Sam Griesel went from an unheralded recruit coming out of Lincoln East in 2018 to a first-team All-Summit League performer this past season, and now he’ll get a chance to prove himself at the Big Ten level as well.
To provide a more complete view on what the East High grad will bring to the Huskers, Hail Varsity reached out to a Summit League coach for another perspective. Who better to break down his game than someone who had to game plan against him for four years?
Griesel has talked a lot about culture and the impact he wants to make off the court, and Coach views him as a great fit for a Nebraska program attempting to establish a foundation.
“I think he’ll just fit culturally,” Coach said. “Fred’s talked quite a bit about the culture that he is obviously wanting to build and continuing to build. Obviously, there’s been a lot of turnover down there. But I think Sam Griesel, from what the North Dakota State guys have said about him and from just playing against him and seeing it as an opponent, the fit for what they’re trying to get accomplished and building some winning habits and kind of getting on track that way, Sam will probably fit really well.”
Griesel is also a pretty darn good player on the court as well, and Coach broke down the 6-foot-6, 220-pound guard’s strengths and playing style.
“On the court, he’s a big guard,” Coach said. “He’s probably a little bit more athletic than what you maybe initially think. He’s a very smart player. I think from a fitting into Fred’s system [point of view], I think he’s a multi-positional type guy. I know Fred always really liked those guys at Iowa State. I think they were recruiting him to be probably more of a primary ball-handler, point guard or just obviously a guy that’s got the ball in his hands a decent amount, and that’s kind of what he was the last few years at North Dakota State. He did a pretty good job. I think his first year, obviously, there’s some adjustment, but he really kind of flourished a little bit the second half of last year for sure. Just being able to kind of make plays with the ball in his hands, get downhill and he’s big. I mean, he can shoot over people. If he gets two feet in the paint, he’s really good with some pivots, shooting over the top of smaller guards that are guarding him.”
The primary goal for opposing defenses heading into any game against North Dakota State last season was to keep Griesel out of the paint, but that was much easier said than done.
“The one thing they did a great job of last year is — I know I mentioned it before, getting in the paint and shooting over the top of people — but he has got such great size,” Coach said. “If he gets two feet in the paint, he can kind of create shots for others because he can see over guys. We had to mix up our matchups on him a little bit where we try to get a little guy on him and pick them up full court, speed him up, and then we’d get another big guard on him and hopefully he’d be able to stay with him and obviously keep him out of the paint. We wanted to give them multiple looks, because I think if he has a steady dose of a certain matchup, I think he can exploit that pretty well. But just keeping him out of the paint because he’s very patient down there. A lot of guards will drive in there and think that they’ve got to make a play as soon as they get in the paint. He’s pretty patient; he’ll dribble down to a back down, he’ll kind of play off two feet, making a couple extra pivots to shoot over top or find a passing window to hit a 3-point shooter for a shot.
“That, I would say, was the biggest game plan I think for the majority of teams in the Summit League was keeping him out of the paint and then off the glass too. It’s a unique deal when he was playing point guard minutes; it’s not normal that your point guard’s crashing offensive rebounding opportunities and is also at 6-6, 6-7.”
Griesel earned his way into the starting lineup as a freshman, and he stepped into a featured role as a junior, but it wasn’t until this past season that he made the leap to stardom at the Summit League level. He averaged 14.3 points and his efficiency spiked across the board.
“Just his ability to get by people and use his physicality. He still probably struggles a little bit here and there — like his first year when he kind of took on the ball-handling responsibilities — to kind of create space off the bounce,” Coach said. “It probably wasn’t super natural for him. He was basically one of their frontcourt players his first few years on campus there. So I thought he got a lot better at just kind of being able to make some simple moves and getting by people, getting an advantage, getting downhill, and then just kind of getting more comfortable passing it too. I think Sam, I’m assuming in high school and the early part of his career, has always been a good passer, but not a guy that’s driving it and passing; he was probably more of cut and pass or just kind of simple passes. I think he probably evolved a little bit of being able to make some more higher level passes when he’s got the ball in his hands.”
Big Ten size, athleticism and overall ability is on a completely different level from what Griesel faced in the Summit League, and there are certainly some areas in which he’ll have to adjust or grow in order to make the same kind of impact for that Huskers that he did at North Dakota State.
“He’ll have an adjustment obviously because there’s going to be more size and more athleticism in the Big Ten every single night that he didn’t see in our league,” Coach said. “But the one thing that I think he’ll have to probably get a little better at this summer to fit truly into Fred’s deal perfectly is just become more of a consistent 3-point shooter because I know that’s a big part of Fred’s stuff that he did in years past of being able to really shoot the rock, shoot a lot of 3s. And Sam can make them, but he’s got to get more consistent, probably.”
Griesel wasn’t much of a 3-point shooter his first three seasons with the Bison, but he bumped his percentage up to 37.9% this past season, though that was on just 2.2 attempts per game. He failed to connect from deep in 13 of his 25 games.
Griesel’s size, athleticism and feel for the game should give him an opportunity to make the leap to the Big Ten, but it’s his make-up that could make him an impact player for the Huskers. Throughout his Bison career, Griesel stepped up in big moments and delivered. Against Oral Roberts and Max Abmas in the Summit League Tournament semifinals this past season, Griesel put up 26 points on 66.7% shooting, nine rebounds and eight assists. The Bison fell in the final to South Dakota State, but Griesel gave the Jackrabbits all sorts of problems with 24 points on 62.5% shooting, eight rebounds and five assists.
In total, Griesel dropped 20-plus points 10 times last season, and seven of those games were against the other four best teams in the Summit.
“That’s the one thing I would say about him too, because when you look at Sam’s numbers over the last few years, they’re not earth-shattering, but it always felt like damn he showed up in big games,” Coach said. “Obviously playing against us, it’s always a big game, it was a rivalry and the dude always brought it. He’s got some gamer in him and I know that translates to all levels. That’s something our staff always talked about, there might be a few games like right before we get ready to play that maybe had eight points, maybe he had six points, he had 12. Well, he got 26 on us. It’s just one of those things where he’s kind of got a gamer in him and in big games he can kind of step it up a little bit.”
After four years of game-planning and competition, coaches throughout the Summer League are likely happy to see Griesel move on. He’s the Big Ten’s problem now.
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.