Love or Hate: 4-Pointers
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Love or Hate: 4-Pointers, Overreaction to Realignment and More

July 26, 2019

It’s Friday. Let’s get to it. 

All the Spacing

Nebraska’s practicing with a 4-point line and it’s pretty cool.

Not that the Huskers are actually shooting from it or getting four points for converting from it, it’s just a tool for head coach Fred Hoiberg and staff to stretch the floor a little more. 

“It’s difficult at first, especially when you’re backing up on offense preparing for your shot, because you feel like you’re so far out, but once you get that step-in, you’re right there at the 3-point line,” senior guard Haanif Cheatham said. “So that’s confusing at first but I think it helps out with the spacing on offense and getting guys open shots as well.”

Nebraska struggled a ton in the past to shoot the 3-ball with any consistency, and last year that meant it also struggled to finish inside as defenses elected to pack the paint and live with Nebraska hitting jumpers. That was the Creighton approach and it backfired on the Jays — James Palmer Jr. in particular went bonkers from 3 that game — but worked for a lot of other teams. 

Last season Nebraska was at 33.8 percent from 3, which ranked 216th in the country. Over the last five seasons, the Huskers have ranked 193rd (2017), 307th (2016), 169th (2015) and 343rd (2014). Hoiberg’s Iowa State teams fell outside the top 100 only one time in five years. 

Moving everything out gives off a lot of Morey-ball/Houston Rockets vibes. The Ryan Andersons and Eric Gordons of the world were spotting up from nearly 30 feet to give the ball-handler plenty of space to drive and make a decision. From the looks of things, Nebraska isn’t going to be playing a 5-out style of ball and it’s not going to have shooters spotting up from 30, but if guys can get comfortable running things on this 4-point line in practice, the in-game benefits will be noticeable. 

The Weirdest Roster

We already knew Nebraska’s roster was going to be wonky. Seeing everyone in person confirmed it. Watching practice on Tuesday, one of the first things that stood out was just how long Nebraska is at some spots and just how small it is at others. 

Cam Mack looks smaller than expected. Jervay Green looked bigger than expected. The presence of those two probably means there won’t be a ton of lineups featuring a Mack-Green-Dachon Burke trio. Burke is 6-foot-4, 180 pounds, meaning he’s still really slender. Him and Mack together is giving up a lot of size, especially in the Big Ten. 

Then on the wing, Nebraska has a ton of length and not a ton of eligibility. Dalano Banton, the Western Kentucky transfer, is the tallest guy on the team and the longest guy on the team and someone who looks comfortable handling the basketball, but his body isn’t suited to post play in the Big Ten and he has to sit a year. Shamiel Stevenson has the strength that Banton lacks — he looks like a linebacker — but he’s probably a little shorter than his listed 6-foot-6 height and that could make Big Ten post play a challenge as well.

MORE: A First Glimpse at Hoiberg’s Huskers

Matej Kavas is tall but he’s not very big and he’s more comfortable spotting up in the corner (he’s of much more use out there too with the career 45-percent clip he’s posted from 3). Derrick Walker looks like he prefers playing out on the perimeter as well, but he looks like one of the more traditional big guys the Huskers have and he has to sit a year. 

Akol Arop has added some muscle already, but he’s still got some ways to go and he’s only 6-foot-6. Freshman Kevin Cross looks like a freshman. 

Watching the pieces move around, I still have no idea how Hoiberg fits the puzzle together, but it’s obvious up front he has a lot of lineup flexibility. He acknowledged they’re probably going to struggle on the glass this first season, but there are ways to finagle that if some of your bigger guards — namely Green and Cheatham — can aggressively battle for rebounds. 

A Walk-On Who Doesn’t Look Like It

Charlie Easley was easily the surprise of the day for me.  

A freshman guard from nearby Lincoln Pius X, the guy finished his high school career with a school-record 1,412 points after starting for three of his four seasons.

A quick run-down of the accolades: 

  • Easley earned first-team All-Nebraska honors from the World-Herald and first-team Super-State honors from the Journal Star as a senior
  • Led a 27-2 senior squad to a Class B state tournament title 
  • Averaged 23.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.1 steals per game (all four of which led the team) while shooting 51 percent from the field, 45 percent from 3 and 86 percent from the charity stripe. Scored in double figures in all 29 games and produced four 30-point games.
  • Averaged 17.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.9 steals a game as a junior
  • Averaged 13.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.7 steals a game as a sophomore

That kind of résumé should lead to more Division I opportunities than Easley had. He had one offer at this level — The Citadel — and he turned it down to prove himself as a walk-on for the Huskers. Jacob Padilla wasn’t surprised when I raved about Easley afterward, saying he was one of the more underrated kids in the state last cycle. He’s a guy who physically looks the part of a major college player. At 6-foot-2, he’s big enough to hold his own, he’s strong enough to hold his own and he was really getting after it on the defensive end. 

That he consistently hovered around three steals a game is impressive. If he can maintain that defensive tenacity while holding consistent form from outside the arc, there might be minutes to be had for him this season. He doesn’t look like a walk-on guy Hoiberg would be hesitant to play if he needed to. Maybe a match-up with a smaller team allows Hoiberg the option to go super small or a few guys are in a slump and he needs to give someone else a run. I could see it.

Relax About Realignment

This happens all the time. Remember when the NBA’s Eastern Conference was so bad a few seasons ago that the Atlanta Hawks got into the Playoffs as an 8-seed at 38-44 and the Phoenix Suns got left out of the Western Conference side of things at 48-34? And everyone got all up in arms over conference realignment. The West was so much more dominant than the East and it seemed like the scales would never come back close to balancing?

They seem pretty balanced now. The East just won the title. It arguably had more title contenders on its side of the bracket than the West come playoff time.

The rational crowd said to just give it time. These things ebb and flow. Nothing in sports lasts in absolute permanence. 

Well everyone wants to talk about realigning the East and West divisions in the Big Ten now. So much so that every coach was seemingly asked about it during Big Ten Media Days. It seems strange to focus on that topic this year when there are seemingly four or five teams who could win the West and that’s not including the team who won it last season. 

The West is on the path towards becoming really good pretty soon, but because a non-Wisconsin team from the division hasn’t won the conference in what seems like eons, Wisconsin being down and the West being open is reading a lot more like there are just a ton of bad teams who will get a shot rather than a bunch of good teams who will beat up on each other. Perception is that it looks a lot more like the 2013-14 NBA season than it actually does. 

At least, that’s my read on things. 

Penn State’s James Franklin wants to have the conversation. Several East coaches do. But of course they do; that’s just self-preservation. Do you think Penn State wants to waste James Franklin years in the same division with powerhouse Ohio State and renaissance Michigan? Absolutely not, Penn State doesn’t want to have to deal with either of those teams on a yearly basis. Neither does Michigan State. So they want to shake up the divisions. 

But if you listen to a West coach talk you get a different story. 

“All I’ll say, people talk about conference alignment and the East has dominated the West and all that, just give it time," Fleck said in an interview with Hail Varsity Radio’s Chris Schmidt. "With the coaches that are now in the West, with all due respect, Scott Frost is a different animal when you’re talking about recruiting and building programs. Jeff Brohm, different animal when you’re talking about recruiting, rebuilding programs. Hopefully we’re a different animal. And now all of the sudden you get this movement in the West and that’s how you could be able to not just flip it, but make it way way different than the way it used to be. 

“That’s what everyone wants. I think they want a little bit of change, but give it a little time because I love how it’s designed. I love where the teams are, I love how the rivalries fit and we could do it with the way we have it.”

My thoughts exactly.

Get Out of the Dorms

One of the older guys who lives off campus needs to invite the younger football players over to their apartment more often. Maybe it’s just for something like, oh I don’t know, a sandwich. Have them make a sandwich in a better-ventilated kitchen rather than a dorm room. Just a thought.

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