Head coach Fred Hoiberg and Michigan have a history going into Nebraska’s matchup on Tuesday, Jan. 28.
On Nov. 17, 2013, Iowa State upset Michigan in Ames as Hoiberg announced his style to the rest of the basketball world. Hoiberg’s unranked Iowa State team beat a seventh-ranked Michigan team led by Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert, all of who eventually moved onto the NBA.
Michigan’s first year under new head coach Juwan Howard has been rocky. After a fantastic early start with wins over Creighton, Gonzaga and Iowa, a horrid 1-6 stretch in Big Ten play has brought the Wolverines back down to Earth.
Unfortunately for the Huskers, it would appear that Michigan’s losing stretch is more based on individual circumstances rather than a systemic issue. According to kenpom.com, Michigan is 16th in 2-point field goal percentage, 16th in offensive block and steal percentage and 34th in adjusted offense in the country.
At the same time, Michigans concedes the third-fewest 3-point attempts per 100 field goal attempts in the country at 31.5. Nebraska’s average 3-point distribution is currently at 41%, though in Big Ten games decided by fewer than 10 points, Nebraska averages closer to 50% 3-point distribution.
Michigan is also one of the best teams at limiting assists per 100 field goal completions, while Nebraska is in the upper third for assists per 100 field goal completions. 55.4 of every 100 Nebraska field goal completions are from assists, whereas against Michigan, teams only average 37.6 assists per every 100 field goals.
While it may be possible to attribute those defensive stats to the opponents Michigan has faced, it also played Iowa twice, a team with a similar offensive profile to Nebraska (they’re not one-to-one equivalents as Nebraska is faster and Iowa is better, but their playstyles are similar). Against Iowa, Michigan split the two matchups.
One of the biggest differences between the two games ended up being the number of 3-pointers Iowa took. In general, 37.6% of Iowa’s shots are 3-pointers and it shoots 36.1% from beyond the arc. Against Michigan, however, Iowa only took 15 3-point shots, 20% of its overall field-goal attempt distribution. Of those 15 3-point shots, Iowa only converted three, a far cry from its average. The second time, Iowa took more 3-pointers as a part of the overall distribution, with 30% of its shots being 3-pointers. It also converted those shots much better, at a rate of 52%.
Surprisingly, Iowa took 21 fewer shots against Michigan the second time than it did the first time, despite there being only a one-possession difference between the two games. Part of this comes down to shots off offensive rebounds. Iowa also took 16 more shots the first time than Michigan did, but that’s because Iowa fouled Michigan more often and Michigan ended 29-34 from the free-throw line.
These two games roughly outline the two ways the game can go for Nebraska. If all goes well, then Nebraska hits its shots from the 3-point line and also draws fouls in the paint for free-throw opportunities which it has to make. However, as stated many times before, one of Nebraska’s greatest weaknesses is free throws. If Nebraska is forced into a long slash-and-paint-driven affair, it will be beaten by Michigan. Its greatest strength being its ability to disincentivize the 3-pointer.
Against Rutgers, there were some signs that Nebraska’s motion-heavy spread pick-and-roll offense could work well. Despite sophomore guard Cam Mack leaving the court early in the game with a few fouls, some spot ball-handling capabilities were shown off by Nebraska’s junior guards Dachon Burke Jr. and Thorir Thorbjarnarson. With full pick-and-roll integration from Burke and Thorbjarnarson, Nebraska will have multiple points of attack by which to threaten any team in the Big Ten. This is a positive.
Overall, the stats indicate that Michigan is a daunting task despite its record in the Big Ten. Head coach Juwan Howard has already planted a solid, strong defensive identity in the team in a somewhat similar way to Hoiberg’s explosive offensive identity. And, no matter what, this meeting will go down as the first of hopefully many fascinating basketball case studies between these two basketball minds.