Big Ten Geeks: Miles Ahead

The consensus amongst, well, everyone, was that Nebraska was set to finish last in the Big Ten this year. And we’re still very early in the season, so it’s premature to start upsetting the prediction apple cart too much based on a handful of games. But it’s impossible not to notice the fact that Tim Miles’ team is well ahead of where most figured it would be this year. To wit, the Huskers entered the season ranked as the #123 team in the Pomeroy ratings, which reflects an assessment of how last year’s team played, along with what players they have returning to and entering into the program. But after last night’s tough loss to a good UMass team, Nebraska checks in at number 74.

How is Tim Miles squeezing so much out of this roster? Well, certainly one of the contributing factors is how Nebraska approaches defense. Because of the pack line philosophy that Miles has instituted in Lincoln, opponents are finding two-point jumpers in abundance:

Team

Percentage of Shots at the Rim

Percentage of Shots as Two-Point Jumpers

Percentage of Shots as Three-Pointers

Michigan

21%

46%

34%

Nebraska

24%

45%

31%

Wisconsin

33%

42%

25%

Minnesota

27%

39%

35%

Purdue

32%

38%

30%

Iowa

30%

37%

33%

Indiana

33%

35%

33%

Ohio State

31%

33%

36%

Illinois

33%

32%

35%

MSU

34%

32%

34%

Northwestern

37%

32%

31%

Penn State

33%

29%

38%

These are last year’s numbers, so it’s a pretty sizable sample of games. Prior to Miles’ arrival, Nebraska was much more middle-of-the-pack (37%). It’s certainly no coincidence that the teams that espouse pack line principles happen to be forcing a lot of two-point jumpshots.

Of course, cornering opponents into a mid-range game is no panacea. The Huskers still had the minor problem that 72 percent of opponents’ shots at the rim were converted, and the fact that the team couldn’t stop opponents from getting to the foul line. And those things are still problems. Yesterday, UMass attempted a staggering 43 free throws, and made 67 percent of their attempts at the rim. But meanwhile, the offense is coming along nicely, as Miles has shrunk Nebraska’s turnover rate even further this season, to a scant 13.2 percent of its offensive possessions.

(Miles’ trick? No passing. The Huskers have one of the lowest assist to made field goal ratios in the country. On a certain level, this makes sense—if you don’t try to pass the ball to your teammates, then you can’t accidentally pass it to an opponent. But this approach also probably limits the upside of the offense. Now that there seems to be a critical mass of ballhandlers in Lincoln, I hope we’ll see a bit more sharing of the rock as well.)

I’ve been a Tim Miles fan since his first press conference, when he boldly proclaimed “[r]ecruiting is a great idea, I always have found that it helps.” And from the looks of it, he’s well ahead of the rebuilding schedule. As for finishing in last place—the Pomeroy Ratings now think the Huskers will end up 10th, and they’re closing in on Purdue.

Elsewhere, Indiana pretty much rebounded the few interior shots it didn’t convert, posting a whopping 59 percent offensive rebounding percentage in a win over Washington. The freshmen tandem of Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams combined for 40 points and 17 rebounds. These Hoosiers aren’t the best shooting team—just 29 percent from three so far—but the good news is that a missed shot is probably Indiana’s best offensive play. Synergy!

Some good hoops today and this weekend. Nebraska is in a back and forth battle against UAB (ESPN3), and a little later Michigan faces a tough Florida State team that demolished VCU yesterday. Tonight, it’s UConn/Indiana, and Michigan State matches up against Virginia Tech. If the Big Ten beats the ACC in both games tonight (and they should), we’ll lobby to include these in the official Big Ten/ACC Challenge tally.

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