Run it Back: First Look at Fred Hoiberg's Huskers
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Run it Back: First Look at Fred Hoiberg’s Huskers

October 31, 2019

Fans got their first real look at a near-full strength Nebrasketball team on Wednesday night in the Huskers’ 91-63 win against Doane.

Dalano Banton and Derrick Walker were in street clothes as they will be all season while sitting out as transfers. On Wednesday, Shamiel Stevenson joined them, as he will until either the end of the first semester or until the NCAA grants him a waiver for immediate eligibility.

Stevenson is unlike anyone else on the roster. At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds with long arms, he’s strong enough to hold his own in the post against many of the frontcourt players Nebraska will face this season and is also skilled and athletic enough to fit into Nebraska’s four- and five-out offense. I’m looking forward to seeing what Nebraska’s rotation looks like once he’s available.

But for the time being, Hoiberg deployed primarily a nine-man rotation with freshman Akol Arop checking in late in the first half as the 10th guy.

Hoiberg decided to start four guards — Cam Mack, Dachon Burke, Jervay Green and Haanif Cheatham — around French freshman Yvan Ouedraogo. Matej Kavas, a 6-foot-8 stretch four, was the first sub off the bench, replacing a guard. Thorir Thorbjarnarson, the only player on the team with playing experience as a Husker, was next, spelling another one of the guards.

Freshman Kevin Cross checked in for Ouedrago to play center (generously listed at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds) and give Nebraska a true five-out look. Finally, freshman guard Samari Curtis checked in, leaving Mack as the only starter on the floor. The flashy floor general played the first 8:15 before taking a seat as Green returned to run the point.

That’s a nine-man rotation featuring six guards/wings and three frontcourt guys. Doane started two guards 6-foot or below and a frontline of 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6, and 6-foot-7. At 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds, Cheatham was big enough to hold his own against pretty much anyone Doane wanted to throw out here, and at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Green used his frame to battle with a few of those taller Tigers as well.

I’ll be curious to see what the lineup looks like moving forward when Nebraska faces a team with more size. Does Hoiberg stick with this starting lineup, or did he know Doane (who is missing its 6-foot-10 center Trace Tupper, a Lincoln Northeast product who will miss the season with a knee injury) didn’t have the size to punish his four-guard lineup? If he inserts a bigger player at the four, which of those guards moves to the bench?

UC Riverside will be able to throw a lot more size out next Tuesday with sophomore center Callum McRae (7-foot-1 and 275 pounds) who averaged 7.6 points on 55.4% shooting last season as a freshman. 

As for the play itself, it certainly looked like a Fred Hoiberg team. Just take a look at the shot chart (first half is on the left, second half on the right).

In total, Nebraska shot 21-of-29 (72.4%) at the rim and 8-of-28 (28.6%) from 3. Obviously the percentage of the latter is much lower than you’d like to see, but the number of attempts is what we’re focusing on here. In total, 57 of their 68 shot attempts (83.8%) were either at the rim or from the 3-point line, and that doesn’t factor in their 24 free-throw attempts.

Nebraska only attempted 11 other 2-point attempts all game (making seven), and eight of those shots were still inside the paint. Ten of those in-between shots were int he first half. Nebraska only attempted one non-rim 2-pointer in the second half — Dachon Burke’s step-back two pointer that was a bit of a heat check after Burke had knocked down a pair of 3-pointers on Nebraska’s first two possessions of the second half.

“It was good,” Hoiberg said about his team’s shot selection. “Matej [Kavas] had a couple wide-open ones. He made five of them in our scrimmage on Saturday. Cam [Mack] had a couple really good looks. I thought Jervay [Green]’s shots looks good, so yeah, I was, for the most part, pleased. The one shot I didn’t like was Dachon’s step-back mid-range 2 and it kind of pissed me off that he made it. But for the most part, I thought our shot selection was good.”

Kavas shot 1-of-4 from 3. Green shot 0-of-3. Those are two of your best shooters who just combined fir seven triples in the team’s closed scrimmage against Wichita State. I wouldn’t be worried about the percentage just yet. The distribution of 3s was interesting, however. In the first half, nine of Nebraska’s 12 3-point attempts were above the break; only three of them came from the corner areas. In the second half, the Huskers took nine more above-the-break 3s while their attempts from the corner jumped to seven.

The Huskers pushed the ball at every opportunity and the box score has them with 17 fast-break points, although it felt like even more than that while watching the game. A lot of those shots at the rim came on the break, and Nebraska was looking to push the pace off both misses and makes.

“We’ve got to rebound, that’s the main thing,” Thorir THorbjarnarson said. “But even if the other team scores, we’ve got to get it out quick and we want to run as fast as we can. So rebounding and not putting your head down when you get scored on.”

In addition to pace and 3-point shooting, one thing Hoiberg has been emphasizing is ball movement, and we saw plenty of that. They had 16 turnovers (three apiece by Nurke, Green and freshman Samari Curtis) and that’s too many, but they also dished out 22 assists on 36 field goals, and a lot of those missed 3-point attempts were off of passes as well rather than off the dribble. Mack showed off his vision and flair for the dramatic with eight assists, but he didn’t have to dominate the ball to do it. Three others had three assists apiece and eight different players recording at least one helper.

Nebraska ran some pick-and-roll to get its big men some looks at the rim, but the Huskers also generated a lot of looks by breaking down the defense off the dribble to set up back-cuts or getting in the paint to kick out to shooters.

The major caveat here is that Nebraska did all this against an NAIA team. The competition ramps up next Tuesday in the season0opener against another Division I team, and then even more so in the Cayman Islands Classic. Even so, Wednesday was a great starting point.

This is what Fred Hoiberg basketball looks like.

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