Behind the Box Score: Nebraska's Shot Profile on Defense
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Behind the Box Score: Nebraska’s Shot Profile on Defense

April 11, 2019

Since the 2018-19 basketball season officially went in the books, I have been looking at some season-long numbers, splits and other random things that give a little insight into what caused the year to go awry. 

First I looked at box plus/minus from the year, then rim finishing. Now, a look at 3-point defense. The following is just going to be data with context. There won’t be a ton of commentary from my end; you can draw your own conclusions on what really went wrong and why.

 The following lists Nebraska’s defensive shot chart — where they gave up their looks and what percentage opponents shot at each level. The first two sets of numbers were gathered after the team broke for Christmas on Dec. 23. The last two sets represent a season’s worth of data. (This data comes from, which continuously updates rather than showing splits; the pre-Christmas numbers come from a story I wrote at the time.) The Huskers’ Big Ten ranking in each category is listed in parenthesis. 

  % of FGs (Christmas) FG% (Christmas) % of FGs (Season) FG% (Season)
At the rim 37.4% (8) 53.2% (4) 35.8% (7) 57.0% (6)
2-point jumpers 34.0% (2) 30.7% (1) 29.9% (4) 34.4% (8)
3-pointers 28.6% (1) 26.6% (1) 34.3% (5) 33.2% (10)

One thing that bears mentioning: the second set is cumulative. It includes the first set. So the actual difference between pre-Christmas break and post-Christmas break is even more severe. 

Nebraska’s 3-point defense cratered. The Huskers went from one of the most disciplined, forward-thinking defensive units to an indifferent one guarding the perimeter. The main game you can point to is the Iowa road loss on Jan. 6, when the Huskers gave up 93 points and 10 made 3s on 45.5 percent shooting from beyond the arc. The Hawkeyes were free to run in transition without anyone stopping the ball and Nebraska seemed to gladly give up open triples throughout. 

So, here are the splits for 3-point defense on the season.

  Non-conference Conference Postseason
Attempts per game 18.3 20.1 22.2
3P percentage 23.9% 37.3% 35.1%

Some notes:

>> You expect your efficiency numbers to take a few hits when you enter conference play, as it’s usually the meat of the schedule for most high-major programs. But Nebraska went from what was a top-10 3-point defense at the start of the season to tied for 108th at the end of the season.

That 37.3 percent they posted over conference play, if that was spread over an entire season it would have tied the Huskers with Oregon State, Holy Cross and DePaul for 322nd nationally. There are 353 teams playing Division I.

Nine different times during conference play alone this season Nebraska's opponent hit at least 40 percent of its triples. That only happened four times last year.

>> The 2-point jumper percentage is interesting. Moneyball defense (or Moreyball if you want to go that route) is all the rage in modern basketball. New-age defenses try to force long 2s, which are the worst-value shot in basketball. A 19-foot jumper, percentage-wise, is as tough as a 22-foot jumper but worth one fewer point. It’s a bad shot. Nebraska was good at forcing teams into those thanks to a clear athletic advantage in the non-conference and discipline early on in conference play. 

The field goal percentage increase from 30.7 before break to 34.4 for the season isn't just an increase of 3.7 percentage points, it's a little bigger than that, but I'd be curious to know the coaching staff's thoughts on whether that was just better players hitting tougher shots in bigger moments or if there was a waning commitment to the gameplan.

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