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Nebraska Football

Love or Hate: Nebraska's Nikola Mirotic, Dedrick Mills, and More

May 24, 2019
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It’s Friday. Let’s get to it. 

Matej’s Monster Numbers

When Fred Hoiberg was coaching the Chicago Bulls, he had stretch-four Nikola Mirotic for two-and-a-half seasons. During that time, 58 percent of Mirotic’s shots came from 3-point range. He shot 37.7 percent on those 3s. The guy was a perfect compliment to the ball-dominating guards Hoiberg had at his disposal early on. 

Expand his shot profile to include 3s and at-the-rim looks in his first two seasons with Hoiberg (he was hurt the first two months of the 2017-18 season, then played a month and a half before getting traded) and you’re looking at 80 percent of his volume. Mirotic was a spot-up shooter who, when defenses closed recklessly on him or bit on shot fakes, could get to the basket if he had a lane. 

I’ve been thinking about Mirotic’s role a lot in comparison to Nebraska’s new grad transfer forward Matej Kavas. From a purely surface-level comparison, they’re both slimmer-than-average fours from the international ranks who prefer to do their damage in the corner rather than on the block. 

I think Kavas, for the Huskers, could be a perfect version of what Mirotic was in Chicago — a lethal shooter who forces defenses into a decision of allowing driving lanes for guards Cam Mack and Jervay Green or helping off and leaving the corner/wing 3 open for Kavas. It’s the kind of stressful scenario most analytically-driven offenses want to manufacture. Nebraska has the personnel to play exactly that way. 

But Kavas’ numbers are, for lack of a better word, bonkers. 

Jacob Padilla has been breaking down each newcomer’s statistical profile, courtesy of Synergy. Here’s a taste of the former Seattle forward’s.

2018-19 Play Type Possessions PPP Percentile
Overall 220 1.086 93rd (excellent)
Halfcourt Overall 196 1.112 96th (excellent)
Spot-Ups 81 1.173 96th (excellent)
Catch-and-Shoot 76 1.368 95th (excellent)
Catch-and-Shoot (guarded) 54 1.259 90th (excellent)

For context, the NCAA average for points per possession (PPP) on spot-ups last season was 0.941. If you’re over a point per possession in almost any non-paint possession, you’re doing really good things. If you’re above 1.1 points per possession, you’re doing great things. If you manage to hit 1.2 points per possession, you’re among the elite in whatever field you’re a part of. 

That Kavas has those numbers in categories where he stands to have the highest usage in Hoiberg’s system is cause for serious excitment. Nebraska’s philosophy will be to straight up run other teams out of the gym. While I think they have sneaky defensive potential, I still believe offense will run the show. 

Kavas could be an integral part in that show.

Bowl Season Stupidity

Well the 2019-20 bowl schedule is out

Aside from wondering what New York City is like at Christmas time and dreaming about a trip to the Rose Bowl after former co-workers called it the best sporting experience they’ve had, there’s a more pressing matter to discuss.

This college football season — the 150th — will span 15 weeks rather than 14. That has pushed the start of the bowl schedule back to Dec. 20. The two College Football Playoff semifinal games will be played on Dec. 28 this season, three days before New Year’s Eve. There will be 15 bowl games (not including the title game) played after the semifinals. 

Those games include: the First Responder Bowl, the Music City Bowl, the Birmingham Bowl, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and the Mobile Alabama Bowl because we absolutely need multiple meaningless bowl games in the state of Alabama.

And I say meaningless not because I think there are too many bowl games — by all means, put a bowl game in the Bahamas, I’m game; have as many teams as you want play consolation games with rosters that are trimmed more and more every year by guys making business decisions — but because no one cares about the Potato Bowl a week after the two Playoff semifinals. 

ESPN will be talking about the looming national championship, which is now 16 days after the semis. Writers will be writing about the national championship. Fans will have turned their attention to basketball unless you’re a supporter of that lucky MAC or Mountain West team playing in the Potato Bowl, and even they might not care. 

With the establishment of the CFP, the entire point of the college football season now is to get to the playoff. Every road leads to the playoff.

Meaning that’s where the road should end. 

The playoff games should be the final games. If we’re in a year of the cycle where the Rose and Sugar Bowls aren’t playoff sites, the games should be on New Year’s Eve. So help me lord if someone tries to move the Rose Bowl off New Year’s Day. 

If ensuring those dates means cutting bowls, so be it. If it means starting the season earlier, so be it. Those dates should be firm every year. Putting so many games after devalues those games and it adds a tinge of mundaneness to the playoff semis. The postseason should build to the biggest games. The current schedule lacks balance. The later games will feel like afterthoughts, and with as much as I’ve picked on the Potato Bowl, the two teams that earn bids to it still, you know, earned those bids and probably deserve a little more respect than being hangover fodder.

And ratings certainly aren’t to blame for this. An exercpt from a Dan Wolken column:

Last year, the semifinals on Dec. 29 drew 16.8 million and 19 million viewers on ESPN. The Rose Bowl, which included two non-playoff teams in Ohio State and Washington, nearly out-drew the playoff games. The only times the CFP semifinals have drawn more than 20 million viewers were in 2015 and 2018, when they were on New Year’s Day. 

Give me the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve and the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day and the national championship a week-and-a-half later and nothing in between. Please and thank you.

Mills’ Under-the-Radar Impact

Dedrick Mills feels like the piece that completes the puzzle. 

At least in the running back room. Mills was admitted to UNL this week and arrived on campus shortly after to begin summer conditioning with his new teammates. I expect he’ll be able to hit the ground running as he’s had the playbook for some time. I wrote about what his arrival means earlier in the week, but there’s one thing I want to expand on. 

Let’s focus on Maurice Washington’s football ability for a minute. I’m aware he has a pending legal case to get sorted out. The reason that case is happening isn’t something that should be brushed off lightly, either. But for the purposes of this exercise, let’s just focus on the football. After all, he’ll return to it at some point. 

Was Washington a perfect running back in his freshman season? No. He wasn’t. He hit for 5.8 yards a pop on 77 carries and I think that sideline catch he made against Wisconsin was one of the better plays of his entire first year, but he was mostly a change-of-pace runner to Devine Ozigbo’s workhorse. 

Washington needed to add some muscle and he needed to get in the film room. Pass pro is an area that needs refining. Between-the-tackles running is an area that needs expanding. Losing his offseason — even if only in part — was always going to set his development as a runner back a little bit. 

But now Mills is firmly in the picture. Mills is the between-the-tackles runner Washington isn’t yet. Mills is the blocker Washington isn’t yet. Mills is the every-down kind of back we don’t know if Washington is yet. Mills is a talented running back, and he’s going to allow Washington the opportunity to make up for lost time. 

Let’s say Mills wasn’t in the picture. Nebraska would either have to force feed Washington regardless of whether he’s ready or not, run quarterback Adrian Martinez more than it would probably like to in order to make up the difference, or ask freshman Rahmir Johnson to play a key role in the offense right from Day 1. I think all three of those options are doable, but not preferable.

In terms of pure football talent, Washington might have the highest ceiling of anyone on the team not named Martinez. With a legitimate partner in the backfield that can be ready to rumble (sorry, these running jokes are getting bad) from the get-go, Washington can grow on his and Ryan Held’s own timetable. Mills can be the steady hitter and Washington can swing for the fences until he’s ready to take 20 carries a game.

Maybe he’s ready for that now, I don’t know, but Nebraska doesn’t have to rely on that being the case. 

We Should be Better

Sticking on Mills, the situation was weird. It could have been handled better. 

The expectation was that the JUCO running back would make it to campus in May. Here we are, still in May, and Mills has made it to campus. The expectation was that he would make grades and be admitted to the University. Here we are, and he has made grades and been admitted to the University. 

Mills needed a few summer classes to hit the GPA requirement. That’s not out of the ordinary. Most college students take summer classes, either to get ahead or replace lower grades to help their GPA. There wasn’t any last-second rushing, this was the plan. 

The weekly questions about where his academic situation stood seemed a bit much, especially when at the end those texts were sent during that downtime when you’re waiting on final grades and transcript approval. Academics and injuries are two topics that should be handled with a higher level of care than they are from a media perspective, and that’s talking about everywhere, not just at Nebraska. I think we try to be the story a little too often. 

On the Road Again

Outside linebacker coach Jovan Dewitt is back out on the road recruiting. 

Dewitt has been battling a form of throat cancer for months, but has increasingly been able to spend more and more time around the football facilities. He talks to his players daily. Treatment has wrapped up. Everyone in North Stadium gets a smile when you ask about him. It seems things are going as well as they can go. 

He barely missed any of spring ball, even did a session of media interviews, so it’s not surprising he’s already back out recruiting. That doesn’t make the news any less fantastic to hear (or, I guess, read).

 
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