LINCOLN — Fred Hoiberg wakes up around 7 every morning in his Lincoln home, starts a pot of coffee and flips on “Good Morning America.”
The 47-year-old coach should be out and about, at the office of the Hendricks Training Complex or in New York on a recruiting trip. Should’ve been in Atlanta two weeks ago for the Final Four.
But instead, for the past five weeks, Hoiberg spends the first hours awake surfing news channels on his couch or on the family Peloton.
“Bizarre times,” he said this week.
Hoiberg has turned into a news junkie, especially since his coronavirus scare at the Big Ten tournament March 11. After an flu diagnosis and the trip back to Lincoln the next day, Hoiberg’s doctor told him he was on lockdown and couldn’t leave his home. Previous health issues, including two open heart surgeries, put him at high risk.
So Hoiberg putters around the house and turns on the news in every room he’s in. At dinner, he updates his four kids on what Dr. Anthony Fauci said at the White House briefing that day.
“Sometimes it feels like it did last year when I was let go. I’ll start doing a puzzle and drink another cup of coffee,” Hoiberg said. “It’s really weird.”
But between the breaking news and finding corner pieces, Hoiberg is plotting. April and May are a time for recruiting, but also reflection, of which Hoiberg has much to do after the worst season of his college coaching career.
The 7-25 record in Year 1 under Hoiberg was the worst for the program in 60 years. In the Big Ten, Nebraska finished 14th — last — in eight statistical categories: scoring defense, scoring margin, free throw percentage, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense, rebounding defense, rebounding margin and blocked shots.
They were the fourth-worst free throw shooting team in the country and got shots blocked at a higher percentage than any of the other 352 Division-I teams.
“It was a difficult year,” Hoiberg said on the radio last week. “Obviously, nobody went into the season thinking we’d win seven basketball games and just two in the league.”
Since season’s end, four players have transferred and five have been added. Hoiberg will have eight new eligible players next season, all of whom combine for more than 8,500 Division-I game minutes. That includes 6-foot-9 stretch forward Lat Mayen, 6-5 scoring machine Teddy Allen and 6-4 Wisconsin transfer Kobe King, who give Hoiberg the ability to stretch his legs again with an open, diverse playbook. Plus, he has 6-8 Dalano Banton, who is eligible after sitting for one season. Coaches believe Banton could play the same stretch four/point guard role as Royce White or Georges Niang did at Iowa State.
Even so, talent is one thing. Hoiberg has to meld it all together. He has to mix in sit-out transfers, the 2020 newcomers and four returners into a cohesive unit and tweak his system to match a Big Ten that ate Nebraska alive in Year 1.
Which is what these few spring weeks at home are really for.
He’s given two assistants — Armon Gates and Doc Sadler — projects to find new defensive strategies. Sadler will first watch every eague game by every team in the Big Ten. Then, Hoiberg wants Sadler and Gates to watch top defensive teams in the NCAA and the NBA to steal from.
“Just trying to get a better feel for the league,” Sadler said last week.
Hoiberg is currently in the process of rewatching every game and putting together a playbook of things he likeSoon, he’ll have video coordinator Matt Holt jam it all together in a reel and show it to his five 2020 commits to start introducing them to his system.
“I’ll say this. Even though we didn’t have the wins and the win-loss record wasn’t where we wanted it, I do think that we did some important things as far as laying the foundation and as far as establishing a style of play,” Hoiberg said. “There’s things absolutely that we could have done better, but there’s also a lot of things we did well.”
Nebraska led the conference in shots at the rim, Hoiberg said. Problem was, the Huskers finished 14th out of 14 teams in scores at the rim.
“But we were first in generating those shots. That’s a good thing,” Hoiberg said.
d and things he didn’t.
Nebraska didn’t shoot the 3-pointer well — worst among Hoiberg’s six college teams — but NU was third in 3-point-attempt rate.
Hoiberg likes that, and the fact the Huskers finished fifth in the country in average possession length and first in the Big Ten in possessions per game is solid ground to build on.
But that also was with an entirely new team. Cam Mack was a main factor why Nebraska went so fast. He’s not returning. Neither is nearly 60% of Nebraska’s total production. So though the “system” was put in place, it’ll have to be introduced again to eight new guys.
“That’s as important as anything that we do is trying to get everybody together on the same page and build good chemistry,” Hoiberg said. “It’s going to be important, as far as how much time we’re going to have, to get everybody on the same page as quickly as possible.”
Hoiberg isn’t all that worried, he said. His three sit-out transfers — Banton, Derrick Walker and Shamiel Stevenson — ran the offense in practice with two walk-ons and often beat the eligible starters handily. And Hoiberg likes the work ethic of the entire squad. Often, Banton, Walker and Stevenson were the final players to leave practice last season, getting up shots after the rest of the team had left. And on a Zoom call this week, Hoiberg said he sensed a “hunger” from his five 2020 guys.
“In my opinion, the teams that give you the best chance to win are the ones that come back late or the ones that come in an hour before practice and get shots and put in the necessary work,” Hoiberg said. “If you take this as a group of guys, they love to be on the floor. They love to compete. We’re going to do a lot of things together that hopefully will build that chemistry.”
The question will be when that meshing can begin. The plan for now is to get everyone on campus June 6 for eight weeks of workouts. The Big Ten has shut down in-person activities until May 31.
Hoiberg’s not sure if that’ll get extended.
Sporting events all over the country are being postponed past the end of June. So the basketball staff sent workouts to each player to do at home. When they’ll be able to fly back from Iceland, France, Wisconsin and Indianapolis is anyone’s guess.
“They’re hungry and eager to get to work,” Hoiberg said. “Unfortunately, we don’t know when that is.”
So the plans remain in Hoiberg’s head and on laptops, ready to go when that red light turns green.
“The numbers look like there’s a lot of encouraging things going on as far as the curve flattening,” Hoiberg said. “It’s still important that we follow the guidelines and social distancing and to try to get this thing behind us as soon as possible.”
In the meantime, Hoiberg will be at home, on and off the Peloton, on and off the phone, plotting the comeback.