Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Padding the Stats: On Frost, Nebrasketball’s Wake-Up Call and 402 Ballers

November 10, 2021

I should probably start with the biggest topic of the week, right? College basketball is back!

What’s that? Did something else happen this week?

All jokes aside, the Nebraska football program certainly made waves on Monday when Trev Alberts announced that Scott Frost would be returning next season with a restructured contract. More waves followed soon after as Frost announced that he had fired four of his offensive assistants.

The first bit of news wasn’t a shock. If it was going to happen, this week made sense. The second was a bit more surprising. I think we all expected changes, but firing most of the offensive staff with two games remaining? Even now, I struggle to see why Frost decided to make those changes now and, in the process, make things more difficult down the stretch.

But that’s the path Frost chose, and at this point I’m not sure the last two weeks really matter all that much anyway. What’s important is the future, and who Frost hires to fill the vacant positions on his staff.

Frost’s willingness to restructure his contract and, in the process, give up a guaranteed $8.5 million is an indicator of how much he wants to keep this job and make it work. So to is his decision to part ways with his assistants.

“He’s talked an awful lot about how important this is to him, and in a way Scott has bet on himself, and I like that,” Alberts said during his Monday appearance on Sports Nightly. “I think that’s pretty cool.”

After four losing seasons (and, really, with no other choice), it seems Frost is finally ready to make significant changes. Willingness is only part of the deal, though. You also have to be capable. Can Frost identify the right changes that need to be made? Can he identify and hire new assistances that will come to Lincoln and succeed where the previous iteration of the staff failed?

Regardless of who takes over for Lubick, Austin, Held and Verduzco, it all starts with Frost himself. Based on Alberts’ conversation with the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal Star, it sounds like Frost will be stepping back from play-calling and focusing more on overseeing the entire program. That’s interesting to me because Frost became a hot coaching candidate in 2017 primarily because of his offense at UCF; that’s what separated him from others.

Frost has not been able to recapture that same offensive magic in his four years in Lincoln, and we’ve seen a lack of attention to detail in all phases of the game cost the team time and time again. Would Frost be best served continuing to be as hands-on with the offense as he has been with the hopes that new position coaches and potentially a new quarterback would lead to better results with his scheme? Or should he take a step back on offense and focus his attention elsewhere? The latter path seems to be where Nebraska is headed, but after what we’ve seen with Frost’s offense over the past four years, is he the answer to fixing anything else?

Failure in either evaluation or development (or in some cases, perhaps both) has led Nebraska to this point. How quickly can new position coaches make a difference? How effective will the new coaches be in attracting difference-makers out of the transfer portal to Lincoln? What does success even look like next year considering all the talent that will likely be moving on from this year’s team?

Nebraska will try to answer all those questions in year five under Frost, which will certainly be a steep uphill climb.

But before I go, let’s circle back to the hoops. Unfortunately, opening night was not a cause for celebration for Fred Hoiberg’s crew (though it was for Amy Williams’ bunch; they put on a clinic on Tuesday afternoon).

After a short acclimation period early in the Peru State game, Nebraska breezed through the two exhibition games. Things went so well offensively, with shots falling and the ball moving all over the floor, that Nebraska’s inability — or unwillingness — to rebound didn’t really cost the Huskers. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday.

Hoiberg has talked about handling adversity since he first arrived in Lincoln, and this year’s team failed its first test in that regard. Shots didn’t fall, Nebraska didn’t share the ball and the Huskers failed to have five guys doing their job on the glass for more than a few brief stretches. Apparently the Huskers hit the snooze button on the offseason, and hopefully giving up 23 offensive rebounds with a two-to-one turnover-to-assist ratio in a loss was a loud enough wakeup call for them.

Because this team has the pieces to be good, but the Big Ten is brutal and the Huskers can’t afford to let any more games like Tuesday’s slip away.

The Huskers weren’t the only ones that opened their season on Tuesday, though. On the opening day of college hoops, I couldn’t help but think back to last year’s boys Class A state championship game. There’s a good reason for that.

Bellevue West alumnus Chucky Hepburn become the first true freshman opening day starter for Wisconsin since Devin Harris in 2001, and he is just the fifth freshman to score in double figures in the opener since 2000. Hepburn scored 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting (2-of-3 from deep) in Wisconsin’s 81-58 win against St. Francis (Brooklyn).

His running mate at Bellevue West, Frankie Fidler, started for Omaha and led the Mavericks with 15 points on 4-of-8 from the field and 6-of-6 from the foul line in a 67-57 win against NAIA Hastings.

Millard North grad Hunter Sallis came off the bench for a loaded Gonzaga squad, the preseason No. 1 team in the country, and scored nine points on 4-of-7 shooting in a 97-63 win against Dixie State.

Saint Thomas, Sallis’ teammate at Millard North, provided Loyola-Chicago with a big spark off the bench, putting up 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting (3-of-5 from 3), four assists and three rebounds in 18 minutes in a 103-45 win against Coppin State.

I point out all of this both to give those players recognition and to highlight just how special the talent was in Nebraska at the high school level last season, and especially in that state title game between Millard North and Bellevue West. Others in that game include South Dakota State commit William Kyle III and future Division I point guard Josiah Dotzler for Bellevue West as well as Old Dominion freshman Jadin Johnson, Creighton commit Jasen Green and Tyler Sandoval (the starting center for a 6-1 Midland team) for Millard North.

I’ll wrap this up by highlight a couple more players from the 402 doing big things at the next level.

Omaha Central grad John Tonje went off for a career-high 31 points on 10-of-14 from the field, 3-of-7 from 3 and 8-of-8 from the foul line in a 109-80 win over Oral Roberts, stealing the show from last year’s national scoring leader in Max Abmas.

Lincoln North Star alumnus Josiah Allick, the older brother of Nebraska volleyball commit Bekka Allick, has blossomed into a terrific player at Kansas City and opened the season by dropping 21 points on 7-of-10 from the field, 2-of-3 from deep and 5-of-6 from the line, five rebounds, two assists and two blocks in 40 minutes against a Big Ten team in Minnesota.

There are a lot of Nebraskans playing at the Division I level, and it’s going to be fun to track them all season.

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