Dalano Banton’s decision to remain in the 2021 NBA Draft leaves Fred Hoiberg with a few things to consider as the Huskers gear up for the 2021–22 season.
First, despite his second-half struggles last season following Nebraska’s COVID-19 shutdown, Banton is a significant loss for the Huskers. He led the team in rebounds, assists and blocks and was third in scoring. He was the best passer on the team and created a lot of opportunities for himself and others despite his individual scoring limitations. As a 6-foot-9 point guard, it’s going to be difficult for any one player to replace what Banton would have provided.
However, Nebraska still returns 59.6% of its 3-pointers, 49.6% of its scoring, 41.4% of its assists, 40.8% of its free throws and 39.6% of its rebounding from a season ago. Three primary starters plus the team’s sixth man are all back. That’s the most continuity of the Hoiberg era in Lincoln and Nebraska adds the best recruiting class in program history (at least during the recruiting websites era) to that mix.
Here’s where the roster currently stands sans Banton:
- Ball-handlers: Trey McGowens (junior), Kobe Webster (senior), Bryce McGowens (freshman), Quaran McPherson (freshman)
- Wings/off-guards: Keisei Tominaga (sophomore), C.J. Wilcher (freshman), Keon Edwards (freshman)
- Forwards: Lat Mayen (junior), Trevor Lakes (senior), Wilhelm Breidenbach (freshman)
- Posts: Derrick Walker (junior), Eduardo Andre (freshman), Oleg Kojenets (freshman)
- Walk-ons (all guards): Chris McGraw (sophomore), Jace Piatkowski (freshman), Sam Hoiberg (freshman), Jackson Cronin (freshman)
Nebraska currently has 13 players on scholarship, but two them—returning seniors Webster and Lakes—don’t count towards the 13-scholarship limit. That means Hoiberg could still look to add to his roster to replace Banton.
Nebraska is set to have seven scholarship players with freshman eligibility on the roster next season, six of whom are newcomers to the program. If Hoiberg doesn’t feel like enough of those guys are ready—without a doubt in his mind—to play key roles right away, adding another transfer might look like an appealing option. The portal is still teeming with players at this point with somewhere in the area of 30 high-major players still looking for new homes in addition to all of the players from lower-level schools who might be looking to transfer up.
If Nebraska opts to use Banton’s scholarship, I’d expect for Hoiberg and his staff to move quickly to make it happen. Welcome to Lincoln, Shannan Lum.
Where might they go if they look at adding another player? That’s an excellent question. On offense, Banton was one of Nebraska’s primary ball-handlers. But with his 6-foot-9 frame and plus length, he regularly defended one through four. Which part of what Banton provided—offensive playmaking or defensive length and versatility—is most important to replace? That’s the question Hoiberg is likely grappling with right now.
If Hoiberg doesn’t add another point guard, it would signal that he’s all in on Trey McGowens running the show. McGowens said he left Pittsburgh and transferred to Nebraska because he wanted to play the point guard position (he was playing alongside Xavier Johnson in the backcourt at Pitt). McGowens hasn’t always displayed the feel or decision-making of a natural point guard, but he did close the season strong after Hoiberg moved Banton to the bench, allowing the 6-foot-4 guard to take on more of the ball-handling duties.
Take out the Iowa game (let’s pretend that never happened) and McGowens averaged 12.8 points on 46.7% shooting, 4.8 assists and 1.8 turnovers in the other four games to close out the season. The Huskers won two of those games.
If Hoiberg doesn’t add a true point guard, expect to see McGowens running the show with Kobe Webster playing both on and off the ball. It would also open the door for freshman Quaran McPherson to potentially earn some playing time early as the back-up point, something that never materialized for Elijah Wood last season.
I’d also expect to see the other McGowens, Bryce, handling the ball quite a bit. As the first 5-star recruit in program history, Hoiberg’s going to give him every opportunity to show what he can do from day one.
It looks like Nebraska’s frontcourt is set with veterans Walker, Mayen and Lakes plus promising youngsters Andre, Breidenbach and Kojenets. If Hoiberg is comfortable with the point guard situation, he still could look to add another piece on the wing. Wilcher (6-foot-5, 195 pounds) and Edwards (6-foot-7, 185 pounds) have some decent size, but they have less than 60 points and 200 minutes played between them at the Division I level. At 6-foot-2, Tominaga doesn’t offer much in the way of defensive versatility. Adding another option behind Bryce McGowens on the wing could appeal to Hoiberg.
The short-lived Banton era in Lincoln is over, but his departure leaves Hoiberg with a few options moving forward. He could stand pat and invest in the returners, empowering Trey McGowens as the primary point guard. He could look to add another ball-handler to share the point guard duties with McGowens. Or he could look to add another player with some size on the wing to replace Banton’s defensive versatility.
I’m guessing we’ll know which path Hoiberg chooses before too long.