Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Thinking About the Future During Nebrasketball’s Sunday Loss

March 07, 2021

Sunday’s matinee game featured both ends of the spectrum of Nebraska basketball. A turnover-riddled group fumbling into scoring droughts and eventually a 16-point hole. And then elite shot-making that erased a deficit and put Nebraska in position to win a ballgame. Six Huskers hit a 3, Kobe Webster hit seven. Nebraska shot 42% on 33 triples, the fifth straight game Nebraska’s made at least a third of its 3s.

In digging itself a hole, Nebraska showed off what seems to me like one of the biggest problems through the first two seasons under coach Fred Hoiberg: no go-to.

In creating an opportunity to ice a win, Hoiberg showcased why he’s been able to address that issue heading into the new year despite losing seasons.

Nebraska had nine first-half shots and nine first-half turnovers against Northwestern. It had 10 first-half shots and 12 first-half turnovers against Iowa. It had 11 first-half shots and 12 first-half turnovers against Illinois. 

Lots of guys trying to do too much, playing outside themselves, pressing the issue. That’ll happen when a team loses its leading scorer, but Teddy Allen as Nebraska’s best player, all due respect to Allen’s scoring ability, doesn’t and didn’t produce winning basketball. 

Who’s the best player on the team? 

No one owns that title consistently. 

Webster had a wonderful game shooting the ball Sunday, but he entered the day shooting 38% on the season. 

The next three highest-usage Huskers after Allen this season have eFG percentages of 44.7% (Trey McGowens), 47.1% (Shamiel Stevenson), and 45.7% (Dalano Banton). Average effective field goal percentages hover around 50%; it bakes in the extra weight of a 3-point shot. None of those three guys are shooting it well from 3, and each of them takes 3.5 or more per 40 minutes on the floor. 

Eduardo Andre, Trevor Lakes, and Jace Piatkowski are the only Huskers with a positive net rating this season. They’re 10th, 11th, and 13th on the team in minutes played. McGowens is a minus-12, Stevenson’s a minus-11, Webster’s a minus-10. 

Banton projected as a possible hub guy who could get into a defense and spray out passes. He’s averaging six assists per 40 minutes, but he’s not operating with the ball as much as some (me) might have expected, and he’s a reluctant shooter with a “help off him” reputation.

When Webster started to take over Sunday, Nebraska played through him and got back into the game. One of Allen’s saving graces as a ball-dominating volume shooter was the fact that no one else was doing anything, what choice did he have but to chuck? Nebraska was hitting shots Sunday and things started looking better. 

That’s been the case for a few games now. 

Interestingly enough, with the game clock ticking under 40 seconds to play and Nebraska clinging to a one-point lead, the ball wasn’t in the hottest player’s hands. It was McGowens triggering things and not Webster. 

Hoiberg has a way of finding his team high-quality looks when given the chance. McGowens drove and kicked to Lat Mayen at the top of the break. In his last three games entering Sunday, Mayen had gone 12-for-21 from 3. 

The forward was open. He turned down the shot and dribbled into a shot-clock violation. 

Someone’s gotta take that shot. 

A 19-loss Nebraska team has one of the best shot profiles in the Big Ten. Nebraska has had chances at wins by way of Hoiberg’s scheme. The head coach’s pedigree is still strong.

The combination of incoming 5-star guard Bryce McGowens and current freshman center Eduardo Andre is interesting on the offensive end in what that pick-and-roll partnership could become. 

The 6-foot-6 McGowens’ scouting report from 247:

A skilled high major two guard prospect, McGowens is a talented shot maker with great positional size and length. He is a streaky shooter with nice touch and a smooth fluid shooting stroke who can rise over smaller defenders and cash in on jumpers. He needs to add strength as he has a sinewy frame but he has the high upside to be a go-to scorer in the Big Ten.

A little bit of weight to the frame and Bryce will have the size to hold his own against anything a Big Ten defense throws his way. If he’s a high-usage player and a steady scorer, Nebraska will be better for it. 

Allen averaged 20 shots, four turnovers, and three assists per 40 minutes. The production always felt like it was just a little bit fool’s gold. 

Andre’s fit has the potential to give NU something it doesn’t presently have. He’s broad and long. He’s not a spacer in a shooting sense, but he’s the only big on Nebraska’s roster that can really get vertical. In his first season, he’s been the interior finisher Yvan Ouedraogo hasn’t been able to develop into, shooting 61% from the field. 

In recent weeks, he’s started to flash more of his natural ability. The young man is incredibly raw—relatively new to basketball for a high-major player. 

“Eduardo’s got a chance with his physical tools to be special, and I’ve said that since we got him,” Hoiberg said a few weeks ago.

The athleticism and instinct gives him two-way potential. Cutting down the fouls will help him stay on the court more moving forward. If he develops, Nebraska can start working on something it can lean on as early as next season. 

Give this team a spread pick-and-roll run with some consistency and then the shooters fit in better on the periphery. 

Bryce doesn’t have to be a primary playmaker for teammates. He’s a three-level scorer, give him a guy like Andre that can free him up and then dive to the basket and let Bryce make the right play. 

Mayen becomes a risky proposition for defenses if he’s just chilling in the corner. Trey can cut off-ball. Hoiberg can scheme up some weakside action to free up kick-out shots. Those guys have had their moments this season where they’ve been lethal, a more fitting role for everyone and things will look better. 

Even when it looks rough though, Hoiball still looks like it’s building toward something fun.

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