Fred Hoiberg is a coach after my own heart. He’s all about space and pace, up-tempo basketball with lots of ball movement. He values analytics and exploring every avenue to help his team play smarter, more efficient basketball.
So far, at 1-2, that approach hasn’t translated to the court. Nebraska is shooting 49.6% inside the arc (208th nationally), 23.1% from 3 (343rd) and 57.7% from the free-throw line (327th). But Hoiberg isn’t panicking just yet.
“Every game I look at where we are getting our shots and also defensively where we are giving them up,” Hoiberg said after Thursday morning’s practice. “That’s a big part of if we win that shot chart battle generally we have a pretty good chance of winning the game … We’re trying to get that thing in the restricted area or create open 3s. I am confident this group is one game away from having a really good shooting night because we’ve had it in practice. I’ve seen this team do it and I know we’re capable. So hopefully we continue to create good looks and hopefully the percentages will continue to go up.”
So far this season, Nebraska has taken 48% of its field goal attempts at the rim (converting 53.1% of them), 13% from mid-range (5% in the paint and 8% elsewhere inside the arc; converting 23.1% of them overall) and 39% from 3.
On the other end, Nebraska’s three opponents have attempted 49% of their shots at the rim, 16.5% from mid-range (10% in the paint and 6.5% elsewhere) and 34.5% from the arc. The percentage of layups and dunks is a bit too high for the opponents, but otherwise I think you’d take Nebraska’s shot chart if you had the choice, especially when you factor in that the Huskers have attempted 23 more free throw attempts.
Both Nebraska’s attempt and its percentage at the rim have increased with each passing game. Its percentage of mid-range attempts held steady at just over 16% in the first two games before dropping to 7% (just five attempts) against South Dakota State. Oddly enough, the Huskers have attempted exactly 26 3-point attempts in each of their three games.
Nebraska only attempted 21 layups or dunks against UC Riverside, making nine of them. Riverside’s defensive game plan of leaving their 7-foot center parked in the paint probably had something to do with that. The Highlanders took four more shots at the rim, though they only made one more. The big difference in that game was the 3-point line as Riverside doubled up Nebraska in makes (12 to six) despite taking one less, and the Highlanders also only attempted five mid-range shots. The Huskers definitely lost this shot chart battle, and the score reflected that.
Despite having to play against a 2-3 zone for most of the second game against Southern Utah, the Huskers attempted 14 shots at the rim and doubled up their makes from the first game. Unfortunately, the Thunderbirds attempted and made two more than Nebraska. Neither team shot the ball well from the perimeter (Nebraska made five 3s, Southern Utah four). Ironically, the mid-range game won it for the Thunderbirds as they shot 7-of-16 on those shots (compared to 2-of-12 for Nebraska), and that included the game-winning pull-up with a few seconds left in overtime.
South Dakota State didn’t have a 7-foot rim protector and it didn’t play a zone, and the Huskers took advantage to shoot 24-of-40 at the rim (a 60% conversion rate on 56.3% of Nebraska’s field goal attempts). For the first time all season, the Huskers outscored their opponent at the rim as South Dakota State was 18-of-36. South Dakota State had some success elsewhere inside the arc shooting 7-of-12 overall including 6-of-8 inside the paint, but the Huskers were 3-of-5 and made four more 3-pointers.
The overall numbers don’t quite tell the story, however. Nebraska blew out the Jackrabbits in the first half but actually got outscored in the second. The Huskers shot 5-of-14 from 3 (35.4%) which is enough to keep the defense honest and allow Nebraska’s guards to do what they do best—get to the rim. Defensively, Nebraska held South Dakota State to 9-of-33 shooting in the first half, but the Jackrabbits came alive in the second, shooting 54.1% in the second half.
“The ball did get in the paint way too many times against South Dakota State, especially in the second half,” Hoiberg said. “The things that we did well in the first half—getting stops, rebounding the ball, throwing ahead—we didn’t do as good of a job in the second half because most of the time we were taking the ball out of the net.”
The transition game has been a big story for the Huskers thus far as well, as it will be all season. Nebraska was only credited with 10 fast break points in the season-opener. The Huskers upped that to 17 in game two and then 20 in game three. This group has shown the ability to be dangerous in the open floor; the trick is playing enough defense and rebounding well enough to make sure they can get there.
UC Riverside thoroughly outplayed Nebraska in the season-opener, but since then I think Hoiberg has more or less been happy with his team’s shot selection. Nebraska has moved he ball pretty well and its assist percentage isn’t too far behind Iowa State while Hoiberg was there. The Huskers are playing his style of basketball for the most part.
Now he just needs his team to start hitting those shots at a better rate. As Hoiberg said, he still believes this is more of a slump or a slow start than who this team really is. For Nebrasketball fans’ sake (and my own as well considering I’ll be watching the team all season), I certainly hope he’s right. There’s the potential for something fun here, there’s nothing fun about the ball repeatedly clanking off the rim.
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.