Fred Hoiberg - 11.22.19

Nebraska Men's Basketball head coach Fred Hoiberg reacts to a call on the court during the game at Pinnacle Bank Arena against Southern University on Friday, Nov. 22, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Nebraska basketball won its first close, exciting game in the Hoiberg era. Despite being a game which should have been, by all predictions, a Nebraska blowout, the Huskers showed a capacity to do something heretofore unseen. Grit, ‘it’ factor or clutch, the Huskers showed it Saturday night. Here’s four more takeaways from the victory over Southern University:

Hot and cold defensive effort leads to blocks and open 3-pointers

Nebraska, according to statistician Ken Pomeroy, is a defense-dependent team, meaning that it’s a team which has a comparatively better defensive rating than offensive rating. However, Nebraska’s defense is far from a finished product, and despite a strong showing against South Dakota State, there were some significant problems on the defensive end against Southern.

There were some positives to be taken from Nebraska’s defensive performance. There were a number of highlight plays and clutch moments, including active steals from junior guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson and senior guard Matej Kavas.

However, the team conceded open shots on the 3-point line, only significantly contesting a third of them. Southern University was only able to make 31 percent of their 3-point shots, but it could’ve been worse.

More worryingly, Nebraska allowed above-average shooting from Southern in the paint, which is antithetical to the purpose of Sadler’s post-centric defense. Nebraska was good in forcing mid-range shots from Southern, with 15 percent of their shots coming from that area. Southern, however, shot comparatively well from mid-range, 6-13, good for .92 points per shot.

Kavas’ no-calls were a perfect example of rule differences between NBA and NCAA basketball

In the first half, senior guard Matej Kavas had a number of contentious no-calls on his 3-point shots, which eventually culminated in a flopping warning against him. What was happening is that Kavas would fall against the closeout from his opposing defender in an attempt to draw a foul.

In the NBA, ever since Zaza Pachulia closed out on Kawhi Leonard in the Western Conference Finals and rendered him unavailable for the rest of the series, unofficial “landing zone” rules were introduced into the league. A knock-on effect of this was that it can be easily exploited (James Harden and Luka Doncic being the two primary exploiters of this rule). Despite the NBA and NCAA sharing the exact same language in the rulebook, the NBA interprets the rule slightly differently to include the landing zone provision.

Kavas was attempting to draw the landing zone foul from the opposition. However, since the NCAA doesn’t call this rule the same way as the NBA does, he was given the flopping warning. Though not an incorrect application of the rule, technically, as Kavas’ falls were meant as a signal to the referees rather than a legitimate fall, it’s definitely an indicator of the differences between the NBA and NCAA basketball.

“I thought it was a foul. The ref said that it wasn’t,” Kavas said after the game. “I need to make sure I land properly, so that’s all.”

Nebraska unlocks the 3-point puzzle

Of the early-season narratives surrounding Nebraska, few have been as prominent as its struggles from the 3-point line. Despite having a 3-point frequency of 40 percent before tonight, Nebraska shot only 21.2 percent from beyond the arc. Tonight, with a frequency of 39 percent, Nebraska shot 57.1 percent from the 3-point line, good for an incredible 1.713 points per shot.

This is obviously not sustainable, but at the same time it shouldn’t be considered a complete aberration. That is to say Nebraska may have turned a corner in how they take 3-point shots. Rather than relying completely on shot-creating, a number of 3-pointers made were good, open shots and high-percentage looks. There were a few incredible, heavily contested shots which can’t be relied upon, but the majority of 3-pointers were the stuff of healthy staple diets.

“We’ve been shooting a ton in practice,” head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Whether you’re shooting 3s or free-throws, it’s contagious. If you knock down the first couple you have a tendency to shoot a pretty good percentage throughout the game.”

Rebounding is a significant problem

“I thought, to be able to rebound or bounce back from the loss,” Hoiberg said, before catching himself. “Well, not rebound.”

This joke, good natured as it is, shows a significant problem which nearly sunk Nebraska and hurt them throughout the game. Southern University had 54 rebounds on the night to Nebraska’s 28, 25 of which were offensive. These 25 offensive rebounds contributed directly to Southern’s 29 more field goal attempts throughout the game.

Freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo, the tallest player on the team and rebound specialist, was only able to grab four throughout the game. Nebraska’s two big men (Ouedraogo and freshman forward Kevin Cross) combined for a mere 16.5 percent rebound rate throughout the game.

Grabbing rebounds is absolutely paramount to Hoiberg’s offensive scheme. Off of an offensive board, Nebraska would be able to fashion a new possession and push the pace as a result. Grabbing the defensive rebound lets Nebraska transition into offense immediately before the opposing team gets the chance.

Nebraska’s lack of rebounding acumen hurts it on both sides of the ball. And, without improving in this fundamental skill, the Huskers will be hopelessly outmatched against stronger opposition.

“We tracked a lot of 50/50 balls and they were getting a lot of them,” Hoiberg said, “They got right back into it, and a lot of that is due to loose balls and rebounds. We talked about it the first day we got together, rebounding would be a significant issue for our group.”