The spring evaluation period is here while the May 1 deadline for entering the portal and gaining immediate eligibility elsewhere is drawing near. While the coaches work on building the roster for the short- and long-term, Hail Varsity is looking back at this past season to evaluate what kind of building blocks Fred Hoiberg has and where the Huskers need to improve.
Junior Derrick Walker
2021-22 stats: 9.5 PPG, 68.3% FG (0-1 3FG), 72.6% FT, 6.0 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.7 TPG, 0.8 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 26.2 MPG
In an otherwise mostly disappointing season for the Huskers, Derrick Walker emerged as one of the true pleasant surprises and bright spots.
Walker arrived in Lincoln in 2019 as part of Hoiberg’s first recruiting class, redshirting that season. He had to serve an 11-game NCAA-mandated suspension to open the 2020-21 season as a result of an infraction he committed at Tennessee before transferring to Nebraska, and once he got on the court he proved to be a solid if unspectacular option in the middle, averaging 5.9 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 60% from the field.
This season, Walker played in and started every game and stepped his game up in a big way. After a quiet first three games, Walker broke out with 14 points on 100% shooting against Idaho State, starting a streak if five straight games in double figures. He had scored 10 points or more just four times in his career before that point.
Walker went on to score 10 or more in 18 of his 32 games with a high of 16 set three different times. He notched three double-doubles including a career-high 13 rebounds plus 12 points against North Carolina State. One of his most complete games of the season came at home against Ohio State as he finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four steals while playing a big part in limiting the Buckeyes’ star forward, E.J. Liddell, to 2-of-14 shooting.
Walker also emerged as one of the most efficient scorers in the country, converting a school record 68.3% from the field, and he spent much of the season north of 70%. Walker set a school record for consecutive made field goals as well with 15 split between three different games in November. Walker shot 100% from the field five different times and finished with just one miss in another nine games.
He was more than just a play finisher, though, as Hoiberg adjusted his system midseason to run things through Walker more and get him more touches to make plays for himself and others. He scored as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, with his back to the basket in the post and as a face-up guy off the dribble.
Perhaps the most impressive improvement came at the foul line. After shooting 25-of-66 (37.9%) from the foul line in his first three season of college basketball, Walker hit 45 of his 62 attempts (72.6%) this season.
He also provided the anchor for Nebraska’s defense, often battling in the paint with centers much larger than himself. He’s not a big-time shot-blocker, but he is fundamentally sound and does a good job of being in the right spot at the right time.
Walker announced on March 29 that he would take advantage of his extra season of eligibility to return to Nebraska, giving Hoiberg one of his most vocal leaders and important pieces on both ends to build around for one more season.
Freshman Eduardo Andre
2021-22 stats: 3.1 PPG, 57.1% FG (0-1 3FG), 53.4% FT, 3.2 RPG, 0.3 APG, 1.1 TPG, 0.6 SPG, 0.5 BPG, 11.5 MPG
After jumping ahead of Yvan Ouedraogo midseason and grabbing hold of the primary back-up center job down the stretch of last season and showing some intriguing flashes in the process, the young big man from London remained mostly a flash player in his second season of college basketball.
Andre did not play in the season-opener against Western Illinois as Hoiberg opted to play freshman Wilhelm Breidenbach as Walker’s back-up. Hoiberg gave him a shot in game two against Sam Houston, however, and he responded with 11 points on 3-of-4 from the field and 5-of-6 from the line plus seven rebounds, one block and one steal in 15 minutes.
The 11 points and seven rebounds proved to be season-highs, however, as he scored in double figures just one more time in his last 29 games (10 points against Iowa).
Hoiberg often stressed the importance of keeping things simple when taking about Andre, but he had the highest turnover rate on the team by a significant margin (28.5%). Andre ranked in the 28th percentile (0.84 points per possession) as the roll man in the pick-and-roll as he had nearly as many turnovers (seven) as field goals (nine). He ranked in the 17th percentile (0.619 PPP) in the post as well, shooting 6-of-13 with four turnovers and four trips to the foul line.
Andre was most effective running the floor in transition (he hit all seven of his shots in the open floor) and as a cutter, playing in the dunker spot or finding gaps in the defense where he could catch and finish.
Thanks in part to his length (Hoiberg has said his wingspan is close to 7-foot-5), Andre was the best per-minute defensive rebounder on the team and also the best rim protector, but between mental lapses and foul trouble he rarely saw extended stretches of playing time.
Andre entered the transfer portal on March 22.
Freshman Oleg Kojenets
The freshman from Lithuania redshirted his first season at Nebraska. He’s the first true 7-footer to play for the Huskers since Sergej Vucetic, whose last season in Lincoln was 2013-14. He provided size on the scout team for the starters to work with and spent the season working on his game. He’ll have four season of eligibility remaining.
With the return of Walker, the addition of the top JUCO big man in the country in Blaise Keita and Kojenets coming off his redshirt plus the option to slide Breidenbach to the five, the Huskers should have plenty of options in the middle next season.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.