastards, and 2) our shenanigans were fun and cheeky, but theirs were cruel and tragic and borderline racist. The site of a bunch of white Nebraskans with mustaches and ponchos was pretty cringe-worthy. Persons of Hispanic or Latino heritage account for 9.2% of Nebraska's population per the 2010 Census, so they may be getting some letters on this one. To be clear, I'm not sure the university was actually behind the whole thing -- it could have just been those students -- but it was still very weird.
  • The announcers kept talking about how Nebraska is a great defensive team, and they did play pretty well on that end against Iowa, but overall they are a very poor defensive team. They just happen to be one of the slower teams in the country -- 323rd in the nation in possessions per game -- which masks their true defensive weakness. Nebraska gives up 1.09 points per possession, just marginally better than Iowa's 1.10 number. Iowa is the fastest team in the Big Ten, though, so our defense winds up looking worse than it already is (which is, to be fair, pretty bad).
  • The game against Northwestern Saturday is shaping up to be a very important one. Think of it: Iowa could crush the dreams of every Northwestern fan who has dreamed of going to the NCAA tournament for the first time. What more incentive could fans have to come to the game than the chance for the choicest of all nectar, Northwestern unhappiness; or, as the Germans call it: wildkatzenschadenfreude.
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