Most if not all of the members of the Nebraska basketball team should be on campus for summer classes and team workouts. The offseason is the time where the greatest amount of improvement happens. Typically in season, players are just trying to keep their skills sharp in addition to learning scouting reports and game plans. For a team like Nebraska that has struggled so much offensively under Tim Miles, this time is crucial.
Today’s basketball is all about floor spacing, and the best way to create that spacing is to put shooters on the floor. Taking a look at the postseason coaches poll, five of the top 10 teams in the country shot 38 percent or better form the 3-point line, which is a very good mark. Four others shot better than 35 percent, which is good enough that teams have to respect the threat of the 3-point shot. Only one team, the most surprising Final Four team in South Carolina, shot under 34 percent from deep.
Nebraska shot 32 percent last year.
Furthermore, seven of those 10 teams finished in the top 25 nationally in opponent’s 3-point percentage. All 10 shot better from the arc than their opponents on average.
Nebraska’s opponents shot 39.9 percent, good for 348th in the country. There are 351 Division I teams in college basketball.
North Carolina was an average 3-point shooting team, but the Tar Heels made up for it by crashing the glass relentlessly, sharing the ball better than most teams in the country and getting the ball inside to their big men to score on the interior. Kentucky overwhelmed teams with its athleticism and was able to score at a high rate because of its ability to get into the paint to finish or draw fouls. The Gamecocks made a miracle run through the tournament on the strength of a defense that held opponents to 40.1 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from 3-point range, both top-20 marks nationally.
Villanova shot slightly above average on 3-pointers but they made up for that by taking a ton of them while also being incredibly efficient inside the arc (second nationally) and from the free-throw line (third). Florida was solid in a lot of different areas, but its strengths were defense and rebounding as the Gators were top 50 in both areas.
Nebraska did not shoot well and it did not make up for it in any other area of the game.
Nebraska ranked inside the top 50 nationally in one category, offensive rebounding, but that wasn’t nearly enough to compensate for everywhere else that the Huskers were weak.
The 2017-18 Nebraska team is going to look dramatically different than last year’s iteration. The primary sources of those offensive rebounds – Ed Morrow Jr. and Michael Jacobson – are gone. However, this has the potential to be a very good shooting team, and if that’s the case it should help Nebraska’s offense improve across the board.
Glynn Watson Jr. turned himself into a near-40 percent shooter last season and is a strong piece to build around. He’s more than capable of creating good perimeter looks for himself and others. Jack McVeigh has been hit or miss overall thus far in his career, but he has put together some strong stretches of perimeter shooting and can be a difference-maker when he’s in rhythm.
Both of Nebraska’s incoming freshmen have reputations as knock-down shooters, first and foremost. Thomas Allen, the 4-star combo-guard from Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, reportedly shot 48 percent on a high volume of 3-pointers during his senior season. Nana Akenten, a 3-star wing from Bolingbrook, Illinois, is also a terrific 3-point shooter with a lot of lineup versatility at 6-foot-6.
Nebraska’s transfers could both help significantly depending on which versions of them the Huskers get.
James Palmer Jr., a 6-foot-6 wing, shot a respectable 23-of-63 (36.5 percent) from 3 as a freshman before slumping as a sophomore (13-of-47, 27.7 percent), seeing his role reduced and ultimately deciding to transfer. Palmer’s mechanics are a bit odd, but he shot well enough in practice and the Huskers are expecting him to shoot in the mid-to-upper 30s as a junior, which is more than good enough for a player who is also capable of making plays off the bounce.
Similarly, 6-foot-9 forward Isaac Copeland shot 21-of-34 (38.9 percent) as a freshman at Georgetown. However, his shot abandoned him as he played a bigger role his sophomore year as he converted just 34 of his 125 attempts (27.2 percent). Copeland is a near 80 percent shooter form the line, which is an indicator that he could be close to the guy he was as a freshman with a year to get completely healthy and a fresh start on a new team.
Last year, Nebraska had one player shoot 34 percent or better from the 3-point line. This year, the Huskers could potentially have up to six of them without even hoping for improvement from sophomore Isaiah Roby or senior Anton Gill. If that holds true, driving lanes will open up for Watson, Palmer, Roby and others and more post-up opportunities will be there for sophomore center Jordy Tshimanga.
Nebraska has not averaged more than 72.2 points during the Tim Miles era. Next year’s team has the potential to be the highest-scoring team that Miles has had in Lincoln, and it all starts with the perimeter shooting.
The 3-point defense is a different story, but that’s a topic to tackle on a different day.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.