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Nebraska kicked off the Fred Hoiberg era (kind of) with a 91-63 win over Doane in its lone exhibition of the 2019-20 season Wednesday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Huskers open the season for real next Tuesday, Nov. 5, against UC Riverside at 8 p.m. CT at home.
Until then, here are three thoughts from the team’s first win that won’t actually count.
Not a Ton of Size, But a Ton of Skill
While guard Jervay Green was throwing down a windmill and fellow guard Dachon Burke was working on his stepback triple and the rest of the new-look Nebraska basketball squad warmed up, I was looking at the three guys sitting on the bench watching the action.
Dalano Banton, probably the tallest guy on the roster, was over there sitting. Shamiel Stevenson, a 6-foot-6 wing player who plays bigger than he seems, was with him. Derrick Walker, a perfect four-man for defensive guy Doc Sadler to build a scheme around, was over there too.
Those three would be major pieces of the rotation in Big Ten play. But none of them are eligible. (Nebraska’s waiting on an immediate eligibility waiver on Stevenson, a Nevada transfer whose chances they feel optimistic about.) So none of them were part of the rotation Wednesday night.
Nebraska started four guards 6-foot-6 and under and a true freshman center. Size is not a strength.
Against Doane it didn’t matter. The Tigers aren’t much bigger. Against the teams that matter, though… Nebraska will be waiting to see on that one, too.
This, I think, is what we’re going to get a ton of this year. Nebraska didn’t shoot it well from beyond the arc (28.6%), missing its first eight attempts, but some of the shooting percentage stuff doesn’t much matter right now. Sea legs and what not. Most of the looks, though, were solid.
Nebraska played five-out often. Yvan Ouedraogo, the 6-foot-9 true freshman center, posted up because he can’t shoot, but the other big that saw minutes for Nebraska, fellow freshman Kevin Cross, played like a guard.
Cross grabbed a board and took off to lead the break. He took his man off the dribble from just inside the arc, then rebounded his own miss on the drive and put it back up for points. He found Cam Mack slicing backdoor with a nifty bounce pass.
If this is the way Nebraska’s going to operate, that’s the way Cross is going to have to play, because there wasn’t much for Ouedraogo to feast on. Nebraska looked to push tempo off makes and misses. It looked to play the passing lanes on defense to ignite its transition. With so many ball-handlers on the court, the Huskers whip the ball back and forth when they’re out on the break; they have a bunch of smart passers who also happen to be unselfish.
The ball doesn’t stick much. At least, it didn’t Wednesday night. Nebraska forced 17 turnovers and registered 22 assists on 36 made shots. (Nebraska had 20 assists in a game last year just three times.) Hoiberg, noted proponent of the analytics movement, watched his group post a shot chart that looks as close to Morey-ball as you can get (almost no non-paint 2s). At one point midway through the second half, Green was walking the ball up the floor off a made bucket and Hoiberg gestured for him to get over the timeline faster.
Hoiberg’s kids probably learned to run before they walk.
A 31-3 first-half run that blew the game open was accomplished by speeding it up, forcing errors and converting in transition.
We’ll worry about the size thing when Big Ten play rolls around (because it will be a worry), but in the meantime, it’ll be nice to see the home team swing the ball around inside PBA.
I don’t know how many games this Nebraska team will win this year. Could be a decent amount. Could be one of those situations where they’re in every game and lose a bunch late while they get things sorted out.
What I do know, and what was confirmed with a first appearance, is that it’s going to be incredibly entertaining to watch.
I don’t think the scoring droughts are going to totally disappear, that just kinda comes with the territory when you fire up as many perimeter shots as the Huskers, but the process behind the shots will be different.
Green slashes toward the basket, gets a pass delivered right on time, jumps and pulls a 360 in the air to avoid a Doane shot-blocker, but instead of trying what would have been a difficult layup, he kicks to senior Haanif Cheatham in the opposite corner.
Cheatham air-mails the shot. But the build-up was wonderfully weird.
Sophomore guard Cam Mack tried to kill a dude with a tomahawk dunk he wasn’t close to being able to pull off.
Walk-on guard Charlie Easley tried throwing a rainbow alley-oop over a defender while running in transition to freshman forward Akol Arop and Arop blew a highlight dunk.
Green—who finished with eight points, five boards and three assists on 3-of-6 shooting (0-of 3 from 3) in 20 minutes—is going to have so many highlight plays this season because he’s just a creative player that doesn’t second-guess. He just does.
Freshman guard Samari Curtis has extreme confidence. Same goes for Burke.
The results might not always be the preferred ones for Big Red, but the monotony of last year’s squad won’t be present. The postgame press conferences are going to be colorful. The personality is overflowing with this group.
Wonderfully weird might be the best way to describe this season, in terms of the roster makeup of the team, the way that team goes about its business and how that business gets handled.
The Point Guard
Cam Mack is awesome.
Sorry, Cam Mack’s eyes are awesome.
In the first half, Mack drove right, toward a Thorir Thorbjarnarson standing in the corner. Thorbjarnarson cut baseline while his man was looking at Mack. Mack no-looked a pass to Thorbjarnarson for an easy two. He made glasses with his fingers and covered his eyes.
If you move, Mack will find you.
It was the third in a series of fancy dimes from the former junior college guard.
First, he found Cheatham streaking down the left flank for an easy two. Mack had no angle to feed a pass to Cheatham—too close to the hoop to throw a skip pass, too many guys in the way to try a bounce a ball to Cheatham, and not enough height on Cheatham’s part to catch a lob. So Mack jumped and dropped a ball over the top of his man right into Cheatham’s arms.
Next time down the court, he had the first of back-to-back no-look dimes, this time to Cross on the low block, between defenders, for an and-one.
Mack finished with just five points on 2-of-7 shooting, but he had seven boards, eight assists and only one turnover. Mack rebounds out of his area, fights for the ball and then looks to run at every opportunity. And he doesn’t look for his shot, he looks to play-make.
The kid is good.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.