Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Basketball

Padding the Stats: Basketball Grab-Bag

August 19, 2020

After a spring and summer largely absent of live sports, the last month or so filled with basketball has been just what I needed. Since the hoops overload of the NBA restart and grassroots basketball tournaments over the last six weeks have me in a good mood, I decided to take a break from all the uncertainty and frustration surrounding the Big Ten and everything else to focus in on a few hoops-related topics I’ve been thinking about.

Let’s get to it.

Highly Placed Spies

We’ll start with a little Nebrasketball talk. On Friday, college basketball writer and tweeter extraordinaire Jon Rothstein reached out to his “highly placed spies” in Lincoln (you can probably figure out who that refers to) to get some insight on who to keep an eye on.

It’s interesting to me that Mayen was the name Rothstein heard. This comes on the heels of assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih speaking very highly of Mayen on the Nick Bahe podcast from Parkville Media.

Dalano Banton (among the returners from last year’s roster) and Teddy Allen (among the newcomers) have gotten plenty of hype, and I expect them both to play huge roles. But Mayen could be the key to unlocking the way Fred Hoiberg really wants to play.

The game has been getting smaller and smaller, but it’s not out of any kind of bias against tall people. The purpose behind playing small ball is to get as much skill as possible on the court as guards and wings tend to have more varied skill sets than traditional power forwards and centers. Whatever the team gives up in size it hopes to make up for in speed and skill.

Last year, Nebraska basically played four-guard lineups all season with guys like Haanif Cheatham (6-foot-5, 195 pounds), Jervay Green (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and Thorir Thorbjarnarson (6-foot-6, 206 pounds) manning the four spot.

But what if you don’t have to give up too much size to gain that skill advantage? That’s where Mayen comes in. He’s still rather thin at a listed 205 pounds, but his height (6-foot-9) and rebounding ability (8.4 rebounds per game last year at Chipola College) together with his 3-point shot and handles make him a perfect fit for what Hoiberg wants to do, at least on paper.

Shamiel Stevenson has finally made his way to campus as well, and he gives Hoiberg another option to get the skill he wants on the court without giving up too much in the way of size. Unlike Mayen, Stevenson is only 6-foot-6, but his 245-pound frame and his 6-foot-11 wingspan allow him to play bigger than his height. He’s a very good rebounder who can get to the basket in transition and hit shots from the perimeter. He probably would have been a starter had he received a waiver from the NCAA to play, and Hoiberg has a couple of quality options at his disposal.

Don’t Burst My Bubble

Speaking of college basketball, the NCAA literally cannot afford to cancel the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. That’s why it was reassuring to hear NCAA president Mark Emmert does believe creating bubble environments is possible for college sports, no matter what Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott believes.

College football sat around and waited with fingers crossed hoping things would be better in time for a season. That didn’t happen, and college basketball can’t make the same mistake. Decision-makers need to be proactive and consider all possible avenues forward and continue workshopping them as new information becomes available. If there’s anything professional sports can teach us, it’s that bubbles do work.

Creating bubble environments for college basketball would be an incredibly complex undertaking with a lot of things to sort out, but I’m glad the NCAA is wiling to consider it. I’m still worried a season won’t be possible, but I feel much better about the chances than I did before Emmert spoke. 

From the Ashes…

The unquestioned best story of the NBA’s seeding games in Orlando was MY 8-0 Phoenix Suns. My fellow long-suffering Suns fans and myself have been through a lot over the last decade, and we absolutely deserved the brief stretch of pure happiness that the bubble games produced.

The Suns got off to a great start back at the beginning of the season until suspension, injury and a lack of depth took their toll and the Suns fell mostly out of playoff contention despite Devin Booker playing at very high level. Still, the team was better than a lot of people gave them credit for and the Suns got to show that in Orlando.

Eight games is less than 10% of a season, so it would’t be wise to put too much stock into what we saw in those games while ignoring everything that happened before the restart, but I can’t help but head into the offseason much, much more optimistic than I would have had the Suns not gotten a chance to show that they might have figured some things out.

Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson — four of the five starters from the restart — are under 25 years old. Kelly Oubre Jr. didn’t play in Orlando, but he still has one more year on his contract and took a big step forward this season. Toss veteran point guard Ricky Rubio into that otherwise young core and the Suns suddenly have a group fans like me can be excited about.

Yay for Day Basketball

The playoff portion of the NBA restart began this week, and I have to say, this schedule is both awesome and a little bit odd. I’m definitely not used to high-intensity playoff basketball in the middle of a weekday. In the central time zone, games have started at 12:30 p.m. this week, which is pretty awesome. Even better, the last game of the day has been tipping off around 8 p.m., meaning those that have to get up early the next day don't have to stay up past midnight to catch the end of the late game.

This kind of schedule wouldn’t be possible during a normal season where travel and home crowds have to be taken into account, but for this unique season I’m certainly enjoying it. The early results have been pretty crazy too with both No. 1 seeds dropping their first game on Tuesday. It will be fascinating to see how the rest of these series play out absent any true home court advantage.

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