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A KenPom Preview: Nebraska #1

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OK, these KenPom previews are just too long. That's what I've decided. Far, far too long. So, instead, I'm going to keep all of the same categories and stuff; just shorten the hell out of them. Instead of rambling on about something for a pargaraph, like I'm prone to do, we'll bullet-point 'em, then go back and talk analysis later on. Hopefully, this works out better.

Opening Thoughts

In 2006, Kansas and Nebraska played twice, like every year, and again in the Conference Tournament. In the regular season, Kansas won at home by 42 points and in Lincoln by 21. The Big 12 Tournament game was only 14, but still. The next year, 2007, we beat them in Lincoln by 20, and then again by 53 in Lawrence. Then, last season, we beat them by 21, again, in Lincoln, and by 35 in Allen. Again, we faced them in the Big 12 Tournament, and again, it was much closer than in the regular season (10 points), but that's not important.

So, if you're keeping track, that's a list of the last 8 times Nebraska and Kansas haven faced each other in the sport called basketball. Kansas has won all eight games, by an average of 27 points. You take out the two Big 12 Tournament games, and the average margin of victory is 32 points. Of course, that is including the games in Allen Field House, and the games are clearly tougher up in Devaney. Or, more accurately, aren't as soul-crushing for the Huskers. Fine. Average margin of victory up in Lincoln is 20.66 points.

And yet, for some reason, I go in to every single Nebraska game up in Lincoln nervous as hell. I can't really explain it; there's no rhyme-or-reason. It's just, I always remember Nebraska being a tough place to play. Maybe it was that one game where Keith Langford had to hit that three (and our family car pulled over to the side of the road to listen to the end; we were road-trippin' somewhere, can't remember where, and we wanted to be able to listen to the last, intense seconds without the pressures of not getting into an accident, but yeah, the car got quite loud when Keith hit that shot), or maybe it was the year before, when we snuck away with that two-point victory and Drew Gooden wasted away the last few seconds by tossing the ball into the air (that's all I can remember about the game). Whicheve one it is, that memory of those orange-basketball-free-throw-lanes has always stuck with me; that's a dangerous place to play.

And despite that ridiculous average margin of victory, I still find myself nervous about the game tomorrow. Scared, even.

More thoughts, less-memory-related and more statistically relevant, after the jump...

The Background

Nebraska, this year's unit at least, is the reason for the creation of the NIT. Not really, but they just fit the profile perfectly. They have plenty of good players, solid depth, play really good D, hit the 3, have an awesome coach. But, they don't have enough talent, not enough all stars, don't play quite good enough D or don't hit quite as many 3's as necessary to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. It sucks, because the Cornhuskers are the team you love to root for (when they aren't playing your team, at least), but that's just life in competitive D-1 basketball. Suck it up.

Still, they are a dangerous team. They are definitely playing postseason ball this year, and it could be NCAA ball if not for a couple of bad losses. Honestly, if they would have found a way to beat UMBC at home, and to edge out Oregon State in Corvallis (two losses by a combined three points), they would be 14-4, with losses @ Arizona State, @ Iowa State, @ Oklahoma and vs. Oklahoma State. Not the best or resumes, and without any solid wins (best win is probably against Missouri, with Creighton being a Top 100 win as well, but that's it) they would assuredly be on the outskirts currently, but not within striking distance. I don't think the three points they couldn't score in those games, though, makes them any worse of a team, so we have to treat them as if they were a NCAA-type team. On the road. Put aside the ridiculous average margins of victories, and just focus on this current group. The best Nebraska team under Doc Sadler yet, easy.

The Offense

OK, here's how this will work. I am going to have two sub-headings to 'The Offense' and 'The Defense'; one for the Four Factors, or the four main keys to any team, and another on any other random things the team is particularly good at. You'll see what I mean as I get to them...

Four Factors - (For an explanation, click here)

  • Effective FG% [(FGM + 0.5*3PM)/FGA)] - 52.5% (59th) -- Not terrible, but actually worse than I expected. They have the reputation, at least from my point of view, of a shot-making team that plays tough defense. This isn't entirely true, though. Sure, they can knock down shots plenty fine, but it isn't necessarily their offensive strength.
  • Turnover % - 18.2% (42nd) -- This does make sense. They don't turn the ball over, which is a must when you aren't overflowing with athletic ability and natural talent. They rank 5th in the Big 12 in this, so again, not spectacular, but better than most.
  • Offensive Rebounding % - 24% (338th) -- Yikes. This, this right here is where their complete lack of size comes in to play (we'll talk about that in a second). Without any bodies to compete for the boards, they are essentially left with only being able to pick up the long rebounds, or the ones that fortuitously bounce straight into their hands. This is both a good and bad thing, for us. On one hand, this would seem to indicate that we won't killed on the offensive glass. But if we still don't box out, and they do have an abnormally good day with the second chance points, then they are that much better on O, and we are that much more likely to lose. 
  • Free Throws Attempted / Field Goals Attempted - 38.5 (113th) -- This makes sense, I suppose. They have some slashers (Cookie Miller, Ade Dagunduro) letting them get to the line some, but most of the rest are three-point shooters, which limits their chances from the free throw line.

Other Random Tidbits

  • Really, there is only one 'random tidbit' worth mentioning about Nebraska's offense, and it's an obvious one; they like the 3. Not as much as Iowa State (36.5% of Nebraska's field goal attempts are threes, compared to 39% for the Cyclones), but they are more accurate from long range than the Clones. As a team, they shoot nearly 38% from three, which is ridiculous. So, yeah, just like last game, we have to keep an eye on the three-point arc.

The Defense

Four Factors

  • Effective FG% [(FGM + 0.5*3PM)/FGA)] - 47.4% (110th) -- Surprisingly, with how good of an overall defensive team the Cornhuskers are, they aren't very good at limiting shots. Not terrible, but you can make shots on them.
  • Turnover % - 27.7% (2nd) -- However, they will turn you over a helluva lot. I mean, only one team (Nichols State) turns you over on more possessions. That is ridiculous. Missouri has the reputation of being the hassling, turn-you-over defense, but Nebraska more accurately fits that description. Holy hell. We are going to have to be extra careful not to make careless mistakes; I'm not as worried about Sherron, but Tyshawn, and the Morris twins scare me. Especially Marcus and Markieff. I love 'em, and I'm more positive on them than most, but they are both good for at least a couple of freshmen mistakes a game.
  • Off. Reb % - 30.3% (73rd) -- Again, nothing special, but they are good enough to get away. They will give up some bunnies occasionally, but usually do a pretty good job of keeping you off the boards, which is impressive given their lack of height (again, more on that later).
  • Free Throws Attempted / Field Goals Attempted - 38.5 (216th) -- See what I mean about the hacktastic, Missouri-like D? They will put you on the free throw line a bunch, so if you can hit the freebies, you should be in good shape. I'm telling you all, though, this should be the team we think about with that whole 40 Minutes of Hell nonsense. They are the team that turns you over non-stop, without being particularly averse to fouling.

Other Random Tidbits

  • Like I mentioned, this team's effective height (explanation and more here) is awful. In fact, according to the measurement, Nebraska is the shortest team in all of Division 1. No, seriously. For real. And as much as I love Doc Sadler as a coach, I pray that this is merely because he can't lure a talented big man to Lincoln, and not because he doesn't think it's necessary. You can get away with a lot of stuff without a big guy, but having Alexs Maric back there got them a lot of extra points and a lot of offensive rebounds and a lot of altered shots. Size is often overrated, but not to the point where you can throw out an entire team under 6'7" and expect to seriously compete. It's more correlated to defensive performance, so that's why it's here. In fact, the article states that the four things that effective height most correlates to are, in order: Block percentage, 2-pt FG% defense, eFG% defense and Adj. Defensive Efficiency. In other words, almost your entire non-3pt FG% defense is greatly affected by height. This makes sense. So, uh, Doc; you gettin' any height soon? This is why they have to be so dependent on getting turnovers; their height prevents them from being particularly good at anything else.
  • Given the lack of height, they are unsurprisingly bad at Block%. Shocking. However, also noteworty is that they force you to take a boatload of threes. Their average opponent shoots 38.9 threes a pop; a ridiculous number. They do this, naturally, by packing in the lane, making up for their lack of height in pure bodies. This is what they did to Oklahoma and Blake Griffin, and this is what they are going to do against us and Cole Aldrich.

The Players

OK, this is the section that always takes way too long. So, I'm going to try and shorten it.

G Cookie Miller - He's known for being 5'7". However, he's more than that. He's their assists guy, the drive-and-kick-or-float-it-up player, and is also a really good defedner.

G Paul Velander - Long. Range. Bomber. Has taken 104 threes, and only 9 twos. He is damn good at it, too, shooting 47% from three. That's Mario Chalmers territory, folks. Brady, meet Paul. Paul, meet Brady. He's the one who'll keep you from hitting a meaningful three all game.

G Steve Harley - Harley sees more minutes than anyone else, and is the veteran presence on this team. He is short, as well, only 5'11", but he is a really good defender. He is never called for fouls (1.6 per 40 minutes), steals the ball plenty and never, ever turns the ball over on offense. He's their primary slasher, primarily twos, although he can shoot from three too.

G/F Sek Henry - Welcome to Nebraska, where at 6'3" you're the effective power forward. It doesn't matter much, as they play almost exclusively zone, but still. Sek has the highest eFG% on the team, can drain it from three, is another solid defender and has a frickin' amazing first name.

F Ade Dagunduro - Dagunduro, probably, is the best basketball player on the Huskers. He's a senior, which is disappointing for Cornhusker fans, but does everything right, pretty much. Draws a bunch of fouls, is a halfway decent shot-blocking presence, steals the ball a bunch, is their lone presence on the offensive glass. Everything.

G Ryan Anderson - Their other primary three-point shooter. He isn't nearly as good, though, so shoot away, Ryan. He is the best on the team as stealing the ball on Nebraska, and is the best, statistically, defensive rebounder on the team. Sees plenty of time; effectively the sixth starter.

G/F Toney McCray - The best shot-blocking presence on the team, and he seems to be the player destined to replace Dagunduro. Only a freshman, he is of the same build and all of that good stuff, and appears to be an awesome player. He's the next Ade; I'm telling you.

The Keys

Going back to the Keys; I didn't like the Gameplan.

For this game, there really are only two keys. And they both have a lot to do with that three-point line. Really, I don't want to oversimplify anything, but I think it all depends on the three.

  1. Shut Down Velander and Company - Honestly, with Brady on Velander, I'm not too worried about him. Not to sound cocky, or anything, but put Brady on Michael Jordan, and I'm confident he could hold him under 20. Dude is just ridiculous. However, their entire team can drain the three, so we can't just say it's done and move on. Tyshawn and Tyrel and Sherron and even the bigs, like Mario, Marcus, Markieff and maybe even Quintrell, are going to have to stick their ass on their guys and not let them get open looks. If they get open threes, they're going to drain 'em. If they don't, their offense isn't the same unit, and will struggle to keep up with ours.
  2. Make Open Threes - It is no secret as to what the Cornhuskers are going to do on defense; pack the hell in. It's ridiculous how many they leave in the lane, preventing any opportunity to pass it in to Cole and have him slam it home. Sure, he'll get his 16 and 12, or whatever, but that will mostly be on fast breaks and put backs. However, when they all crowd in on Cole, that leaves the three point line wide, wide open. Brady, Tyrel, Tyshawn, Sherron. I'm looking at all of you. I'm not worried about Sherron, he always makes his threes (or at least, so it seems), but the other three can sometimes be-hot-and-cold. Hell, even Mario will get some three attempts, probably. If we hit our open threes, we win the game. I promise. If not, well, we could be in a major dog fight.

There are other important things to remember, like not turning the ball over and forcing turnovers and all of that general stuff you always need to do, but the three-pointers are the key. Make 'em and contain 'em on D, we win. The opposite, we lose. Somewhere in between, and it'll be a fun game to watch, but we probably come out on top.

I'm pumped.

And, yeah, a little nervous. But, oh well. That's just what happens whenever we go up to Lincoln. It's inevitable. At least for me.