We got our first official look at the new Nebrasketball this week as Fred Hoiberg allowed the media to observe practice on Tuesday.
We didn’t get to see anything earth-shattering. In fact, it was nothing but drills; they never even went live. But the drills were enough to reinforce that Nebraska fans are going to see a very different brand of basketball at Pinnacle Bank Arena than they’ve been used to.
The first and most obvious difference from previous practices is the “4-point line,” the extra blue arc on court designed to help teach proper spacing. Everything was up-tempo, precise, focused. The ball was flying around — rarely did a player take more than one or two dribbles before a shot or pass.
Speed, spacing and sharing the ball are the defining traits of a Fred Hoiberg offense, and I couldn’t be any more excited to see it in action. How exactly that manifests itself on the court is unknown to even Hoiberg himself at this point as the Huskers have only burned through about half their allotted practices before heading for Italy, and they’ve been missing two key pieces during those practices to boot.
“I like the skill set of our players,” Hoiberg said back in Fremont during the Big Red Blitz. “What exactly it looks like I don’t know yet, just because we haven’t had any time to work our guys out. We’re going to take these first couple weeks to get to know each other but we’re going to set the tone early for the type of work it’s going to take to achieve our goals. I do think our guys will play together. I think they’re all great kids and hopefully we can go out there and put a style of play that fans can be proud of. It’s going to be a unique group. We don’t have a lot of size on this team and we’re going to have to play a unique style to be competitive.”
Based on what Hoiberg had to say on Tuesday, they’re still getting to know each other, but that’s OK at this stage. That’s what makes this trip to Italy so valuable, even with Yvan Ouedraogo, the biggest (and also youngest) player on the team not participating,
The core of this team is its playmaking guards — Cam Mack, Jervay Green and Dachon Burke. All three have shown the ability to create their own shot at a high level, but can they coexist on the court? Hoiberg is confident that they can.
“They’ll share it; I don’t have any doubt about that,” Hoiberg said. “The thing I’m excited about is you’ve got three guys who you can put the ball in their hands and they can all make plays. It’s all about now talking about going out and making simple plays. We’ve got a group that can do that. We don’t have to go out and hit a home run every time you make a play. That’s something that our teams have always done. We’ve been a high-assist team and low-turnover team and that’s something that we’re going to stress every day with our team.”
Under Tim Miles, rarely did it seem like the offense clicked for a significant stretch. The Huskers had some talented guards on last year’s team too with James Palmer Jr. and Glynn Watson Jr. and a another promising guard in Thomas Allen Jr., but it seemed like they took turns offensively more than they played off of each other and made each other better.
Based on what Hoiberg has done previously, we won’t be seeing nearly as much isolation basketball with other guys standing around. Based on what he did at Salt Lake Community College, Mack looks like he’s the best distributor to come into the program in some time. For all his strengths, that’s an area in which Watson never really developed. The last Husker to average better than four assists was Lance Jeter in 2010-11 (4.5). The last player to dish more than five assists per game was Charles Richardson in 2006-07 (5.8). As a freshman at Salt Lake Community College, Mack put up 7.6 assists per game, and Green averaged 5.3 assists per game as a sophomore at Western Nebraska as well.
How effective will the offense be in Year 1? That’s hard to project. The only player on the roster eligible for 2019-20 who played high-major basketball is Thorir Thorbjarnarson, so everyone is in for a major adjustment to varying degrees once Big Ten play rolls around. That transition from junior college to Division I in particular isn’t always the smoothest, particularly in the first year.
However, even if the Huskers don’t hit the ground running and rip off a ton of wins this season, Hoiberg is laying the ground work for a different kind of basketball in Lincoln. Pace and space has arrived, and I think the fans are really going to enjoy it.
Buckle up. This is going to be a fun ride.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.