Isaiah Roby made his departure from Nebraska official on Wednesday afternoon, announcing his intention to stay in the 2019 NBA Draft.
That locks Nebraska’s roster in at the 13 players Fred Hoiberg has now — and leaves some big shoes to fill.
Nebraska has a grand total of 50 points returning from last year’s squad — all of them by Thorir Thorbjarnarson. He’s the only returner who played last season as Dachon Burke, the other holdover from last year’s team, was sitting out in accordance of NCAA transfer rules.
Dalano Banton (Western Kentucky) and Derrick Walker (Tennessee) will both sit out this season after transferring in. That leaves Hoiberg with a group of 11 from which to form his rotation.
- Guards: Cam Mack (SO), Jervay Green (JR), Haanif Cheatham (SR), Dachon Burke (JR), Thorir Thorbjarnarson (JR), Samari Curtis (FR)
- Wings: Matej Kavas (SR), Shamiel Stevenson (JR), Akol Arop (FR)
- Bigs: Yvan Ouedraogo (FR), Kevin Cross (FR)
Nebraska is in good shape in the backcourt. Jervay Green and Cam Mack, the junior college transfers, form a dynamic duo are expected to make an immediate impact while Burke and grad transfer Haanif Cheatham will take on tough defensive assignments while serving as secondary playmakers on offense.
It would have been a lot of fun to see Roby in Hoiberg’s offense — especially with a full season under Hoiberg’s development program. Alas, it was not meant to be.
Without Roby, it does not look like Nebraska has a Georges Niang, a Melvin Ejim or a Royce White on the roster. Hoiberg isn’t going to be able to play through a skilled post like he did most of his tenure at Iowa State. I’d imagine a more guard-centric offense led by Mack and Green, and Hoiberg also has experience with dynamic lead guards like Diante Garrett, DeAndre Kane and Monte Morris.
But Nebraska still needs production from the frontcourt no matter how good the guard play is.
Roby’s decision to stay in the NBA Draft makes it all the more important that Nebraska is able to secure a waiver for Shamiel Stevenson, the transfer from Nevada, to play right away. At 245 pounds, Stevenson is the second-heaviest player on the roster despite measuring in at just 6-foot-6. With a promising jump shot, a 40-inch vertical and a 6-foot-11 wingspan to go with his robust frame, Stevenson will likely be in the mix to start in the frontcourt. Ideally, he’d play at the four, but his frame and length could allow him to survive at center as well.
As a graduate transfer, Matej Kavas doesn’t have to worry about a waiver. He’s eligible to play right away and is the other apparent option to start at the four. He's slight at 200 pounds, but he’s 6-foot-8 and is at least a decent rebounder, if not a great one. The Slovenian is a perfect fit as a floor-spacing stretch-four with his prowess as a shooter.
Beyond those two, you’re looking at three freshmen in the frontcourt.
Akol Arop, the 6-foot-6, 190-pound forward from Omaha Creighton Prep, reaffirmed his commitment to Nebraska after an in-home meeting with Hoiberg. Nebraska’s new coach told Arop he was a fan of his athleticism and saw potential with his jump shot. A redshirt year to add weight to his frame and refine the jumper could benefit Arop int he long run, but if injuries strike or he simply outperforms the other options, Hoiberg could use him right away.
Yvan Ouedraogo is the biggest player on the roster at 6-foot-9, 260 pounds and he’s also the youngest at 17 years old. He rebounds well and has a little bit of scoring ability in the post, but his perimeter skills need some work. Will the French teenager be ready to play a substantial role right away, or will he need time? The answer to that question might determine what kind of season Nebraska has in 2019-20.
Finally, Little Rock, Arkansas, native Kevin Cross is listed at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds. He’s not as big or as physical as Ouedraogo, but he’s more skilled with the ability to step out and knock down shots from the perimeter as well as put the ball on the deck. He’s a late bloomer who didn’t attract much recruiting attention until late in the process, but now he’s at Nebraska and will compete for minutes, primarily at the five.
Another option for Hoiberg is to go all in on small ball and play for stretches with four guards. I don’t know that any of of the guards on Nebraska’s roster are particularly suited for that role — perhaps Thorbjarnarson or Cheatham could make it work — but that is an option for Hoiberg if all else fails.
Without Isaiah Roby, Nebraska is either going to be undersized or inexperienced inside. However, if the frontcourt can at least hold its own against the rest of the Big Ten, the backcourt should be more than enough to give Nebraska a chance to compete for another postseason berth.