After perhaps the longest offseason in college basketball history, the Huskers are set to tip off the 2020–21 season in just a few days.
Nothing is set in stone and a game (or multiple) can drop off the schedule at any time, but Nebraska is set to open the season at home against McNeese State on Wednesday. To get you ready for what you’re going to see, we’re offering you a refresher course in three installments on the new-look roster.
We’re breaking this up into guards, wings and bigs, even though certain players could fit into one category as well as another. First up?
Senior: Kobe Webster (6-foot, 172 pounds)
Junior: Trey McGowens (6-foot-4, 191 pounds)
Sophomore: Dalano Banton (6-foot-9, 204 pounds), Chris McGraw (6-foot, 170 pounds)
Freshman: Elijah Wood (6-foot-5, 174 pounds), Jace Piatkowski (6-foot-3, 184 pounds)
There isn’t a player in this group that logged a single minute for the Huskers last season. Cam Mack, Dachon Burke, Haanif Cheatham, Dachon Burke and Charlie Easley are all gone. But after a 7-25 season, that may not be a bad thing, and Fred Hoiberg is very excited about his new backcourt.
Let’s start with Banton, the transfer from Western Kentucky who redshirted last season. The former top-100 recruit had an up-and-down freshman year as a Hilltopper, averaging 3.4 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists in just 15.1 minutes per game. In his 12 starts, he averaged 4.5 points, 4.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 24 minutes per game.
You won’t find many 6-foot-9 point guards at any level of basketball, but that’s the role Hoiberg envisions for Banton. He’s a gifted playmaker who uses his vision and size to make passes and find teammates all over the court. He should be dangerous in the open floor and a tough matchup in the half court running pick-and-rolls. He probably won’t lead the team in scoring, but expect him to stuff the stat sheet with boards, assists and steals in addition to points.
“I’m a guy who has a very good feel for the game,” Banton said. “I like to let things come to me and also use my height and versatility to facilitate and make plays for other people as well as score for myself. I feel like my length on defense creates mismatches and stuff like that, so being able to guard many positions as well as play many positions is a big thing too so we could go big, we could go a small lineup with a big guard like myself, or I could be the big at times. It’s just good to be able to play anywhere on the floor and be able to do whatever I have to do for the guys.”
The key for Banton will be efficiency. Can he keep the turnovers down while maintaining his playmaking for others? As a freshman, Banton averaged 2.8 turnovers in those 12 starts. Hoiberg places a premium on decision-making and ball security. The other problem area is his 3-point shooting. He shot 8-of-37 (21.6%) from deep as a freshman, and his shooting form needed a lot of work when he arrived in Lincoln.
Trey McGowens will likely start next to Banton in the backcourt. After having Shamiel Stevenson’s waiver request denied last season, McGowens getting his approved was a huge win for the Huskers. He brings two years of starting experience in the ACC to Lincoln as he averaged 11.6 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.9 steals in 30.7 minutes per game during his two season at Pittsburgh.
McGowens is an explosive scoring guard who made strides as a playmaker last season, and he can be tenacious on defense as well. He played on a team with no spacing next to another ball-dominant guard at Pitt, which is hardly an ideal environment for a young guard. However, he’s going to need to improve his efficiency as well, both inside and outside the arc. Last season, McGowens shot 40.3% on 2-pointers and 31.1% on 3s.
“We’re thankful that Trey got his waiver and we’re really excited about him,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s a two-way player. I think he can have a huge impact on both ends of the floor. He’s a tenacious defender and you can look at his stats, last year leading the ACC in steals. He’s got great anticipation on that end, he moves his feet, he’s tough, he’s physical. And then offensively, he’s very versatile. He can play multiple positions.”
Hoiberg is confident in his ability to develop shooters, and he’s spoken highly of the strides both Banton and McGowens have made over the last several months.
One guy who didn’t need much work on his jumper at all is Kobe Webster, the grad transfer from Western Illinois. If he doesn’t start, he’ll play a significant role off the bench as the third guard, and he’s a good fit next to either Banton or McGowens. As a three-year starter, Webster averaged 16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 37.4% from 3.
Without much scoring around him, he was more of a volume shooter during his time at Western Illinois, and that was a hit on his efficiency, particularly his 3-point percentage as a junior (33.3%). The plan is to get him much easier looks in Lincoln, and he’s a dangerous catch-and-shoot threat. He’s also smart with the ball, averaging just 2.0 turnovers per game despite having the ball in his hands most of the game.
“From the day he stepped on campus at Western Illinois he was in their starting lineup,” Hoiberg said. “That’s very important, that experience, especially at that position. The other thing I think with Kobe Webster is he can play both guard positions. He can play with the ball in his hands, which he’s done a lot. The thing that I really liked is his assist numbers and how he was fourth in his league last year in assist-to-turnover ratio. He had a 40-point game last year against Omaha … I think he’ll play well off our other playmakers as well and he’s a guy that can shoot the ball at a very high level. He’s a guy that I think will bring great leadership.”
The youngest member of the backcourt is Elijah Wood, the freshman from Maryland who was originally planning to take a prep year until Kobe King decided against enrolling at Nebraska, freeing up a scholarship in the 2020 class. Wood is slight, but at 6-foot-5 he has the size to play either spot in the backcourt.
The Huskers also have a couple of walk-ons, one who was here last year and one who wasn’t. Jace Piatkowski, the son of former Nebraska star and NBA player Eric Piatkowski, redshirted last season. The Elkhorn South product is a bouncy guard who can hit 3s. The other walk-on is Chris McGraw, a transfer from Division III Otterbein who missed the 2019–20 season with an injury. He initially walked on at Ohio in 2018-19. McGraw did a prep year at Hargrave Military Academy in 2017-18, where he was a teammate of McGowens.