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Nebraska Baseball

Love or Hate: Cam Mack, All the Guards and All the Offers

May 3, 2019
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It’s Friday. You (hopefully by now) know what that means.

Mack Rack Attack

Sorry not sorry. We’ll workshop that name. Plenty of time left. But the kid is good.

Cam Mack, the No. 3 JUCO prospect in the country (one spot behind Jervay Green, but we’ll get back to that), committed to Nebraska last Saturday and the team made his signing official on Monday. Mack will be in a Husker uniform for Fred Hoiberg’s maiden voyage. 

He was a former St. John’s signee who got a release when the coaching staff changed over, said he wasn’t going to Nebraska, then came to Nebraska and was greeted at the airport by Husker fans and that was that. Now Nebraska has its point guard of the future, a guy who averaged a team-best 19.1 points, a team-best 7.6 assists, a team-best 2.4 steals and 5.9 rebounds a night. He had five 30-point games, a 40-point game, 10-plus assists nine times and three triple-doubles. 

The highlight tape is impressive.

The first thing that jumps out here is his quickness. Side-to-side he’s got some really good burst. He sets his man up with a hesi right into a crossover left and explodes to the basket. The body control when he’s in the air is impressive as well; he can hang a bit, absorb contact and still get his shot up. There’s a little too much short-stroking on his jump shot for my liking but if there’s a guy to teach jump shooting it’s Fred Hoiberg so there likely isn’t anything to worry about there. (Mack also spends morning and night in the gym getting shots up from everywhere, another encouraging sign.)

The quickness that’s most exciting is the decision-making on the fly. Some of those passes he’s dropping while flying through the air or coming down the lane are insanely high-difficulty. He not only has the vision to see the way the defense is reacting to him but the ball control to drop perfect passes to open bigs and cutters. 

At the 1:36 mark, that’s a tough pass to make. The play right after it—underhanded while his momentum is carrying him forward—is even tougher. The dish at the 2:10 mark? Yikes. Mack had a 2.8-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio last year and, for a guy with as much offensive freedom as he had, that’s maybe one of his more impressive accomplishments. 

Mack looks like the ideal lead guard to run an up-tempo, spread attack. His driving ability and shot-making at the rim can collapse the defense. For a guy who looks slight of frame, he doesn’t play like it. We’ll see how he fares driving against Big Ten bigs but he appears to have both a fearlessness while driving through the trees and a confidence in his ability to finish over those trees. 

The ball is about the only thing returning from last year’s Husker squad so to have a guy coming in who looks like he can provide shot-making and play-making right off the bat is important. Mack should have plenty of opportunity in Year 1.

All the Guards

About Green. It’s likely he and Mack comprise the starting backcourt. Here’s Mack on his new teammate:

“We played against each other in junior college and we just connected,” he told Hail Varsity Radio Wednesday. “What I really like about Jervay is he’s a winner. Even though we were [winning the game], he was still coming, he was still going hard, he was still trying to make shots, still trying to score and bring his team back. That is what I liked about him. He never gave up. That’s just a good teammate you want to have and a good player you want to have on your team. 

“His skill set is incredible. He can finish, he can shoot, he has a lot of hops, he can jump very high, he has a lot of the stuff that I can do. Just having somebody that can do the same thing as you on the court and his basketball IQ is very, very good just like mine, that’s just dynamic. I just can’t wait.”

The important part is the last part. Both can handle the ball, initiate the offense, create for teammates or create for themselves. You want as many multi-talented guys on the floor as you can get, and having two guys that can take similar skillsets and work off of each other makes your attack that much stronger.

From there, Hoiberg could put Dachon Burke — a 6-foot-4 guard — at the three spot and roll with a lineup heavy on ball-handlers. Hoiberg could put 6-foot-6 grad transfer guard Haanif Cheatham at the three spot, he could put 6-foot-6 athlete Amir Harris on the wing (assuming he’s still on the team), or he could put 6-foot-8 shooter Matej Kavas on the wing and play bigger if they were to sign (or retain) a few forwards. 

Either way, this is a guard-heavy team right now, but that doesn’t mean Hoiberg has a bunch of the same player. Burke plays similar to Mack, but he’s bigger. Cheatham and Harris and redshirt freshman Karrington Davis are all the same size but do different things on the court. There’s no one on the roster with Kavas’ combination of size and shooting. There’s a nice blend of everything you want from your perimeter players. 

Getting some size is likely the priority now; incoming freshman Akol Arop is probably not a guy you want to throw to the fire in the Big Ten frontcourt in his first year. But we could be looking at a Mack-Green-Burke-Kavas lineup with a rebounding, screen-setting center in this first year and I think Nebraska’s coaching staff would be happy with that. 

So, while looking at the Huskers.com roster shows a bunch of guards and not a ton of traditional size, Hoiberg and Matt Abdelmassih have done some special work flipping this roster and getting it to where they want it in, like, a month’s time. 

This is Why We Play

I’m borrowing the NBA’s tagline here; I know they’re different sports. 

Nebraska’s season-ending series with Michigan at Haymarket Park could be for all the marbles. 

Michigan has won eight straight as of writing this to rise to the top of the Big Ten table. Nebraska has lost four of six in conference play. A walk-off single from Joe Acker in Game 2 against Illinois prevented a series sweep — which would have been disastrous — but a two-run Illinois double with the Huskers a strike away from a Game 3 win prevented what would have been a 2-1 series win for the Huskers over a top-25 RPI squad. 

Long story short, the Huskers are still right in the thick of the Big Ten title race. They control their destiny. They’re just one game back of Michigan (11-3) with a road series against Northwestern (6-9 in-conference, last) all that’s left in conference play before the grand finale. 

Michigan visits Maryland (tied for fifth) and hosts Indiana (second) before traveling to face the Huskers, with a mid-week tilt against Michigan State in there for good measure. 

With all the bemoaning I’ve seen of head coach Darin Erstad in recent weeks, Nebraska is still right there knocking on the door. The team has issues that need fixing, but this is a prove-it stretch for Nebraska right now. A chance to maybe quiet the doubters and give their head coach some firm ground to stand on when it comes to his approval rating. Of course, there’s a chance it goes sideways, but Nebraska is in control. 

That’s all you want at the end of the day.

No Rest for the Weary

Nebraska makes more offers than any other program in college football. 

And this isn’t a new thing. Part of this has to do with being completely behind when the Husker coaching staff took over in December of 2017. In terms of depth across the roster, Nebraska still feels like a year away from where it wants to be, at least on the offensive side of the ball. So the sheer volume of offers can be partly attributed to playing catch-up. 

But these offers are a numbers game, not the product of a staff just throwing scholarships around willy-nilly and hoping something sticks. Here’s Hail Varsity’s recruiting expert Greg Smith on the topic:

“The amount of offers Nebraska sends out is definitely strategic. The staff understands that when you have to recruit nationally like they do, sometimes the offer is their foot in the door with a kid who may not be that familiar with the school. Also, this recruiting and coaching staff take an immense amount of pride in their ability to evaluate prospects and be among the first to offer. We’ve already seen a number of players they like early in the process go on to blow up during their recruitment.”

A quick scan of that offer list again, Texas is toward the bottom in terms of 2020 offers. But think about it from a geographic standpoint. Texas doesn’t have to leave the state to field a top-25 recruiting class. UCLA’s at the bottom, too, but UCLA can recruit exclusively on the West Coast. In the middle of the country, Nebraska has its options open. It can go west and extend out to Hawaii or it can go east and recruit the upper Northeast. It does both. Because it has a coaching staff that leaves no stone unturned. Tony Tuioti has been everywhere. Ryan Held is consistently everywhere. The work these guys do shouldn’t be discredited. 

In Thursday’s recruiting notebook, tight ends coach Sean Beckton told Hail Varsity what goes into an offer. You can read about this a little more here.

Asked to Leave

I feel for Brady Heiman. I really do. 

The forward from Springfield, Nebraska, needed a redshirt year as a freshman. His body was not ready for the rigors of Big Ten play as a true freshman. That much was evident last season. His game was also not ready for the level of Big Ten play. That much was also evident last season. He knew he needed a redshirt year. But Nebraska desperately needed frontcourt depth so he took one for the team. 

He played early but didn’t play often. In essence, it was a wasted season. Heiman played only 8.6 minutes a night on the season and had by far the worst box plus-minus of anyone on the team to see at least 100 minutes (0.2, next lowest was Thorir Thorbjarnarson at 2.7). But you can sort of explain away the poor play if you break it down. 

His yo-yoing production coincides with yo-yoing court time. He played 21 minutes in the season opener, then 17, then 12 against Seton Hall, then eight against Missouri State, then he gets a DNP-CD against Texas Tech. He plays all of seven minutes in the next two games against Clemson and Illinois, then plays 15 against Minnesota, which would be the most in a conference game all season. He gets 26 in the nonconference finale against Southwest Minnesota State then plays a total of 24 minutes over the course of the next month. 

A bad foul gets him yanked. A missed defensive assignment gets him yanked. It’s hard to play as a young guy and it’s even harder to do so when you know you’re off the court after your first mistake. Did Nebraska have the margin for error to allow Heiman to work through things? No. But that’s not Heiman’s fault. He needed developmental time he didn’t get. And to not play more than 15 minutes in a game even after starting four Isaac Copeland was lost for the season feels strange. 

I didn’t think his style of play fit with the direction Nebraska is heading—which, in my eyes, had more to do with the decision to part ways than a new coach running off the local kid—but I don’t think he is what he showed in his first year. There’s still potential there to be a contributor somewhere. Here’s hoping he finds the right fit somewhere.

 
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