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Nebraska Basketball

Five Factors: Some Slippage Across the Board for Nebrasketball

January 7, 2019
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Two weeks ago, we started this bi-weekly look at some numbers that signal good or bad things on a basketball court. We’re looking at five different factors for Nebraska success: pure shooting, 3-point ability, shot position, rebounding and turnovers. 

Since the first update was published, Nebraska has gone 1-2 with the lone win coming at home against Southwest Minnesota State and the two losses coming back-to-back against Maryland and No. 25 Iowa on the road. After both losses, Twitter has turned doom-and-gloom on the Huskers. Let’s see if there’s been slippage here as well.

Shooting

By true shooting percentage (a more holistic efficiency number than just shot percentage), Nebraska dropped in both categories, though the defensive number is far more worrisome than the offensive number.

  Offense Defense
Percentage 58.1% 46.3%
Change down from 58.6% up from 44.9%
National rank 45th 8th
Big Ten rank 5th 2nd

 The Huskers’ streaky shooting on offense makes the offensive change pretty insignificant. They’re still a top-50 shooting team, and that’ll surprise some folks, but half a percentage point change isn’t much. It can most likely be directly attributed to James Palmer Jr.’s 3-point shooting.

He hit 13-of-17 over a three-game stretch from Dec. 8 through Dec. 22 and in the three games since he has hit just 5-of-20. The shot selection has gotten worse and Palmer has regressed back to the mean, like most rational people expected. 

The bigger issue is the defensive side of the ball. 

After holding Southwest Minnesota State to 30 percent shooting, Maryland and Iowa shot 47 and 46 percent, respectively, against the Huskers. A large chunk of Iowa’s buckets in the latest loss were open looks created from defensive breakdowns. 

Dig further and Nebraska’s shooting defense on the road this season has been dreadful. Clemson, Minnesota, Maryland and Iowa shot a combined 48 percent, 10 percentage points higher than the Huskers’ season average. At home, they’re holding opponents to 33 percent shooting. 

The commitment to the defensive end hasn’t been the same when Nebraska has journeyed out onto the road. The difference in competition has been significant, but that’s not an excuse team’s with Nebraska’s goals can make. The Huskers held Creighton, the fourth-best shooting team in the country at 52 percent, to 43 percent shooting in that home win on Dec. 8. 

Defense travels if you want it to. Nebraska needs that same home intensity to start making the trip with them when they travel.

3-Point Shooting

I should just copy and paste what I wrote above for this one, too.

  Offense Defense
3P percentage 36.4% 28.5%
Change down from 36.8% up from 26.6%
National rank t-86th 19th
Big Ten rank 6th 2nd
3PA rate 40.5% 29.9%
Change down from 41.1% up from 28.6%
National rank t-125th 5th
Big Ten rank 3rd 2nd

The offensive numbers aren’t worth getting into. The defensive numbers, again, are.

In 3-point percentage and 3-point attempt rate, Nebraska dropped from ninth and second nationally, respectively, to 19th and fifth. The Huskers have given up eight made 3s in a game three times this season. Creighton had 11. Can you guess who the other two were...? 

The last two teams the Huskers played. Maryland hit eight of its 17 triples against the Huskers (47 percent) and Iowa hit 10 of its 22 (46 percent). The attempts aren’t a season-high but the hit percentage certainly is. Before this two-game skid, the highest percentage an opponent had shot from deep on Nebraska was 40.7 percent (Creighton). 

And, again, it’s more about the types of shots being given up than anything else. Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon hit tough shots, yes, but he hit shots that were uncontested too frequently. Nebraska has been giving up open 3s off dribble-penetration or offensive rebounds. Give any team a bunch of open looks and they’re going to hit more often than not. 

Nebraska has built its reputation on the defensive end. Everything suggests they’re one of the countries top defensive teams. But as one upset fan pointed out Sunday night, that reputation isn’t something that can be built against the cupcakes and rested on in conference play. The start to league play has shown a downward trend the Huskers need to kick.

Shot Defense

From last time: 

The "why the defense has been great" part. Defense in the modern game is about forcing low-percentage shots. A 19-foot jumper, percentage-wise, is as tough as a 22-foot jumper but worth one fewer point. It’s a bad shot. And forward-thinking offenses don’t want to take it. And forward-thinking defenses want to force it. And Nebraska is really good at forcing it.

The "percentage of shots" portion of this is more stylistic than anything else, so as long as Nebraska is trying, these shouldn't change too much on a week-to-week basis. This is what the defensive gameplan is.

  At the rim 2P jumpers 3P jumpers
Percentage of shots 37.1% 33.0% 29.9%
Change down from 37.4% down from 34.0% up from 28.6%
Big Ten rank 10th 2nd 2nd
FG percentage 53.2% 31.3% 28.5%
Change no change up from 30.7% up from 26.6%
Big Ten rank 4th 1st 2nd

And yet, the Huskers gave up fewer non-paint 2s and more 3s. So that's good. 

(Side note: Purdue allows 45.8 percent of opponent attempts to come from deep. That's yikes. That's playing with fire.)

Rebounding

Make it four of the last five in which the Huskers have been outrebounded. 

  Nebraska Opponent
Rebounding percentage 50.6% 49.4%
Change down from 50.9% up from 49.1%
National rank t-180th t-180th
Big Ten rank 13th 13th

I’ll use another line from the last update: “Nebraska's lineup is small, so there are going to be nights when the rebounding is tilted, but rebounding could become an issue in Big Ten play if Nebraska can't hold its own.”

Welp. The rebounding stayed tilted and it has officially become an issue. In four Big Ten games Nebraska hasn’t been able to hold its own. 

  • vs. Illinois: 30-28
  • at Minnesota: 28-35
  • at Maryland: 27-35
  • at Iowa: 28-38

The optimist in me wants to point to Maryland’s rebounding pedigree (second nationally in rebound percentage) and say “well the Huskers just faced a really good rebounding unit” but the issue with that is every Big Ten team is a really good rebounding unit. Eight teams sit in the top-100 in rebound percentage. This is going to be a nightly thing for the Huskers. 

What’s worse, the bigs who need to do the heavy lifting in the rebound department can’t stay on the floor. Iowa presented the perfect blueprint for stymieing Nebraska’s small-ball attack. It played the bigs off the floor and punished Nebraska’s lack of depth.

Reserve center Tanner Borchardt is averaging 7.2 personal fouls per 40 minutes. That’s, uh... That’s no bueno. Starting center Isaiah Roby is averaging 4.5. 

Only one guy for the Huskers is averaging double-digit boards per 40 minutes — freshman Brady Heiman (11.7). Is he the answer to the rebounding issues? Maybe, but it’s not likely we’ll find out because Heiman is seeing the floor for an average of seven minutes in four conference games. 

Turnovers

The Huskers continue to be a team that doesn’t turn it over a ton. With their tendency to struggle in the halfcourt, that’s good. They’re also a team that continues to not just turn opponents over, but create live-ball turnovers that can lead to fastbreak opportunities.

  Nebraska Opponent
Turnovers per 100 possessions 13.1 18.6
Change down from 13.8 down from 18.9
National rank t-9th t-89th
Big Ten rank 3rd 2nd
% of def. possessions ending in a steal 12.2% 7.1%
Change up from 12.0% down from 7.2%
National rank t-23rd t-30th
Big Ten rank 1st 5th

Iowa putting up 29 fastbreak points on the Huskers, compared to just 16 for NU, feels like more of an outlier than anything else at this point. (Plus, rebound-and-run numbers factor into fastbreak opportunities as well.)

That the turnover numbers have actually gotten better for the Huskers with the beginning of conference play is a good sign. 

 
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