It came near the end of the game, and a number of the attendees had already left, but the awe from the crowd was no less audible. Freshman Charlie Easley threw a lob to freshman Akol Arop, a Lincoln-to-Omaha connection, and Arop gathered himself for the dunk. Unfortunately, the ball hit the rim too harshly and bounced to a Doane defender to the dismay of the Pinnacle Bank Arena audience.
In many ways, this one play is representative of the early expectations for Hoiberg’s team this season — exciting, incredible, active play with room to improve — and the season’s opener, an exhibition against Doane, showed all of that.
Fred Hoiberg is a coach with a defined offensive scheme — a coach where you can identify his offense based off of a few key signifiers. One of those signifiers is a complete abandonment of the midrange game. It’s the farthest shot away from the hoop but not quite far away enough to add the extra point which would make it valuable. Based on the shot chart from last night’s exhibition against Doane University, Hoiberg understands this analytical approach well:
One of the lone outliers in this shot chart is a step-back, mid-range jumper from junior Dachon Burke Jr. seen represented as this number 11 dot:
“It kind of pissed me off that he made it,” Hoiberg joked after the game.
Hoiberg’s system emphasizes layups, post-plays and 3-pointers. And the exhibition against Doane showed the Huskers can be more than efficient in the post as they shot 72% in the paint, good for 1.44 points per shot. However, Nebraska’s 3-point shooting left something to be desired at only 28.6% on 28 shots. This lags behind Hoiberg’s first season with Iowa State where that team shot 36.8% from beyond the arc.
This may seem inconsequential, but if Hoiberg’s Iowa State team in 2010-11 shot 28.6% from three as opposed to 36.8%, Hoiberg’s Iowa State team would have scored 184 points less than they did. That 184 points is enough to decide games and thus the result of the season.
Without improvement from 3-point range, the Huskers will be unable to threaten teams with their shot. As a result, this closes down the post-plays and layups which are just as crucial in Hoiberg’s system. Also, without a consistent 3-pointer, giving up 10 or 15-point leads can quickly turn into a rout for the young Husker team.
Defensively, the Huskers looked superb inside. For 22 layup attempts from Doane, the Huskers significantly contested half of them. Along with that, junior guard Jervay Green and senior guard Haanif Cheatham each recorded a block — a sign of versatility in a defense which heavily relied on switching rather than fighting through screens.
However, just as that switching showed ability in the post, it also revealed deficiencies in the Huskers’ perimeter defense. From the 31 3-pointers Doane shot, 22 of them were nearly or completely uncontested. If Doane converted on more of these 22 uncontested shots, the final result may have not been as impressive for Nebraska.
Freshman Kevin Cross impressed in the 19 minutes he was on the court. His passing was on full display, recording three assists, the most of any Husker forward. Cross also had an impressive 36.6% defensive rebounding rate, a simple statistic which estimates the percentage of rebounds that the player wins while he is on the court.
Cross wasn’t the starter; however, as highly touted freshman forward Yvan Ouedraogo was the lone forward in the starting lineup and is expected to be a starter on the team due to his 6-foot-9, 285-pound frame. However, Ouedraogo had a mixed performance on the night. One of the most important parts of a Hoiberg offense is the ability to rebound and transition it into early offense.
“Rebounding, I thought we did a solid job,” Hoiberg said after the game. “Our goal was to keep them under 10 on the offensive glass after getting hurt in our scrimmage.”
Hoiberg emphasized limiting second-chance opportunities because that effectively gives the opposition a free possession.
Ouedraogo was a monster in the post, scoring six points and drawing three shooting fouls. However, his defensive rebound rate left something to be desired at 9.7%. Amongst his teammates who grabbed a rebound, Ouedraogo ranked seventh out of 10. This may be somewhat disappointing for a team that hopes its young forward will be able to compete with Big Ten centers on the defensive glass.
Success in Nebraska’s first season under Hoiberg will not be defined by wins. This season will be defined by how much Hoiberg is able to instill his offense into the team, and how much he is respected by his players, even if they are losing.
Looking at the team, you can see already the hallmarks of a Hoiberg offense, but the execution is still lacking and in its most infant stages. But, even in these early stages, it remains a Hoiberg offense — exciting, impassioned, intelligent and something which Nebraska fans can ultimately enjoy.
“The play that was my favorite play the game was when Charlie threw that alley-oop to Akol,” Hoiberg said after the game. “He unfortunately missed it, but I thought it was just an incredible pass by Charlie and then Akol, His head was up on the rim. But the fun thing was to see those guys out there.”