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Nebraska Basketball Player Reviews: Grad Transfers

March 17, 2020

Nebraska’s season came to a merciful end with a loss to Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament. Unfortunately, the college basketball season ended for every other team as well soon after.  Nebraska’s roster will look very different next season, but it’s still worth looking back to see what worked and what didn’t in Fred Hoiberg’s first season in Lincoln.

First up is a look at the two graduate transfers Hoiberg and his staff brought in to help bridge the gap in this transition year.

Haanif Cheatham

2019-20 Stats: 13.1 PPG, 46.5% FG, 34.4% 3FG, 66.9% FT, 3.9 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.3 TPG, 32.2 MPG

Cheatham was the first new commit for Hoiberg at Nebraska. He was the unquestioned leader of the team and the most consistent performer. He was the only player to start every game and he led the team in scoring. No one talked to the media before or after a game more than Cheatham, especially after the team fell into the rut that was the 17-game losing streak to end the year.

He recorded 24 double-digit scoring games including four with 20 or more. He scored a season-high 26 points in Nebraska’s win over South Florida in the Cayman islands Classic. Cheatham opened the season as Nebraska’s starting four, guarding bigger players, and recorded a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds against Georgia Tech. Once Thorir Thorbjarnarson entered the staring lineup he slid out to his natural wing spot.

Nothing Cheatham did this season should have come as a surprise. His performance fell right in line with what he had done throughout his collegiate career at Marquette and Florida Gulf Coast. He’s a slasher and a strong finisher with his left hand, and he’s a pretty average 3-point shooter. That’s what he gave Nebraska this season.

The problem is he isn’t anything more than that, and him being the team’s leading scorer and most consistent player is part of why the Huskers went 7-25 this season and 2-16 in the Big Ten. When Nebraska needed a bucket to end a drought — a situation that popped up in almost every game this year — Cheatham just didn’t have the skill set to deliver. His efficiency also tailed off a bit once Nebraska got into conference play as he converted just 46.7% of his shots inside the arc, down from 59.8% in the nonconference.

Cheatham was a useful player for Nebraska, and with more talent around him he could have played a significant role on a winner. That just wasn’t the case for Nebraska this year.

Despite all the losing, however, Cheatham said transferring to Nebraska was the best choice he could have made.

Matej Kavas

2019-20 Stats: 5.3 PPG, 38.4% FG, 33.8% 3FG, 68% FT, 1.2 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.4 TPG, 14.5 MPG

Hoiberg’s system needs shooters to succeed, so the staff went out and landed one of the top 3-point shooting grad transfers in the portal. Kavas, the 6-foot-8 sniper from Slovenia. He shot 44.7% from 3 on nearly 400 attempts in his three years at Seattle.

Kavas said he was looking forward to showing he belonged at the high-major level, but his shooting didn’t translate and his limitations in other areas limited his playing time. During the nonconference slate, he shot 37.5% from 3 (15-of-40) and cracked double figures in six of his 11 games.

The Big Ten was a different story. Kavas made just three of his 17 3s and scored just 16 points in his first seven Big Ten games. He fell out of the rotation for a bit, logging DNP-CDs in three straight games. Kavas has somewhat of a slow release, and it made it difficult to get off good looks at times which led to a lot of one-dribble pull-up long-2s. He wasn’t particularly physical on defense and on the glass either.

Hoiberg called his name again against Penn State, and he responded with eight points, two rebounds and two assists in eight minutes, hitting two of his three 3-point attempts. He scored six points against Iowa and then followed it up with 11 points on 3-of-6 from the field, 2-of-4 from 3 and 3-of-3 from the line. Just when it looked like Kavas was putting it together, his season abruptly came to an end.

In Nebraska’s home loss to Wisconsin on Feb. 15, Kavas injured his hand in his first minute after checking in. The injury required surgery which knocked him out for the season, ending his college career.

Kavas wasn’t able to be the reliable sharp-shooter Nebraska’s coaches likely envisioned when they watched his tape and studied his statistics, but he still gave the Huskers a spark here and there.

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