NCAA BASKETBALL: Feb 01 Penn St at Nebraska
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Huskers Want to Live by the 3, But They’re Mostly Dying

March 07, 2020

Nebraska still has one game left in the regular season, but nothing the Huskers are likely do against Minnesota and in the Big Ten Tournament will be enough to move the needle.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but this is the worst 3-point shooting team Fred Hoiberg has ever had as a college coach. Nebraska is shooting 32.3% from deep this season; all of Hoiberg’s teams at Iowa State shot better than 35%.

Even that first team in Ames that went 16-16 shot 36.8% overall. The transition team adapted to Hoiberg’s style almost immediately as the Cyclones led the Big 12 in 3-point attempts, hoisting up 380 of them in 16 leagues games while conceding a a 35.3% clip. Iowa State only won three conference games that year, but at least Hoiberg established that foundation his program would be built on.

Iowa State shot just over 37% in years two and three with that 2012-13 season standing as Hoiberg’s best shooting team. The Cyclones shot 37.4% overall including 39.1% in Big 12 play, and they led the country in attempts.

The 2013-14 season was Hoiberg’s worst shooting team in Ames as it shot 35.8% overall, though that number was even worse in Big Ten play at 31.8%. However, the Cyclones still won 28 games overall including 11 Big 12 games as Iowa State was one of the most efficient teams in the country inside the arc. Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang each attempted just over nine shots inside the arc per game and they converted a combined 54% of them. That was Hoiberg’s only team that didn’t finish in the top two of its conference in 3-point attempts (it was seventh).

Just like 2013-14, Nebraska is shooting 31.8% from 3 in conference play. However, this year’s team can’t make up for its poor perimeter shooting in other areas — the Huskers are 299th in the country in 2-point percentage and 351st in free-throw percentage. Nebraska can’t score efficiently anywhere on the floor, and it’s even worse at stopping opposing teams from anywhere on the floor. That’s how you get a 15-game losing streak.

Thorir Thorbjarnarson has grown into one of the better 3-point shooters in the Big Ten this season, though a recent slump has dropped him below the 40% mark to 39.2%. Haanif Cheatham has been pretty average at 34.9%, but he won’t be back next season. Cam Mack, Dachon Burke Jr., Jervay Green and Kevin Cross are all shooting below 34% on more than three attempts per game.

Charlie Easley has been a great story, and he was a terrific shooter in high school, but it hasn’t translated to college yet as he is 5-for-27 (18.5%) this year. Hoiberg hoped Matej Kavas could be that floor spacer he needs, but the graduate transfer (a 44.7% 3-point shooter at Seattle) was shooting 33.8% at Nebraska before suffering a season-ending hand injury.

If Nebraska wants to take a big step forward next season, the Huskers are going to have to find a way to make 3s at a higher rate. Improvement by the returners could be one way to do that, but it’s more likely the Huskers will be relying on newcomers to change the dynamic of this team.

This is one area where Shamiel Stevenson could have made a big difference had he been awarded a waiver to play right away. He’s not a high-volume shooter, but in his 36 games at Nevada he was 16-of-40 (39%). The other two sit-out transfers, however, haven’t shown the ability space the floor. Derrick Walker did not attempt a 3-point shot in 64 games at Tennessee. Dalano Banton did take 3s as a freshman at Western Kentucky, but it didn’t go very well — 8-of-37 (21.6%).

Nebraska will seek a waiver for Wisconsin transfer Kobe King to play right away next season, but even if he gets it the 6-foot-4 guard shot 29.6% in 63 career games as a Badger. Perimeter shooting has certainly not been a strength for him to this point.

Mack has shot the ball at Nebraska about the same way he did a Salt Lake Community College. However, Green’s success at the junior college level has not come close to translating. He’s shooting 29.9% this year after connecting on 39% of his attempts as a sophomore at Western Nebraska. However, he shot 31.2% as a freshman and was a 58.7% free-throw shooter in his two years of junior college, which can often be a more true indicator of one’s shooting ability.

Nebraska will hope for better luck for its junior college transfers next season. 

Western Nebraska sophomore Teddy Allen is leading the top junior college division in scoring at 31.4 points per game. He’s a bucket-getter. The 3-ball has been a big part of that as he’s at 37.1% on over 200 attempts. However, Allen has been struggling from deep in the second half of the season as he is shooting just 27.1% over his last 10 games after converting 42.1% of his 3s in his first 18 appearances for the Cougars. He is shooting 88.1% from the free-throw line, which is an important distinction between Allen and Green’s junior college shooting.

Allen was mostly a non-shooter (3-of-35) as a freshman at West Virginia, but he told Hail Varsity after committing to Nebraska that the Mountaineer coaches didn’t really empower him to even try to shoot that season; it wasn’t his role. In high school at Boys Town, Allen shot 41.2% from 3 in 17 games as a junior. As a senior, he more than doubled his attempts but his percentage plummeted to 29.9%. He took a lot of bad shots, though he hit some of them too.

The other junior college commit, Lat Mayen, could be one of the best shooters on the team next season. As a freshman at TCU, the 6-foot-9 forward shot 7-of-20 (35%). As a sophomore at Chipola College this season, he’s shooting 38.4% on just under 100 attempts. 

Hoiberg doesn’t need every player he puts on the court to shoot 40% from 3, but he definitely needs more than one reliable shooter which is what Nebraska has had for most of this season. Seeking to change that in 2020-21, the Huskers will be relying heavily on newcomers like Stevenson, Allen and Mayen. As we’ve seen his season, however, their success translating is far from a given.

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