Ohio's Mr. Basketball
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Padding the Stats: What’s Next for Nebraska Basketball?

March 29, 2019

We’re a few days into Bill Moos’ seven to 14-day timeline for his men’s basketball coaching search.

At this point, it seems like everybody knows how this “search” is going to end, but let’s put that aside for a moment. What should Moos be looking for?

He offered some insight into what he wants during his press conference following Miles’ termination. He wants a coach who will “entertain the fanbase while you’re building the program.”

“We’ve got to get the ball out, we’ve got to be scoring, I like to shoot the 3,” Moos said. “Play with some discipline, of course, but the game today, and the ones that are winning it, are lighting that scoreboard up. That’s something that we’ll certainly be looking for.”

Miles tried to build his program on defense, though offense often came as a significant struggle. Now, defense can be entertaining just like offense, but only when you’re winning. Nebraska wasn’t, and Moos wants something different. I don’t blame him.

Beyond any stylistic preference, however, Moos wants a coach that can take Nebraska to the NCAA Tournament — and win. Eight Big Ten teams did the former this season, and seven did the latter. What did those teams have in common? 

They were among the top-50 nationally in at least one of three areas: offensive rating, defensive rating and recruiting average. 

Offensive rating is the number of points scored per 100 possessions, while defensive rating is the number of points allowed per 100 possessions. It takes pace out of the equation, making it a more useful figure than raw scoring averages. In this case, the recruiting average is the average class ranking over the last four years according to 247Sports’ composite team rankings.

On Thursday, No. 3 seed Purdue became the second team to clinch a spot in the Elite Eight by knocking off No. 3 Tennessee in overtime. The Boilermakers’ success this season has been driven by its offense. Led by high-scoring guard Carsen Edwards, Purdue has had a 113.8 offensive rating, good for 12th nationally. 

Iowa, which earned a 10 seed, beat No. 7 Cincinnati before falling in the second round to the Volunteers. The Hawkeyes weren’t quite as elite offensively, but they were still strong with a 110.4 offensive rating, 47th overall.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the defensive dynamos. Michigan earned a No. 2 seed and advanced to the Sweet 16 thanks to one of the best defenses in the country. The Wolverines’ season ended on Thursday night as they ran into arguably the only team in the country who can claim to be better defensively — Texas Tech. Michigan had an 89.0 defensive rating this season, second nationally behind only the Red Raiders.

Wisconsin was a tremendous defensive team as well this season, though the Badgers were the only Big Ten qualifier that didn’t win a game as the fourth-seeded Badgers fell to the 12th-seeded Oregon Ducks in the first round. Wisconsin had a 93.5 defensive rating, 12th nationally.

Three teams made it on the strength of their recruiting, and all three teams were fairly balanced between offense and defense as well (not elite on either side, but not terrible either).

Ohio State has recruited the best of this group with a 24.5 average. The Buckeyes went through a coaching change during our window and the best class of this time frame, the 2015 one ranked 5th nationally, had no impact on this year’s team as no players from that class remain in Columbus. But Chirs Holtmann has recruited well at Ohio State and has one of the best classes in the country coming in next season. Ohio State was an 11 seed and upset No. 6 Iowa State in the first round before losing to Houston in the second round.

Maryland is top-100 in both offensive and defensive rating, but it isn’t close to the top in either one. Mark Turgeon’s recruiting has been strong, however, with a 32.0 average ranking. This year’s team included five 4-star recruits and one 5-star from the last three classes. Maryland was a 6 seed that beat Belmont in the first round before losing to No. 3 LSU at the buzzer in the second round.

Minnesota is probably the closest among the eight teams to being an outlier as the Golden Gophers were pretty average on both offense and defense, but they just cracked the top 50 in recruiting average at 45.0. Minnesota has three top-50 classes in the last four years. The Gophers beat No. 7 Louisville as a 10-seed in the first round before getting smashed by No. 2 Michigan State.

Speaking of the Spartans, I haven’t mentioned them in any of these categories because they belong in all three of them. The Spartans were 10th in offensive rating (114.0) and 23rd in defensive rating (94.5) and their four-year recruiting average is 23.5 including the 17th overall class in 2018 and the third-best class in 2016 which included the team’s to best players in Cassius Winston and Nick Ward. That Michigan State managed to win the Big Ten and rank so well on both sides of the ball despite all the injuries they suffered this year is  testament to the program Tom Izzy has built in East Lansing.

So there you have it: that is how teams have success in the Big Ten. There is no one way to win in this conference, but you better be really good at something.

Nebraska wasn’t under Tim Miles. The Huskers had a 106.5 offensive rating (112th) and a 99.7 defensive rating (118th) this season and their four-year recruiting ranking is 60.8. Of course, that recruiting number doesn’t factor in transfers which formed half of Nebraska’s core, but the point still stands.

Nebraska needs a coach that can excel in at least one area, whether it be offense, defense or recruiting. The program needs an identity, something it lacked under Miles. 

For those that are curious about Fred Hoiberg, his four-year recruiting average ranking was 69.5 during his last four years at Iowa State (I’m excluding his first season in Ames for this exercise). Holberg had a couple of solid classes in the middle (39th and 40th) that included some cornerstones of that program like Georges Niang and Monte Morris, but Holberg made his hay on the transfer market more and more in Ames as his career progressed, which doesn’t factor into those rankings. On the defensive side of the ball, Iowa State had a 139.0 rating, barely above average. It was offense where Holberg’s teams truly stood out as his teams had an average offensive rating ranking of 29.8 over those four years.

Hoiberg made four straight NCAA Tournaments (and won four tournament games) coming out of the Big 12 with the same formula that worked in the Big Ten this season, and there’s no reason to think that, if he is indeed the guy, he won’t be able to do the same thing in Lincoln.

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