Love or Hate: Husker Harmony
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Love or Hate: BLOBs, Effective Offense and Nebraska’s Future

April 05, 2019

It’s Friday and love/hate is back after a brief hiatus. Let’s get to it, except don’t be expecting any hate this week. It was a good week for the Huskers. A real good week. 

1. Death by Multiple Options

Fred Hoiberg’s offense gets into its actions pretty quickly. That was sort of a bigger necessity at the NBA level with a 24-second shot clock, but with 30 seconds at the college level, it just gives a unit extra time to run multiple actions and create a better look at the basket. Tim Miles’ offenses stagnated often and scoring droughts were common. Hoiberg hasn’t had that issue. 

Iowa State led the Big 12 with an average of 77.9 points per game between 2011-2015 — Hoiberg’s final four seasons — and ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring twice in those four years. (The offenses during the Bulls years didn’t feature pretty numbers, but I blame the front office for that more than Hoiberg. Chicago was top 10 in shots each of Hoiberg’s three full seasons, so the opportunities were there, he just didn’t have many shot-makers.)

A lot of Hoiberg’s initial action comes out of either the dribble weave or a horns set. Iowa State and Chicago both ran dribble-pitch stuff out on the wings as well at the top of the floor. It’s the multiplicity of the action that makes it so effective. Bballbreakdown had a couple of film studies whenever Hoiberg took over the Bulls and the following set of plays comes from those videos.

There’s a lot that can be done out of this simple action. Hoiberg’s stuff is read-and-react, affording his guys the ability to break out of a set if the defense throws something different. The last play of that clip is important, as that kind of read happens often. 

At Iowa State, this action oftentimes led to a backdoor lob.

Again, focusing on the last play of the clip, when the defense catches on to what’s happening, the screener can step out and knock down an open jumper because they’ve overplayed the lob. 

Iowa State went into horns (bigs on either elbow) out of the weave or just tossed the ball around the perimeter to create driving lanes and drive-and-kick opportunities. The Bulls did the same once Hoiberg came to town. He likes ball movement in the halfcourt. During his three full seasons in Chicago, the Bulls were 20th, 18th and 26th in the league in isolation frequency, and those first two years featured Jimmy Butler, a strong iso scorer.

There's a bunch of stuff out there about Hoiberg's offensive sets  — he's breaking stuff down a bit himself here — and they're all worth diving into over the coming months. 

2. The BLOB

One Iowa State writer told me Hoiberg's baseline out-of-bounds (BLOB) plays were one of the best parts of his tenure in Ames. He's just really good at scheming stuff up in deadball situations. And sometimes they're really simple. 

These three different games are all within the span of a week in November of his first season in Chicago. 

To start, the floor is overloaded on the strong side. Jimmy Butler is going to serve as a de-facto decoy on this play with a 3-point shooter in the corner (Nikola Mirotic), another shooter in the paint (Tony Snell) who will be involved in the action and a big guy (Pau Gasol) standing on the perimeter.

Snell screens Gasols man, and because there's no one on the weakside, Gasol gets a wide open path to the bucket and an easy dunk.

Here the Bulls do the exact same thing with the exact same personnel grouping. Snell screens his guy, Butler's man won't help off because he's guarding Butler on the perimeter and the basket is completely unguarded.

Same result. Gasol gets an easy lay-in at the rim.

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Three days later against the Timberwolves, the Bulls run the same thing, but with Joakim Noah in Gasol's spot and Doug McDermott in Snell's place.

Either Kevin Garnett doesn't want to step out or the Wolves scouted this and knew what to expect, because Garnett drops down to protect the roll. But that opens up McDermott to flare out to the 3-point line for an uncontested catch-and-shoot triple by a guy who shot 43 percent from 3 that season.

When Hoiberg was introduced on Tuesday, he talked about playing the Dallas Mavericks at Pinnacle Bank Arena for a preseason game in 2015. McDermott hit a game-winner with one second on the clock in that one out of a sideline out-of-bounds play. He called it the "Larry Bird."

Again, there's nothing overly complicated here, just simple execution. It looks like the action is setting up a Snell triple curling off a screen; instead, both bigs crash to the basket and clear out space for McDermott to get whatever shot he wants.

3. The Million Dollar Men

Nebraska’s bumping up the assistant salary pool. For Hoiberg’s three assistants, there will be a combined $1 million to work with. That’s up nearly a quarter of a million over last season’s pool and puts Nebraska right in the realm of the top payers in the conference — Michigan State and Michigan.

So, over 18 months, Athletic Director Bill Moos has done the following:

  • Bought out Mike Riley and instead of paying installments for his $6.6 million due through February of 2021, paid him a lump-sum $6.2 million in January of 2018 to wipe him off the books.
  • Handed Scott Frost a seven-year, $35 million contract, which at the time made him the third-highest paid coach in the Big Ten and put him in the top 10 nationally. It was the largest contract for a football coach in school history.
  • Given Frost an assistant pool of $5 million for 10 assistants plus a strength coach, an increase from the $3.7 million allotment Riley had in 2017.
  • Fired Tim Miles, bringing with it a buyout that will pay Miles $2.52 million through March of 2021.
  • Handed Fred Hoiberg a seven-year, $25 million contract, which makes him the third-highest paid coach in the Big Ten and puts him just outside the top 10 nationally. It, too, is the largest contract for a basketball coach in school history.
  • Given Hoiberg an assistant pool of $1 million for three assistants, an increase from the $767,467 allotment Miles had in 2018.

Hoiberg’s $3.57 million annual salary is more than Riley made a year to coach football at Nebraska. Nebraska will pay its head football and basketball coaches a combined $8.57 million annually, one of only 14 programs across the country in the $8 million club.

That’s on top of the other three coaches Moos has already hired elsewhere in smaller sports. 

In most instances, if you want to play with the big boys, you have to pay like the big boys. Nebraska wasn’t doing that before Moos. It was penny-pinching on its two biggest revenue-producers. Miles’ salary made him the eighth-highest paid coach in the Big Ten in 2018 and the 44th nationally. When Riley was hired in 2014, his annual salary put him at 33rd nationally.

Moos intends to win in everything. Simply shelling out big bucks won’t ensure that happens, but it sends the message you aren’t here to mess around. 

4. Championship Standards

One bad start of practice — not a full day, a start — and the mood was sour from the defensive coaching staff after. That’s a really good sign.

After practice No. 11 on Wednesday, a competition day in which the offense finally got the better of the defense, both Frost and defensive coordinator Erik Chinander met with the media. 

Frost went first and called it the best day of practice he’s seen at Nebraska. Quarterback Adrian Martinez had a stellar day during the competitive periods, the offense hummed and the defense, which started lethargic, picked things up as the day went on. The head coach and offensive play-caller was happy.

The defensive coordinator was not.

“We lost the competition period,” he said. “We lost by one. We came out and got punched in the mouth a little bit, which was awesome for us, it was a little slice of humble pie. I don’t think they were ready to play, I didn’t like the attitude.”

He went on to say every job on the defense is up for grabs. He singled out Lamar Jackson — a three-year starter at corner — and Dicaprio Bootle — the pass break-up guy — as two guys who shouldn’t feel safe. Chinander was ready to burn things down. But by most accounts, this was the first time the defense hasn’t shown up this spring. Just Monday, offensive coordinator Troy Walters said the defense has embarrassed the offense when his guys don’t come ready to play.

To me, the frustration with the day shows more positive than negative. Don’t be concerned the offense beat the defense. Be encouraged the defense is operating with a “take no prisoners” mentality. 

The Husker offense, at least schematically, is viewed as one of the best in the Big Ten. Its offensive coaching staff is viewed as one of the best in the country. Its quarterback was a national sensation as a freshman. Its play-caller is thought of as one of the best, most innovative offensive minds in football. For the defense to have won the majority of the first 10 practices is as good a sign as there is.

In a lot of ways, Nebraska’s offense sets the floor for 2019 but its defense determines the ceiling. There has been and will continue to be a championship standard for that unit every time they step on the field this offseason. 

“If you want to be a really good defense, you’ve got to be ready to go as soon as you walk across that line and strap it up,” Chinander said. “You don’t get to be tired when you play defense.”

When does the season start?

5. Clueless 

Okay, I lied, there’s a hate in here (but it’s not about Nebraska so it’s not a complete lie; it was still a good week in the Husker-verse). The NCAA is, once again, completely out of touch with reality. 

Virginia guard Kyle Guy is getting married. And as any normal person who’s planning their wedding would do, Guy created a wedding registry. Busted Coverage founder Joe Kinsey found the registry — open to anyone who could find the link — and decided to include that link in a blog post on Monday. Kinsey then got slapped with a cease and desist letter from UVA compliance, obtained by The Washington Post, telling him to remove the post as it could cost Guy his eligibility. 

Guy, in Minneapolis for the Final Four, told a group of reporters on Thursday that he and his finaceé were informed they weren’t allowed to have a registry because it violated NCAA rules, prompting NCAA President Mark Emmert to respond.

“What we know right now is nobody in the NCAA said anything of the sort. We don’t know what the source of that information was. … It’s certainly not the case that it’s a violation of NCAA rules.
“We allow people to have all the usual and accustomed gifts among family and friends at all holidays and weddings of the sort. There’s not a prohibition against that. We’ve been reaching back out already to the university to try to find out what transpired there. That’s simply an inaccurate story.”

What’s looking like happened is someone in UVA compliance saw the blog post on Busted Coverage, freaked out because no one truly understands the NCAA’s intricate rules on “impermissible benefits” and tried to be uber-proactive in protecting UVA. Which is a problem. Guy wouldn’t just make up a lie like that out of the blue. I would imagine he isn’t walking around thinking, “How can I start a fight with the biggest organization in my respective sport?” Which means he actually believed a wedding registry could be illegal when presented with that possibility, which is also a problem. 

The NCAA doesn’t want student-athletes to have nice things, so it created a bunch of random, arbitrary rules under the amateurism umbrella that no one can keep straight. But it’s okay, because the NCAA doesn’t actually know what a student-athlete’s life is really like. So no harm, no foul.

So congrats to Guy, he gets to have a registry like a normal person.

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