After Early-Season Malaise
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

After Early-Season Malaise, Nebraska is Finding its Shooting Touch

December 04, 2019

Listening to Fred Hoiberg talk is a kind of treat. He’s mindful of the numbers. All the numbers. Ask him about rebounding and he rips off the offensive rebounds Nebraska has surrendered in each of its last four games (18, 15, 13, and 16; “If we don’t fix that it’s going to start getting ugly real quick,” he says), then cites the Huskers’ pace (15th amongst high-majors in KenPom’s adjusted tempo), then he gives you the exact offensive rebounding percentage his defense is allowing. 

It’s 37.4%. 

He tells you why it’s so high (“The corner crash is really hurting us”), and he stresses that it needs to drop because, as he points to the Huskers two wins in the Cayman Islands Classic, when they can get out and run, they’re darn good. (They are.)

Nebraska’s head coach (still feels weird) is not afraid to declare himself an analytics guy. He was a 3-point shooter in the NBA and his coaching successes have been built on leveraging offensive efficiencies to out-shoot teams. 

Hoiberg trusts the math. 

It’s why he wasn’t panicking over the Huskers’ cold shooting to open the season. 

Nebraska lost to UC-Riverside at home in an opener that shocked the Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd because it had to witness a team billed as a marksman-type unit shoot 6-of-26 from deep (23.1%), 9-of-19 from the free throw line (47.4%), and 16-of-55 from the field overall (29.1%). Nebraska couldn’t buy a bucket. The 47 points scored were an offensive worst for a Hoiberg-coached team. 

In a double-overtime loss to Southern Utah, again at home, four nights later, Nebraska shot just 37% from the field, missed 10 of its 29 free throws and was worse from the 3-point line than in the opener (5-of-26). 

“All shooting is mental,” Hoiberg said Tuesday when he met with media ahead of Nebraska’s first true road contest of the season, a date with Georgia Tech Wednesday night. 

Nebraska’s profile hasn’t changed much. The Huskers are getting around 37% of their offensive attempts from transition, with 83% of those shots coming either at the rim or at the 3-point line. Nebraska’s percentage of 3s overall is slightly above average (38.3%). Largely, the offense is adhering to the plan. 

In recent weeks, the numbers have risen. 

An overtime win over Southern, win No. 2 on the season and right before the Cayman trip, saw the Huskers start scorching the nylon in PBA. Fifty-seven percent of NU’s shot attempts fell that night as did 12 of its 21 3s. Nebraska also attempted 37 free throws (but only made 19, baby steps.)

Washington State saw Nebraska hit 9-of-18 from deep, George Mason got hit for 10-of-30 and then South Florida gave up 6-for-14 (42.9%). 

Nebraska has shot 50% or better from the field in three of its last four. It has posted an offensive rating of 105 or better in four of its last five. The team’s percentage at the line has steadily risen each of the last four outings (51.4 against WSU, then 52, then 61.5, then 73.7% most recently).

If you miss the first one, it’s contagious and guys start thinking about it a lot. You just have to trust your stroke,” Hoiberg said. “Glad to see us get our 3-point numbers up a bit and hopefully the free throw shooting follows now. It was great to see Haanif, who’s a historically good free throw shooter who had really been struggling, make 9-of-11 in the last game. One of those he missed when he lost his contact. Especially to hit those two at the end to make it a three-possession game. I’m confident our guys will continue to see those numbers go in the right direction.”

Nebraska has hit 44.5% from deep over its last four. 

“A lot of it is making the extra pass and guys stepping up with confidence.”

The first part is trusting Hoiberg, trusting his plan, and trusting the math. The latter, Nebraska, now 4-3, is finally shooting with.

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