Ahead of the Nebraska men’s basketball team’s game against its intrastate rival, Creighton, the Huskers need to improve their shot selection and teamwork overall, head coach Fred Hoiberg said.
The team sits at a difficult position. On one end, Hoiberg said the team is still learning itself and how it ought to play together, but on the other, that learning process now faces a game with tremendous importance to the state and the fanbase.
“It’s part of the process early in the season once you start playing real games,” Hoiberg said Monday. “Can you continue to do the things that make you successful? What you work on in practice? As opposed to going out there and, like what we did the other night, take over a game, do it on your own.”
Hoiberg spoke a considerable amount on what his team still needs to learn after Friday’s game against Sam Houston State.
Senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr., one of the most important parts of the team’s offense as the primary ball handler, had a difficult game against the Bearkats. He ended up with 13 points, but managed a mere 4-of-16 from the field overall.
Though he also had seven assists, much of Verge’s possessions ended with poor looks for the offense, and his colossal 34.8% usage rate against Sam Houston St. demands more production from the guard.
“I think he understands. Those film sessions, it’s not about taking away aggressiveness. Alonzo, obviously, is a kid who can really get into the paint and he’s got a scorer’s mentality,” Hoiberg said. “He’s fallen back on that a little bit, especially when things aren’t going great on the floor.”
Verge’s problems are underlined by an even greater fault in Hoiberg’s offense this season so far overall. Despite the victory against Sam Houston State, the team looked dysfunctional for long stretches of time.
Hoiberg believes this comes down to, in large part, the team’s varying ability to make simple plays and spray the ball out after getting to the rim. Making its plays for the full game will be crucial in beating Creighton.
“We just need to go out and play with great effort for 40 minutes. If we do that, we’ll have a chance,” Hoiberg said.
Though the team has had a poor time shooting the ball so far this season — it’s currently 316th in the nation in 3-point completion percentage while also holding a 37.2% distribution per kenpom.com — Hoiberg attributes this more to error than anything else. If the team keeps taking its shots, they will eventually start going in.
That being said, Hoiberg had positives to share from the Bearkats victory, especially when it came to his big men.
Freshman forward Eduardo Andre, playing his first minutes of the season, did exceptionally well with his time. He led the Huskers in defensive rebounding rate, managed a couple blocks and hit a showstopping dunk in the first half.
“He was terrific,” Hoiberg said. “He was the key to us winning that game, to give us such a great spark off the bench. He’ll absolutely be in our rotation moving forward. For Eduardo, it’s all about making effort plays, not trying to do too much out there.”
Hoiberg also had kind words for freshman forward Wilhelm Breidenbach, who put up a meagre statline, but played good, smart minutes at the end of the game.
“I was really pleased with Wilhelm,” Hoiberg said. “He finished the game for us and gave us a really good physical game with he and Eduardo out there together.”
Breidenbach was also part of a new-look system for Hoiberg, the coach putting two big men in the same lineup. Hoiberg said this was to keep the team physical at the end of the game.
That physicality will be necessary against the Bluejays, according to Hoiberg.
“I thought we were much more physical in our second game,” Hoiberg said. “And we’re going to have to carry that over into tomorrow night in this game against Creighton. They have some very athletic players, some good length across the board.”
One such player to watch out for is freshman forward Arthur Kaluma, who has early on taken an outsized role in the Bluejays’ rotation. Sophomore center Ryan Kalkbrenner, standing at 7-foot-1, is another potentially concerning piece for the team to be wary of.
Overall, Tuesday’s game will be significant for Hoiberg and the Huskers. It’s the first time the coach will be at Pinnacle Bank Arena with fans in attendance for the rivalry, and Hoiberg knows its importance.
“It’s one of the great things about sports, the rivalry games,” Hoiberg said. “[We’re] really excited about this opportunity. We’ll learn a lot about ourselves from this game.”