Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Easy Offense Hard to Find for Huskers

January 02, 2021

Fred Hoiberg’s offense is predicated on spacing, and it’s hard to have that when perimeter shots aren’t falling.

Nebraska is shooting 30.4% from 3 this season, including 25% in three Big Ten games. Hoiberg has expressed confidence in his team’s ability to turn that around and hit shots eventually, but in the mean time, how can the Huskers find another source of offense?

If there was an easy answer to that, Hoiberg would have made the adjustment by now. He can’t change the make-up of his roster midseason, and the Huskers are struggling mightily inside the arc as well.

“Obviously we don’t have a big post threat right now that we can throw the ball to when we’re not making our 3s,” Hoiberg said. “Even on the rim rolls in our pick-and-roll where we get it into the paint, some of that’s leading to open 3s, some of it’s leading to plays at the rim. The other thing is we were 8-for-19 at the rim the other night. When you miss 3s like we did and you’re not finishing at a very high percentage at the rim, it’s not a very good recipe. You’re going to score in the low-50s, which we’ve done the last two games, and you’re not going to win many ball games.”

According to Synergy Sports Technology, Nebraska is 14th in the Big Ten in spot-up offensive efficiency. That includes both catch-and-shoot looks and attacking closeouts. Nebraska is also 13th in the conference in pick-and-roll roll man efficiency. Yvan Ouedraogo has struggled to finish when the guards have fed him on the roll, and pick-and-pop looks for Lat Mayen haven’t been falling either.

One area the Huskers have had success is in the post (fourth in efficiency), but a lot of that has come from their guards like Teddy Allen and Dalano Banton, and it’s tough to live on that especially, with poor spacing. That could become a bigger emphasis moving forward, however.

“Teddy’s a guy that we can throw it to, but he’s been settling a little bit lately off the block as opposed to trying to get deep position,” Hoiberg said. “Dalano is a guy that we need to get it to more within the flow of the offense in the post.”

However, the pick-and-roll opportunities have been there at times with how aggressive teams have been cutting off the ball-handlers, and Nebraska has to get more out of those sets.

“We get our paint touches a lot of times with the roll man,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got a guy in Derrick [Walker] that’s got one more game to sit that’s arguably our best finisher in the paint.”

Walker’s suspension from the NCAA will come to an end after the completion of Nebraska’s game against Michigan State. The 6-foot-8, 233-pound forward converted 38 of his 66 field goal attempts (57.6%) in his two years at Tennessee including 29-of-43 (67.4%) at the rim. Hoiberg’s looking forward to his addition and has been ramping up his work in practice recently to get him ready.

“We’re doing extra work right now with Derrick and some of the other guys, bringing them in either early or after practice where we’re getting him reps with our offense,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously the last week we’ve gotten him a lot more reps with the guys that he’s going to be playing with starting in our next game at Purdue. He’s been phenomenal … He struggled with that [suspension] early but he’s really getting excited about getting back out there.”

That being said, Walker hasn’t played in a real game since March 24, 2019. Like with freshman Eduardo Andre coming back after missing the first six games with COVID-19, it’s going to take Walker some time to incorporate himself into the flow of the game. He won’t be an instant fix.

“Now we can’t expect Derrick to come back the minute he steps on the floor and all of a sudden now everything changes because we have Derrick Walker back,” Hoiberg said. “It’s going to take him some time, sitting as long as he has, to get his timing right, to get his conditioning right. But he will help, there’s no question, because of his ability to finish and give us a threat in the paint. We’re all excited to get him out there as coaches and certainly his teammates are excited to get him back out there, but it’s going to take him a little time to get him to where he wants to be and where we need him to be.”

Walker’s return should help, and Hoiberg is continuing to encourage better man and ball movement to generate easier looks, but ultimately the Huskers are going to have to hit some shots if they want to pull themselves out of this rut they’re in.

“Again, I’ve talked about the work ethic of our players — they come in, they’ll all be in tonight to get extra looks, extra shots, and it’s all about hopefully having a game where we see it go in the hole and that all of a sudden changes the mindset of our players and completely flips the confidence,” Hoiberg said. “A lot of our guys are playing with low confidence right now. Sometimes it’s as simple as that, you have to find a way to put that thing in the hole, get it behind you, understand you can do it, you see it happen and then you’re off and running. Hopefully we start making them soon.”

Michigan State allowed 81.7 points per game, 59.4% shooting inside the arc and 36.9% from 3 during its 0-3 start to conference play. Nebraska should have an opportunity to generate some quality shots against the Spartans, but it won’t matter if they don’t go in.

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