Padding the Stats: Where Offensive Improvement Starts for Huskers
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Padding the Stats: Where Offensive Improvement Starts for Huskers

December 13, 2019

Derek Peterson wrote about Nebraska’s (lack of) defense on Thursday, so I figured I’d tackle the other side of the ball in this space today.

Last month, Hoiberg talked about how he closely tracks Nebraska’s shot chart. He wants his guys taking shots at the rim, getting to the free-throw line or shooting 3s, and for the most part, that’s what Nebraska has done.

However, the Huskers are only scoring 73.6 points per game (147th in the country), a number that is buoyed by their pace. Their offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) is much worse at 96.2 (277th nationally). What’s the source of the problem?

Outside of the Georgia Tech game, Nebraska has done a fairly good job of taking care of the ball; it’s only averaging 12.6 turnovers as a team. 

The Huskers have been pretty streaky from the 3-point line with three games over 40% (including two in the 50s), two games right at the break-even point of 33.3% and four games under 30%. Overall, the Huskers are shooting 32.7% (203rd). 

Nebraska’s taken a bit too many ill-advised 3s, but they’ve missed plenty of looks that I bet Hoiberg had no problem with as well. Jervay Green is shooting 29.4% on a team-high 5.7 attempts per game. He shot 39% on 6.8 attempts per game as a sophomore at Western Nebraska Community College. Nebraska certainly needs more from him.

But Haanif Cheatham is a career 36% 3-point shooter and is just 5-of-16 (31.3%) so far this season. Matej Kavas was one of the best shooters in the country at Seattle (44.7% on 4.7 attempts per game in 84 games) but is just 9-of-29 (31%) so far at Nebraska. 

Perimeter shooting hasn’t been a strength previously for Dachon Burke Jr. (career 33.3%) and Cam Mack (33.7% at Salt Lake Community College) while Kevin Cross Jr. is just a freshman, so I don’t know that we can ask too much more from them, but Green, Cheatham and Kavas certainly need to find their shots.

However, an even bigger issue is how much Nebraska is struggling to capitalize on easy opportunities. 

The free-throw struggles are well publicized at this point. Nebraska is shooting 56% from the foul line, good for 350th in the country (there are only 353 Division I teams). Nebraska’s top-five players in free-throw attempts are all shooting under 60% from the line. The degree to which they’re struggling is partly mental, but it’s also true that Nebraska just doesn’t have very good free-throw shooters in the rotation. I think it will tick upward at some point as a couple guys improve, but I don’t think it’s something they’ll be able to fix completely this season.

If there’s one thing that this Nebraska team does well on offense, it’s getting to the rim whether it be in transition, on cuts or on drives. Nebraska has taken 43.6% of its total field goals at the rim this season (for comparison’s sake, last year’s team with a completely different roster was at 37.6%). Nebraska is shooting 56.2% on those shots, which is lower than you’d like to see.

Cheatham has been terrific at the rim, shooting 68.6%. He’s second on the team in attempts with 52, and 17 of his 35 makes were assisted. However, the other four Huskers who have taken more than 30 shots at the rim heaven’t been nearly as efficient.

Mack is first on the team with 54 attempts at the rim, but he’s only converted half of them. Just three of his 26 makes have been assisted, which means most of those shots he created all by himself.

Mack and Cheatham are way out in front of the rest of the pack. The next three guys are all in the same ballpark. Burke is 16-of-33 (one assisted), Green is 16-of-33 (five assisted) and freshman center Yvan Ouedraogo is 17-of-33 (10 assisted).

Mack, Burke, Green and Ouedroago essentially converting just half of their shots at the rim means the Huskers are leaving a lot of points out there, and they’re not nearly efficient or consistent enough anywhere else to make up for that.

Hoiberg talked about his team’s finishing woes during the Husker Hoops Show on Tuesday’s Sports Nightly.

“Some of them, when we do attack, we get off balance as we’re trying to go,” Hoiberg said. “When you see it on film, and we go back and watch them and we watch individually with the player, you see a lot of times any little bit of contact or we try to shy away from the contact and you get off balance and your body position gets going away from the basket. A lot of times it’s just taking our eyes off the rim. We missed some just point blank, right there, and those are unexplainable. 

“But a lot of them is we attack and split the defenders and get into the paint, and there are times when we should kick the ball out. You do your job, you collapse the defense and you have to kick it out and hopefully create an open look from the 3-point line when you have spacing on the back side. But a lot of times we’re going in there and trying to shoot over, in the case at Georgia Tech, a shot-blocker.”

In the loss to the Yellow Jackets, the Huskers shot 4-of-19 in the paint including 3-of-17 on layups. Georgia Tech had eight blocks in that game, five of which came in the second half. The issues continued into the first half of the Creighton game even though the Bluejays had no real shot-blocking presence at all. Nebraska shot 3-of-10 on layups and 1-of-5 on other shots in the paint.

“But that second half against Creighton, I thought we were terrific at the rim. We finished most of the time, we were attacking, but we were going downhill, we were attacking north-south, not east-west as far as when we were trying to get to the rim.”

As Hoiberg said, they turned it around in the second half. Nebraska shot 10-of-12 on layups and 2-of-3 on other paint shots on its way to 54 points on 61.3% shooting from the field overall.

“It’s just concentration,” Hoiberg said. “We work on finishing drills every day. We have a certain number of layups in transition that we ave to get in a short amount of time and you have to go hard and full speed. We finish over a pad every day with Armon Gates down there knocking the guys over. It’s something that we work on a lot and hopefully we’ll see improvement as the season goes on because we have to be able to convert those if we’re going to have a chance to win.”

Ouedraogo is a 17-year-old playing against grown men for the first time. He’s shown some flashes, but to ask much more of him at this stage of his development probably wouldn’t be fair. That means it’s on those three guards — Mack, Burke and Green — to step it up if Nebraska hopes to be competitive in the Big Ten.

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