It may be hard to believe, but we’re already a third of the way through the college basketball season. Nebraska has played nine of its 27 scheduled regular season games and sits at 4-5.
Those nine games include four games against other high-major teams, four against low- to mid-majors… and one against an NAIA team. That gives us a decent spread of teams to compare this year’s Nebrasketball squad to last year’s to see what kind of progress Fred Hoiberg has made in year two.
For this analysis, I’m going to be focusing mostly on shot location and efficiency on both sides of the ball using numbers from Hoop-Math.com.
If you’ve paid attention at all to Hoiberg’s career, you know where he wants his teams taking most of their shots: from the 3-point line and at the rim. Hoiberg’s first team in Lincoln actually did a great job of adopting this philosophy, but it didn’t lead to the desired results. This year’s team is definitely better, but the newcomers are still figuring out the offense.
In 2019–20, 43.9% of Nebraska’s field goal attempts came at the rim, but the Huskers only converted at a 54% rate. That’s… not good. Haanif Cheatham was Nebraska’s best finisher at 60.5%. Dachon Burke, Cam Mack, Kevin Cross, Yvan Ouedraogo and Jervay Green all shot 55.1% or worse, which probably played a part in four of the five not returning.
This season, Nebraska’s rim attempts percentage is down to 32.8, but the Huskers are converting at a higher rate—59.7%. Dalano Banton is leading the way at an even 70% while 31.9% of his shots are coming there. Teddy Allen is taking 26.1% of his shot at the rim and is shooting 62.5%.
The issue right now is the two main rotation guys who are taking the majority of their shots at the rim, Trey McGowens (47.5%) and Yvan Ouedraogo (72.2%) are shooting 44.7% and 53.8%, respectively. Ouedraogo was at 52% last year and McGowens was right around 50% his two seasons at Pitt, so this year’s poor percentages shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Hoiberg isn’t a fan of mid-range shots, and Nebraska barely took them last season. Just 16.5% of the Huskers shot attempts were classified as 2-point jumpers, and their percentage on those shots was awful—25.6%. The Huskers are shooting better on those shots at 35.9%, but that’s still not good and they’re taking more of them; nearly a quarter of their shots (23.1%) have been 2-point jumpers. I believe this includes both mid-rage jumpers as well as floaters and other in-between shots.
Allen has actually been solid here, shooting a respectable 42.9%. He’s taking 31.3% of his shots between about 5 and 20 feet, and the eye test should back that up. He isn’t the quickest or most explosive guard who can get to the rim whenever he wants, but he’s strong and crafty enough with good enough touch to still be effective off the bounce and get to his spots. Kobe Webster has been solid as well, shooting 43.8% on 25.8% of his shots. The Western Illinois transfer has a reliable floater and has really developed a nice pull-up jumper.
The biggest problem is Banton is taking a larger percentage of his shots in the mid-range than anyone else on the team at 34% and he’s making just 34.4% of them. The Michigan game really exposed Banton in this area — outside of a couple instances, he had a tough time getting all the way to the rim and had to settle for a lot of tough in-between shots.
Nebraska’s 3-point rate has increased about five points, from 39.6% to 44.1%, but the percentage has held pretty steady at 32.4% compared to 31.8% last year. That’s just below the break-even point and it explains a lot of Nebraska’s offensive problems.
Lat Mayen and Thorir Thorbjarnarson are taking more than 60% of their shot attempts from beyond the arc and both are shooting under 27%. When your designated shooters can’t make shots, you’re going to struggle. Toss in Teddy Allen taking 42.5% of his shots from deep while hitting just 33.3% of them and that’s a lot of missed shots.
Trey McGowens (shooting 40.7% while taking 33.8% of his shots from 3) and Kobe Webster (shooting 37.8% while taking 59.7% of his shots there) have been the team’s best shooters, but they’ve also been incredibly hot-and-cold more so than reliable. The sample size is still too small on Trevor Lakes.
Nebraska is getting to the foul line more often and converting the shots at a better rate than last year, but the Huskers are still only shooting 64.4% on their freebies. Allen and McGowens are the biggest culprits here, though no one is shooting particularly well other than Shamiel Stevenson.
One other thing to note before we move on to the defense: last season, Nebraska got its shot blocked at an incredibly high rate. In fact, the Huskers were 353rd in the county in opponent blocks. Nearly 10% of all Nebraska’s field goals got blocked last season (8.3%, to be more precise). This year, the rate is a little over half that at 4.4% — still in the bottom third of college basketball, but not dead last like last year’s.
So to recap: Nebraska is shooting better at the rim and from mid-range, but hasn’t shown much improvement from 3 while the Huskers are taking more 3-point and 2-point jumpers and fewer shots at the rim.
Defensively, the Huskers have shown improvement across the board. Props to Doc Sadler and to the combined efforts of Hoiberg and Matt Abdelmassih to overhaul the roster and give the Huskers a better chance to stack up physically.
Opponent rim attempts have dropped from 35% to 23.9% of their total shot attempts, and teams are shooting 58.6% compared to 61.5% last year. Nebraska still doesn’t have much in the way of rim protection overall, but Lat Mayen has shown more in that area recently and perhaps as Eduardo Andre continues to get up to speed he’ll become a larger presence in the paint as well.
Teams are shooting about the same percentage on 2-point jumpers (40.3% last year, 39.2% this year). However, Nebraska is forcing teams into those shots at a higher rate as 31.7% of opposing shots have been 2-point jumpers compared to 26% last year.
Nebraska’s giving up fewer straight line drives to the rim this season, but they’ve been giving up 3s at a higher rate as the tradeoff. This season, 44.4% of opposing shots have come from beyond the arc, up from 38.9%. The percentage is down from 33.3% last year to 31.6% this season. Nebraska is giving up more 3s, but I think the added length on the roster has allowed them to perhaps contest better than a year ago.
Sadler wants to pack things in and protect the paint first, and he’s willing to give up some 3s if that’s what it takes. So far, Nebraska has followed that game plan fairly well, and the Huskers have been significantly better defensively this season.
Nebraska still has far too many lapses defensively, but the offense is the biggest reason the Huskers only have four wins at this point. The good news is Nebraska has 67% of the season left to sort things out, and there’s plenty of room for improvement.
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.