Hoiberg 11.12

Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg converses with an official during the game against Sam Houston State University at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The win was extraordinarily ugly, and likely unbecoming of a team that, only a week ago or so, had serious competitive aspirations.

That being said, the win was also ultimately unremarkable in the sense that it told us little new information about the team that wasn’t already unearthed by the Western Illinois head scratcher.

So these takes aren’t evidence of some new proclivity in the team, but rather notes we already knew: 

The offense doesn’t work yet, really

Of course, it’s only been two games, so any analysis will be tinged with the usual factors, one of them being bad luck. 

Regardless, we can say that the offense is having issues. Through 10 minutes in the first half, the team shot a pitiful 1-8 from the 3-point line. Some of those misses, like the ones from junior forward Lat Mayen early on, can be chalked up to error. They were good looks, just missed.

That being said, the team seemed unable to create good looks at the right times for long runs in the first half. By the end of the period, the team had managed a mere 2-13 from the 3-point line, with 46% of its shots being 3-pointers overall.

The latter factoid is particularly interesting: Hoiberg teams work best when their 3-point ratio hovers anywhere from the 35% to the 40% mark. The more shots it’s taking beyond the arc, the more evidence there is of dysfunction.

Nebraska’s collapse from the 3-point line in the first half was followed by a similarly poor showing in the second, with the team only going 2-for-9 from behind the arc. That being said, the Huskers’ offense looked markedly better in the second half, hitting 50% of its shots and 82.6% of its free throws.

Regardless, the team also had its problems offensively in the second half, particularly with its assist distribution. Though the team made 13 baskets, it only had assists on five of them, not nearly up to the ratio required by a standard Hoiberg offense.

Senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. was a particular offender in this instance. In the first half, the primary ball handler was exceptionally poor, going 1-for-7 from the field. He hit five assists, though these in large part came near the end of the half.

Verge saved some face, though not very much, in the second by going 5-for-7 from the free throw line. Some wild shots, however, meant he also finished the half 3-of-9 from the field overall.

The guard ended the game having used up 34.8% of Nebraska’s possessions, and didn’t do so well. He went 4-for-16 from the field with seven assists overall.

Two things saved Nebraska’s game. First, it was freshman guard Bryce McGowens. McGowens was brought into the team as a five-star recruit in no small part due to his excellent finishing ability, and showed that off well, going 9-of-13 from the field and 4-for-7 from the 3-point line, ending the game with 29 points.

McGowens in particular also led the charge on the other lifesaver for Nebraska: its free throws. 35.1% of the Huskers’ points against Sam Houston State came from the line, and the sheer volume of charity stripe shots the team takes ranks it amongst the highest in all of college basketball so far.

Unfortunately for Hoiberg and the Huskers, the team likely cannot rely on its exorbitant free throw production or McGowens’ ability like it did against Sam Houston St, and will need to correct some of the problems shown in the first half.

Nebraska’s rebounding is still bad...

Heading into the game, Nebraska’s rebounding was a serious concern. The team was outrebounded badly against Colorado and was demolished in the category by Western Illinois, which managed 23 offensive rebounds to Nebraska’s seven at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Sam Houston State was also a better offensive rebounding team (though far worse defensive rebounding team) than the Leathernecks last year per kenpom.com, so this particular part of the game was intriguing heading into the matchup.

In the end, it was basically a wash. The Bearkats outrebounded the Huskers by five and dragged in six more offensive rebounds overall. Though it wasn’t a good result, and Nebraska’s rebounding is still bad, it was improved from the game against Western Illinois.

The reason for that comes down to a few things. First, junior guard Trey McGowens rose up to his role within the defense and managed nine rebounds on the night, many coming from balls ejected past its own immediate surroundings.

That kind of rebound, as opposed to the one which drops right underneath or near to the basket, was where Western Illinois most damaged the Huskers on Tuesday night, and Trey McGowens was there to make sure it didn’t happen again.

The second reason comes in the form of the final takeaway on the night: 

But Eduardo Andre helps

A couple of players stand out from Friday night’s game. While the first, Bryce McGowens, has already been mentioned, freshman forward Eduardo Andre hasn’t, and the forward was instrumental on the night.

Andre didn’t suit up against Western Illinois for a reason other than injury, and was thought to be firmly down the pecking order behind junior forward Derrick Walker. Walker solidified his own role last year at the expense of Andre.

In the 2020-21 season, Andre tended to be a peripheral figure and was only used in 15.4 percent of total possessions last year per kenpom.com. That number shot up. Against the Bearkats, Andre was on the court for 37.5% of the team’s minutes, and used them well.

By the end of the game, the forward had 11 points and seven rebounds. Of those 11 points, five were off of free throws, which is extra remarkable given the fact Andre only took six shots from the charity stripe overall. 

For the whole of last season, the forward went 9-of-20 from the free-throw line, so his shooting on Friday is a marked improvement for the big man.

On top of that, Andre had a full 29% defensive rebounding rate (DRR), a metric that tracks, basically, how good a player is at a particular aspect of rebounding. This was Nebraska’s highest individual DRR.

Playing with Andre, Hoiberg also took the rare luxury of playing with a more traditional basketball line-up. After two consecutive years of a rigid three guard and two forward lineup, the use of a big man like Andre joint with freshman forward Wilhelm Breidenbach represents more experimentation from the offensive guru.