Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Basketball Player Reviews: Guards

March 23, 2021

Year two has come a close for Fred Hoiberg with Nebraska basketball. We’ve had a couple of weeks to digest everything that happened this season, and now it’s time to look back and reflect on the season.

Hail Varsity is breaking the roster down into sections and breaking down the team player by player. First up is a lookout the backcourt

Trey McGowens

2020-21 Stats: 10.7 PPG, 39.1% FG (36.7% 3FG), 65.7% FT, 3.9 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.3 TPG, 1.4 SPG, 28.4 MPG

McGowens is Nebraska’s leading returning scorer who closed out the season pretty strongly after an incredibly up-and-down season.

We’ll get to the offensive side of things shortly, but it’s worth focusing on the defense first here. The 6-foot-4 McGowens was the one guy in the lineup this season that moved his feet well enough to stay in front of dynamic guards, and he did a very good job as Nebraska’s No. 1 perimeter defender.

The offense was much more of a mixed bag. Overall, his stats this season were mostly in line with his career averages, which isn’t exactly what Hoiberg was likely hoping for considering how much room McGowens had for improvement despite starting for two years at Pittsburgh.

One notable area where McGowens did show significant improvement was his 3-point shot as he was at a career-best 36.7% this season including 38.5% in Big Ten play. He’s not a volume shooter (just under three attempts per game), but he was able to develop into a pretty reliable spot-up shooter.

However, he continued to struggle mightily inside the arc, shooting a paltry 40.2% including 49.1% at the rim. McGowens just hasn’t displayed very good body control or touch when he attacks the basket, and it’s led to some wild shots that haven’t gone down. He shot 24.1% on 2-point jumpers as well. He needs to take some massive strides in terms of efficiency if he wants to continue being one of Nebraska’s primary scoring threats.

Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Trey McGowens (2) slams the ball home against Penn State at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska on Feb. 23, 2021. Photo by Eric Francis.

His role evolved throughout the season. Early on with Banton acting as the primary initiator, McGowens played more off the ball and focused more on scoring. Over the second half of the season, however, Hoiberg put the ball in McGowens’ hands more often and empowered him to run the team, which is what McGowens was seeking when he left Pitt and chose Nebraska.

“I came to Nebraska to learn the on-ball position, the point guard position, and as the season went on, I felt like the more I played it the more I got comfortable with it,” McGowens said at the end of the season. “Really, just playmaking. I feel like I can score well enough, but I’ll definitely add a lot more stuff. Being more of a leader and just being a playmaker and getting my teammates involved, whether that’s talking to them or just finding them.”

McGowens played well in his role in four of Nebraska’s last five games. Cut out the Iowa game (three points, 1-of-7 shooting, zero assists, five turnovers) and McGowens averaged 12.8 points, 4.8 assists and 1.8 turnovers while shooting 56.7% from the field (46.2% from 3) and 73.3% from the foul line.

“Trey was so much better, under control these last couple of weeks,” Hoiberg said. “He struggled a little bit out of the shutdown, kind of went back to some early issues that he had taking care of the ball after really finishing before the shutdown on a high note. He had played a couple of his better games. But I think he’s really made good plays and stepped up his game and taken better care of the basketball. But we need to play more under control. Our offense really picked up these last three weeks of the season.”

Nebraska has a handful of scholarships to fill this offseason and it’s still possible Hoiberg and Matt Abdelmassih could dip into the transfer portal to find an upgrade at point guard, but if the Huskers stick with McGowens as the main guy at that spot, they’re going to need more of what we saw in those four games late in the season.

It’s all about making the right decisions and finishing plays for McGowens. He’s shown he’s capable of playing that way in spurts; to take a leap next season Nebraska is going to need it from him consistently.

Dalano Banton

2020-21 Stats: 9.6 PPG, 41.1%FG (24.7% 3FG), 65.9% FT, 5.9 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.5 TPG, 1.0 SPG, 27.3 MPG

Banton was one of the guys I think Husker fan were most excited to see this season after what we heard about him during his redshirt year, and he got off to a strong start. However, when evaluating Banton’s season, it’s important to break it down into two parts: pre-shutdown (12 games) and post-shutdown (15 games).

Banton scored in double figures in his first nine games and recorded the second triple-double in program history during that stretch (though it was against NAIA Doane). I wrote about him being uniquely productive in a basketball notebook for Hail Varsity Magazine in December. In those first 12 games, Banton averaged 12.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 2.2 turnovers, 1.3 steals and 0.9 blocks in 30.0 minutes per game while shooting 44% from the field, 28.2% from 3 and 69.1% from the free-throw line. Banton was the one jumping center at the start of the game, he was running the offense as the point guard and he was the team’s best weak side rim protector.

Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Dalano Banton (45) passes the ball against Penn State at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Feb. 23, 2021. Photo by Eric Francis.

Then the shutdown hit and COVID-19 ravaged the program. The Huskers finally returned to action in February, and for whatever reason Banton was unable to recapture his pre-pause form. Over Nebraska’s last 15 games, he averaged 7.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 2.7 turnovers, 0.7 steals and 0.9 blocks per game in 25.1 minutes per game while shooting 37.9% from the field, 21.4% from 3 and 60.6% from the foul line. Banton cracked double figures scoring in just four of those 15 games, and he came off the bench for the last five games.

It’s worth noting here that it is really hard for those of us on the outside to know just how much each of the Huskers were affected by the pandemic. Banton just didn’t look like the same player after Nebraska returned to action, and it’s clear at this point that this virus impacts individuals differently.

Hoiberg went into the year planning to run Banton as the starting point guard, and he’s definitely the best passer on the team. His length and feel allowed him to do some special things in that role. However, two areas in particular are holding him back as the primary creator: his jump shot and his handles.

The jumper is the biggest problem, and it is clear that Hoiberg and Banton put a lot of time in working the shot during his redshirt year. To me, the shot form looks better than when he arrived in Lincoln, but it’s still not falling at the rate it needs to.

Banton also can get a little loose with the ball at times, and it’s tough to have it on a string for someone as tall and long as Banton. He struggled at times to beat guys off the dribble, and that will need to improve as well if he wants to get back to playing on the ball as much as he did early on.

It will be interesting to see how Banton’s role evolves next season with McGowens progressing as a point guard and with the younger McGowens, 5-star signee Bryce, arriving in Lincoln. There’s still a lot to like with him and I think he can be an important piece if he can continue polishing up his weaknesses over the offseason.

Kobe Webster

2020-21 Stats: 8.1 PPG, 38.2% FG (38.0% 3FG), 65.4% FT, 1.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.9 TPG, 0.6 SPG, 23.1 MPG

Webster committed to Nebraska as a graduate transfer and instantly became the most experienced player on the team as he logged nearly 2,900 minutes in his three years as the starting point guard at Western Illinois. Trey McGowens (2,025) and Thorir Thorbjarnarson (1,258) were the only others on the roster that had logged 800-plus minutes at the Division I level heading into the season.

Hoiberg and other players referenced Webster’s leadership multiple times throughout the season, whether it’s setting the tone in practice or holding his teammates accountable in a huddle, and that value won’t show up in a box score.

December 17,2020: Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Kobe Webster (10) makes a 3-point shot against the Doane Tigers in the second half at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo by John S. Peterson.

As for his on-court contributions, Webster spent much of the season as the team’s sixth man before entering the starting lineup late in the year. Webster was much more of a scorer this season than a point guard who ran the offense (he was sixth on the team in assists per game). He’s not terribly quick laterally and that limits his effectiveness on defense. His size also made it tough for him to be effective inside the arc as he shot just 38.6% on 2-point shots (48.4% at the rim, 32.7% from mid-range).

However, Webster grew into Nebraska’s deadliest 3-point shooter. It took him some time to make the leap from playing against Summit League competition to playing at the Big Ten level as he shot over 33.3% from deep in just two of his first 10 games as a Husker.

By the time the calendar flipped to 2021, however, he had settled in. Webster shot 40.5% from deep in Nebraska’s last 17 games. He had performances of 6-for-7, 5-for-8 and 7-for-12 this season, and he scored in double figures in five of Nebraska’s last six games.

“I think that’s a big part of it is he’s gotten use to the size and speed and has really taken less of the mid-range shots — he hit one tonight because he had it rolling — but he’s looking more for catch-and-shoot 3s and I think that’s helped his shooting percentage out there on the floor,” Hoiberg said after the 7-for-12 game at Northwestern to close out the regular season.

Webster entered the starting lineup on Senior Night and remained there for the rest of the season, averaging 13.0 points and 2.4 assists in five starts.

Webster said he felt like he proved that he could play at the highest level — which was his goal when he entered the transfer portal — but he apparently also feels like he has unfinished business in Lincoln. Webster announced on March 16 that he planned to take advantage of his extra year of eligibility to return for one more season at Nebraska.

Elijah Wood

December 17,2020: Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Elijah Wood (3) makes a three pointer at the end of the first half against Doane Tigers guard Carson Busch (2) at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo by John S. Peterson.

2020-21 Stats: 10 points, 4-14 FG (2-10 3FG), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 turnovers, 4 steals, 40 minutes, 13 games

Wood’s biggest role this season was on the practice court as he rarely saw the court outside of garbage time.

Nebraska was originally looking at Wood as a 2021 prospect as he was set to do a post-grad year, but when Kobe King changed his mind about playing at Nebraska, the Huskers suddenly had an open scholarship late in the process. The native of Potomac, Maryland, accepted Nebraska’s offer and enrolled for this season.

However, he was’t able to crack the rotation and didn’t show a whole lot in the limited playing time he got. On March 15, he announced he planned to enter the transfer portal.

Jace Piatkowski

2020-21 Stats: 4 points, 1-1 FG (1-1 3FG), 1-2 FT, 2 rebounds, 1 turnover, 18 minutes, 10 games

After redshirting last season, the Husker legacy and walk-on made his Nebraska debut this year and saw playing time in 10 games. He scored his first points in his first career game as he knocked down a corner 3 right in front of Nebraska’s bench late in Nebraska’s win over McNeese State.

Nebraska’s other walk-on guard, Chris McGraw, redshirted this season after transferring from Otterbein College.

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