Year four of Fred Hoiberg at Nebraska is in the books, and it featured a significant step forward. The Cornhuskers finished 16-16 and came up just a win or two shy of qualifying for a postseason tournament.
The offseason is under way and Nebraska’s activity in the transfer portal is starting to heat up, but before we can project what next season might look like we need to look back and evaluate this past season.
We’ve already broken down the ball-handlers and the wings, leaving us with the big men to cover to wrap things up.
SR Derrick Walker
13.6 PPG, 58.4% FG (1-2 3FG), 52.1% FT, 7.1 RPG, 3.9 APG, 3.6 TPG, 0.7 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 30.8 MPG
Walker capped off his extensive college career with his best season by far, evolving from the catch-and-finish big he was when he arrived in Lincoln to the point-center he became who initiated plays as often as he finished them.
After missing the first five games of the season, Walker opened his super-senior season with a pair of double-doubles down in Orlando. He scored 10 or more in 20 of his 27 games with five games of 20-plus. For context’s sake, he had 22 double-digit scoring games with a high of 16 in his first four seasons combined.
In addition to his scoring, Walker also led Nebraska in rebounding and was second in assists (though first in assist rate) as Hoiberg put the ball in his hands even more than during his breakout 2021-22 season. Walker dished out five or more assists eight times with a high of eight, set twice. He showed off his ball-handling, passing vision and incredible touch with either hand all season, and he developed a particularly strong connection with Keisei Tominaga.
Walker scored a career-high 23 points on 7-of-12 from the field and 9-of-11 from the line with seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals in Nebraska’s overtime win against Maryland late in the year. He had 22 points, eight assists and four rebounds in Nebraska’s win at Minnesota and also dropped 22 points and eight boards in the team’s win at Creighton. He put up 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, 13 rebounds and four assists against Florida State and also flirted with a triple-double with nine points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in the win at Iowa.
Walker emerged as Nebraska’s best player in his fourth year in Lincoln, and he’s going to be incredibly difficult to replace moving forward.
SO Wilhelm Breidenbach
3.6 PPG, 38.5% FG (23.4% 3FG), 61.1% FT, 2.7 RPG, 0.5 PG, 0.8 TPG, 0.3 BPG, 12.8 MPG
After seeing his freshman season cut short after just 10 games, Breidenbach managed to stay healthy this year and played all 32 games while splitting time between the four and the five. Unfortunately, he didn’t really show meaningful improvement in any facet of the game.
Breidenbach’s shooting and passing were traits that seemingly made him a good fit for Fred Hoiberg’s system as a recruit, but Breidenbach is now 14-for-67 (20.9%) from 3 in his 42 career games and has just 21 assists to 32 turnovers. He improved his ability to play without fouling, but only slightly as he still averaged 6.1 fouls per 40 minutes.
Breidenbach scored in double-figures four times this season with a high of 13 in the loss to Kansas State.
That Kansas State performance looked to be a turning point for the California native as it sparked a six-game stretch from mid-December to mid-January that saw him average 7.8 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 52.9% from the field (38.5% from 3) and 85.7% from the foul line.
However, Breidenbach couldn’t sustain it as he followed that good play up with a seven-game stretch that saw him shoot 3-for-22 from the field including 1-for-11 from 3. He did play well against Iowa late in the season, finishing with nine points and four boards while shooting 4-of-7 from the field with a 3-pointer.
Perhaps a full season of healthy development can propel Breidenbach forward.
SO Blaise Keita
2.0 PPG, 51.4% FG, 35.3% FT, 3.5 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.5 TPG, 0.2 BPG, 10.1 MPG
Keita has experienced some tough luck over the past couple of years after a very promising first year of junior college. A knee injury limited him to 18 games during the 2021-22 season and he missed two different stints during his first season at Nebraska because of ankle injuries.
Keita played just 212 minutes spread across 21 games this past season, starting the first five games of the year with Walker sidelined. He logged double-digit minutes 10 times, though five of them were those first five games.
Keita put up a double-double with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting and 10 rebounds in just 24 minutes against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and also narrowly missed another double-double with nine points on 4-of-6 shooting and 12 rebounds in 27 minutes against Omaha. He also grabbed 11 rebounds in just 23 minutes against Wisconsin and played a huge role in the comeback overtime win over the Badgers.
Keita was far and away Nebraska’s best rebounder as he sported a 20.2% rebounding rate including a 12.6% rate on the offensive end. Keita was also the team’s best post defender and best charge-taker.
Offense is still a work in progress for Keita, however. That Pine Bluff game was his only double-digit scoring game of the season. He didn’t even attempt more than two shots in any of his non-starts and went scoreless in 11 of his 21 games. He shot just over 50% from the field but went 6-for-17 at the foul line.
Keita showed some impressive flashes as a rebounder and defender, but he’ll need to show more on the offensive end and stay healthy if he wants to take on an expanded role following the departure of Walker.
rFR Oleg Kojenets
10 PTS, 3-6 FG, 4-6 FT, 13 REB, 0 AST, 6 TOV, 63 MP
After redshirting during his first season in Lincoln, the Lithuanian 7-footer played sparingly during his second, appearing in 18 games. He scored in just five of those appearances and grabbed at least one rebound in half of them.
Kojenets played mostly in garbage time, but Hoiberg did call on him at times for stints while the game was still in doubt as the Huskers had to deal with Walker’s absence early on and Keita’s injury for multiple chunks of the season.
He showed some flashes of some nifty footwork and good touch inside, but he fouled nearly as often as Breidenbach, struggled at times to hold his own on the glass against more physical big men and was never able to earn his coach’s trust enough to truly crack the rotation.
Kojenets entered the transfer portal soon after the end of the season.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.