Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg has identified three key problems in his team’s game that need to be addressed, soon, before the season gets in full swing: rebounding, hitting simple plays and the need to exercise the full depth of the squad.
First, the rebounding. Hoiberg’s teams rely on rebounding for offensive production but, for Hoiberg, the problem doesn’t come down to the big men on the team, who Hoiberg believes did their job well in the exhibition games.
“I thought our bigs really battled when I looked back at the film,” Hoiberg said Monday. “I thought those guys did their job of getting into bodies, and then with our guards...they did not create that rebounding area, that’s where a lot of our second chance opportunities came.”
Junior forward Derrick Walker was specifically praised by Hoiberg, who in turn had some advice for the guards when it came to their rebounding game.
“Everyone has to rebound, not just one guard or one big,” Walker said Monday. “Everyone has a job and everyone has to rebound. We need to be more physical with our boxout and get the board.”
Against Colorado, Nebraska was handily outrebounded 47-37, while the Huskers barely edged out Peru State on rebounds 33-32. These concerns arise in part due to the roster turnover. Last year, Nebraska’s best rebounder was guard Dalano Banton, who promptly left to join the NBA.
Hoiberg calling on his guards to fill some of the void caused by Banton’s absence isn’t merely out of necessity, but also due to the fundamental makeup of Hoiberg’s offenses.
“We’re a fast paced team and if we don’t get the first initial rebound we can’t get out and run,” Walker said. “It’s really important that we get that initial rebound that comes off the rim.”
Over the course of the preseason, Hoiberg has also demanded from his team simple plays over the spectacular.
For the Nebraska coach, stretches of the game against Colorado was a chief example for this problematic tendency within his squad.
“Now the challenge is making sure we continue to carry over from the exhibitions into the regular season, just to continue to go out and make simple plays,” Hoiberg said. “We had one stretch in the Colorado game where we tried to get a little fancy. When we kept it simple, moved the ball, we had great possessions.”
Staying close to the simple plays will define Nebraska’s season, Hoiberg said. The coach said that the team faced little adversity against the Buffaloes, while the game against Peru State was equally as uncontested. This won’t be the case all season.
Finally, elements of the injury bug have already shown their head this season. Nothing dramatic, but Hoiberg said two players, junior forward Lat Mayen and senior guard Kobe Webster will both be gametime decisions on Tuesday.
“We’ve got a pretty good feel for where we are,” Hoiberg said. “With Kobe, his back is still bothering him a bit, with Lat it’s his ankle...like I said, we’ll probably make a decision pretty close to gametime.”
The loss of either would be considerable. Mayen played a little over 23 minutes against Colorado and was a starter, looking to carry over a role he secured last season. Though Webster has been used sparingly, his presence on the court for spot minutes was seen as a major benefit to the team.
Such knicks and other injuries are inevitable during a season, but the Huskers potentially have the depth to match. Mayen could be replaced by freshman forward Wilhelm Breidenbach, a high-ranking recruit who has impressed early on in the preseason, even if his overall game is rather different from Mayen’s.
These necessary points of improvement may not be weaknesses all season — the team has already shown considerable growth in other early season problems. Before the exhibitions, Hoiberg talked about concerns in the team’s transition defense. Those concerns have largely been answered, at least by the team’s exhibition games.
“We have limited transition. We had a couple live ball turnovers which led to pick sixes for Colorado, which got them back in the game,” Hoiberg said. “So, for me, it was more about taking care of the ball rather than getting back, but for the most part I’ve been really pleased with our early season transition defense.”
Hoiberg and the Huskers have two more games against lower opponents to refine these parts of its game before its first big test of the regular season: hosting Creighton at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“I’m confident we’ll get better than what we did in the exhibition,” Hoiberg said. “If we do that, if we clean up the glass, we’re going to have a great year.”