Sometimes basketball is a pretty simple game.
Shoot its season average from the free-throw line against Maryland, and Nebraska has two more points in what turned out to be a two-point loss. Play their normal three-point defense, and the Huskers hold the Terps to three or four fewer threes than the eight they made.
Suddenly a tough loss is a nice win. And maybe Isaiah Roby gets a little more sleep.
But it was a loss. And one frustrating enough to make Nebraska's forward a little bleary-eyed the next day.
"I didn't even go to sleep until like 6 a.m. after the Maryland game. I was so mad I couldn't sleep on the plane (on the trip home)," Roby said Saturday. "Then yesterday in film, we're usually talking and stuff, and Glynn's not saying anything. He's in there; he's mad. We're all mad about it."
Anger is fine as long as you can channel it in the proper way, NU coach Tim Miles said. For the Huskers, that means finding the fixes to a defense that has failed to a startling degree in Nebraska's two Big Ten losses away from Lincoln.
With Nebraska (11-3, 1-2 Big Ten) going on the road yet again to play Iowa (11-3, 0-3) on Sunday in a 4:30 p.m. tip in Iowa City, finding the right formula quickly is important in what has suddenly become a game of great importance for both teams.
The Huskers could very well be 3-0 in the league if not for a series of defensive breakdowns that came after NU had built good leads against both Minnesota and Maryland.
Take the loss to the Terps: From the 15:30 mark of the second half — when Nebraska led by eight and Maryland was at the end of a string of 12 misses in 13 shot attempts — to the end of the game, the Huskers were outscored 35-25.
Maryland made 14 of 22 shots (64 percent) in that stretch. The Terps rebounded six of their eight misses and scored 10 second-chance points. Of the 35 points, 20 came in the paint. Maryland scored 1.46 points per possession during the run. Nebraska's goal for each game is to hold its opponent to 0.99 points per possession or less.
It was a similar story against Minnesota: Nebraska was outscored 27-10 over the final 8:42 as a 10-point lead vanished. The Gophers hit 8-of-13 shots (62 percent) and scored 1.59 points per possession while scoring 12 of the 27 points in the paint.
"We're not playing aggressive enough defensively. We're kind of relaxing off the ball; we're not playing five as one," Roby explained. "We've just got to be engaged every play. Even when we build leads on the road, we can't get complacent. We've got to keep competing every play."
It is a very fine line in the Big Ten. Both Minnesota and Maryland look the part of pretty good teams, and Nebraska had control of both games. The Huskers led for more than 31 minutes against Minnesota and for more than 23 against the Terps.
But to turn close games into victories, a team must play to the buzzer.
"It's capitalizing on those chances when we have an opportunity to build the lead or seize the moment," Miles said. "It's not difficult to get yourself upset over what happened at Maryland. Maryland is a high-quality team. I think we've seen Minnesota is a high-quality team.
"When you have those opportunities and how you handle it and how you put it into play the next time out and do it consistently is what's important to me."
Rebounding was always going to be a concern for this Nebraska team, and that has borne itself out in Nebraska's two league losses. Better execution and attention to detail will mitigate the issue if not entirely solve it.
So will a short memory.
"There might be an instance where it feels like the same thing again. And you just can't allow that," Miles said. "Don't major in history. They're all dead."
1. Michigan (15-0, 4-0 Big Ten)
Looking like the Wolverines will be 17-0 when they start a four-game stretch at Wisconsin, home against Minnesota, at Indiana and home against Ohio State. Michigan looked like the best team in the country for the first 10 minutes of Sunday's game against Indiana. The Wolverines are 29-1 in their last 30 games, with the only loss coming in last season's national championship game.
Up next: at Illinois Thursday; vs. Northwestern Sunday
2. Michigan State, (13-2, 4-0)
It looks like Michigan, Michigan State, then everyone else in the Big Ten through the first 20 percent of the season. The Spartans are averaging 86 points per game during their current eight-game winning streak, with six of those victories by double digits.
Up next: vs. Purdue Tuesday; at Penn State Sunday
3. Ohio State, (12-2, 2-1)
Tough to drop the Buckeyes after a really competitive game against Michigan State in which the Spartans pulled away late in the second half to win by nine. Ohio State is, right now, probably the most complete of the second tier of teams in the league.
Up next: at Rutgers Wednesday; at Iowa Saturday
10. Nebraska (11-4, 1-3)
Nebraska seems caught between trying to defend the three like it did early in the season while also trying to improve its defensive rebounding, and is doing neither. The Huskers are last in the Big Ten in three-point percentage defense, 10th in field goal percentage defense, 12th in rebounding margin, 13th in defensive rebounds per game, and last in defensive rebounding percentage. It's not time to panic yet, but there are some real issues that need to be resolved.
Up next: vs. Penn State Thursday; at Indiana Jan. 14
6. Wisconsin (11-4, 3-1)
Scored just 14 first-half points in a grotesque home loss to Minnesota. Teams are discovering if they can keep it close against the Badgers late in the second half, the Hack-A-Happ strategy becomes pretty good. Senior forward Ethan Happ is an excellent player, but is shooting just 49 percent from the foul line and went 1-for-7 against the Gophers.
Up next: vs. Purdue Friday; at Maryland Jan. 14
8. Indiana (12-3, 3-1)
Still not sure what to make of the Hoosiers. Their three league wins have come against the Nos. 11, 12 and 13 teams in these rankings, with two of those wins by two points and another by eight. Michigan led Indiana 30-13 just 10 minutes into their Sunday matchup before eventually winning by 12.
Up next: at Maryland Friday; vs. Nebraska Jan. 14
5. Maryland (12-3, 3-1)
Followed up the Nebraska thriller with a road blowout of Rutgers. Things ramp up significantly over the next two weeks, but for now the Terps look built to compete for a top-third Big Ten finish. Bruno Fernando is a physical freak, and freshman Jalen Smith is the real deal.
Up next: at Minnesota Tuesday; vs. Indiana Friday
7. Purdue, (9-5, 2-1)
Smacked Iowa 86-70 last week in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score indicated. Two tough tests this week with trips to Michigan State and Wisconsin. Feels like a team that will just kind of hang around somewhere in the top half of the standings all season.
Up next: at Michigan State Tuesday; at Wisconsin Friday
9. Iowa (12-3, 1-3)
The Hawkeyes were desperate for a win against Nebraska, and got it at home. Forward Luka Garza, a 6-foot-10 ball of energy, also made his return, and his presence makes Iowa much better. But this is still a team with issues, particularly on the defensive end.
Up next: at Northwestern Wednesday; vs. Ohio State Saturday
4. Minnesota (12-2, 2-1)
The comeback win against Nebraska was the start of a six-game winning streak for the Gophers, who haven't lost since Ohio State spanked them by 20 more than a month ago. There's a real chance Minnesota is 16-2 and 6-1 in the league when it travels to Michigan in a couple weeks.
Up next: vs. Maryland Tuesday; vs. Rutgers Saturday
11. Northwestern (10-5, 1-3)
Three of Northwestern's four league games have been decided by two points, including Sunday's nail-biter against Illinois. The Wildcats seem to be good enough to give a lot of teams trouble, and shaky enough to lose to anyone in the conference. That's a tough way to make a living.
Up next: vs. Iowa Wednesday; at Michigan Sunday
12. Penn State, (7-8, 0-4)
A impossibly difficult start to conference play — games against Maryland, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin — have put the Nittany Lions in an early hole. This team really struggles on offense. And head coach Patrick Chambers was suspended for the Wisconsin game after shoving one of his players. Things are not so happy right now in Happy Valley.
Up next: at Nebraska Thursday, vs. Michigan State Sunday
13. Illinois (4-11, 0-4)
Illinois was in position, leading Northwestern under a minute to play on the Wildcats' home court. Then the Illini gave up the game-winning three with 10 seconds left off an offensive rebound. Then they fumbled an inbounds pass and had to throw up a desperation shot that missed. Next they get to play Michigan. Hard times.
Up next: vs. Michigan Thursday; vs. Minnesota Jan. 16
14. Rutgers (7-6, 0-3)
While Nebraska has already played three road games, Rutgers still has nine road contests left, including seven of their last 12. And there's a decent chance the Scarlet Knights won't be favored in any of their remaining home games either. It's tough, tough sledding when you're at the bottom of the Big Ten.
Up next: vs. Ohio State Wednesday; at Minnesota Saturday