The offseason is underway for the Nebraska men’s basketball team. While the coaches are working on filling out their roster for next year, Hail Varsity is looking back at the season that was, breaking things down one group at a time.
The lead guards led off the series. Up next: the wings, led by the Huskers’ star freshman.
Freshman Bryce McGowens
2021-22 stats: 16.8 PPG, 40.3% FG (27.4% 3FG), 83.1% FT, 5.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, 2.1 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 33.3 MPG
The first 5-star high school recruit in program history chose Nebraska because of the opportunity to play with his older brother Trey and to play a featured role in Fred Hoiberg’s offense.
Unfortunately regarding the former, the McGowens brothers shared the court for just 16 games thanks to Trey’s broken foot suffered just three games into the season and Bryce’s wrist injury that kept him out of the regular season finale.
Regarding the latter, he led the Huskers in scoring and finishing third nationally among all true freshmen behind only top-five NBA Draft prospects Paolo Banchero and Jabari Smith. McGowens topped 20 points 11 times, scoring a season-high 29 points on two occasions. He was first and foremost a bucket-getter, but Hoiberg put the ball in his hands to run the offense quite a bit and he notched a season-high four assists in five different games. He recorded two double-doubles as well including a game with a season-high 11 rebounds. McGowens was also second in the Big Ten in free throws made and sixth in attempts, taking 6.3 foul shots per game.
McGowens played some of his best basketball during the team’s late-season surge, scoring 51 points on 57.1% from the field, 41.7% from 3 and 85.7% from the foul line while grabbing 10 rebounds in the Huskers’ wins at Penn State and Ohio State before the wrist injury knocked him out against Wisconsin and limited him in the Big Ten Tournament loss to Northwestern.
McGowens carried a heavy load for a mostly offensively-challenged team, and his efficiency suffered as a result. The 6-foot-7 wing was a prolific 3-point shooter in high school with deep range, but the consistency from the arc didn’t translate to the college level this season as he connected on just over 27% of his triples. However, he did knock down half of his 40 catch-and-shoot jumpers considered unguarded by Synergy Sports, showing the touch was still there. The problem is he shot 22.2% on guarded catch-and-shoot jumpers and 24.4% on shots off the dribble, and those attempts combined to number 132.
Despite the efficiency questions and Nebraska’s place in the Big Ten standings, McGowens still racked up the hardware during and after the season, winning Big Ten Freshman of the Week eight times, though the conference’s Freshman of the Year award went to Ohio State’s Malaki Branham. However, the Associated Press recognized McGowens as its Big Ten Newcomer of the Year. McGowens also made the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and was a third-team ALl-Big Ten selection.
He put his name all over the freshman record books at Nebraska, finishing first in points (522), free throws made (162) and free throws attempted (195), second in field goals (160), fourth in rebounds (161) and sixth in 3-pointers (40). He opened his career with a 25-point performance against Western Illinois, setting a school record for points in a debut. The only other freshman in program history to record multiple games of 25-plus points is Dave Hoppen. He tied the record for most points in a conference game by a freshman with 29 against Rutgers, which was one shy of Tyronn Lue’s overall single-game freshman scoring record.
McGowens announced on March 21 that he is entering the 2022 NBA Draft and signed with Roc Nation Sports soon after, signifying the end of his Nebraska career. He’ll look to be the third Husker drafted in the past four years and has a strong chance of becoming the first first-round pick since Lue in 1998.
Freshman C.J. Wilcher
2021-22 Stats: 8.1 PPG, 46.2% 2FG (40.6% 3FG), 62.9% FT, 2.3 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.0 TPG, 0.8 SPG, 24.6 MPG
The sharpshooter from New Jersey played sparingly during his freshman year at Xavier and got a chance to do it again after transferring to Nebraska thanks to the 2020-21 NCAA eligibility freeze.
Wilcher played in every game, logging two starts but serving mostly as the team’s sixth man. He proved to be a consistent source of offense off the bench, finishing fourth in the team in scoring while leading the team in 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage by a significant margin. In conference play alone, he proved to be one of the best shooters in the Big Ten at 43%. He also proved to be effective around the rim as well — albeit it on a small sample size — as he converted 73% of his attempts.
Wilcher scored in double figures 13 times with a career-high of 17 in the team’s loss to Auburn. He hit multiple 3s in half of his games including a season-high of four in that Auburn game. He also scored 15 points four different times including in the team’s win over Ohio State late in the season.
Though he’s a guard, at 6-foot-5 and 221 pounds, Wilcher more or less settled into the back-up power forward role following Wilhelm Breidenbach’s season-ending injury 10 games into the season. Hoiberg decided to go with a small-ball look after that when Lat Mayen took a seat, relying on Wilcher’s big frame to battle with opposing forwards defensively and on the glass.
Wilcher will be the team’s second-leading returning scorer in 2022-23 and will look to build on a solid first season in Lincoln.
Sophomore Keisei Tominaga
2021-22 stats: 5.7 PPG, 37.3% FG (33.0% 3FG), 84.2% FT, 1.5 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.3 TPG, 0.8 SPG, 16.5 MPG
Keisei Tominaga was one of the best 3-point shooters in all of junior college during his two seasons at Range College, but he struggled to translate that same level of success to the Division I level in his first season as a Husker.
The 6-foot-2 guard played in 30 games with 11 starts, but shot just 33% from 3 and fell out of the rotation later in the season. He scored double-digit points seven times including a season-high 23 points against South Dakota.
Tominaga got off to a slow start, shooting 4-of-19 (21.1%) in his first six games. He broke out in that South Dakota game and then entered the starting lineup a couple games later. In the middle 12 games, he shot 29-of-73 (39.7%). He saw his playing time limited after Trey McGowens returned to the lineup, however, and struggled to get it going again as he shot just 3-of-17 (17.6%) in the last 12 games.
Overall, Tominaga shot just 28.8% in Big Ten play, averaging just 4.2 points in 15.0 minutes per game.
Tominaga gives effort on defense, but his size and relative lack of athleticism hold him back defensively and as a creator off the dribble. He did a good job of taking care of the ball with just 10 turnovers in nearly 500 minutes played, and he converted some tough buckets around the rim on cuts and straight-line drives, but Nebraska brought him in for his 3-point shot. In order to carve out a consistent role next season, he’s going to have to shoot the 3-ball at a much more consistent rate.
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.