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.
On Tuesday, we broke down Nebraska’s pair of grad transfers. Today we’ll examine the only two players who returned from 2018-19.
2019-20 Stats: 8.8 PPG, 45.2% FG, 37.2% 3FG, 78% FT, 4.8 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.1 SPG, 1.5 TPG, 29.2 MPG
When Fred Hoiberg first arrived in Lincoln and took a look at the roster, he identified just one player from the 2018-19 roster that he wanted to bring back: the 6-foot-6 Icelandic wing. Despite his 25 career points in two years, Thorbjarnarson showed Hoiberg enough during spring skill work to earn his place on the roster.
He opened the season as a reserve but got his first start in game No. 9 against Creighton when point guard Cam Mack was late to the bus. He shot 4-of-5 from 3 for 12 points then followed that up with 17 points against Indiana, solidifying his place in the starting lineup.
Thorbjarnarson started the last 24 games of the season and averaged 32.6 minutes after playing jus 19.1 minutes per game in his eight games off the bench. He established himself as the best shooter on the team, and one of the best in the Big Ten through the first two-thirds of the season. He shot 44% from 3 in his first 24 games.
However, he fell into a slump over the last eight games, shooting just 21.1%. Hoiberg said he thought the heavy minutes started to take its toll on Thorbjarnarson’s legs. Even so, Hoiberg had a tough time taking him off the court.
“Thor’s had a phenomenal year for us,” Hoiberg said during his final appearance on the Men’s Basketball Show on Sports Nightly ahead of the Big Ten Tournament. “He is struggling a little bit from the 3-point line right now but he’s still out there, he’s always in the right spot, he’s making plays on the offensive end and I’m really proud of him for the effort he’s given us this season.”
Thorbjarnarson recorded 13 double-digit scoring games with a high of 17 set three times. He nearly recorded a double-double in Nebraska’s home loss to Indiana with 13 points and a season-high nine rebounds. He hit at least one 3-pointer in 24 of his 32 games and made a career-high five of them on two occasions, both times on eight attempts.
Thorbjarnarson was also Nebraska’s best free-throw shooter at 78%, although he only attempted 41 of them on the season.
In addition to proving himself as a perimeter threat, Thorbjarnarson was also one of Nebraska’s best cutters, playing well off Mack and others. However, as the suspensions mounted later in the year and Nebraska needed Thorbjarnarson to try to make more plays on his own, he struggled because of his athletic limitations.
Overall, Thorbjarnarson was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season. For an extended look at Thorbjarnarson and how he went from a teenager in Iceland to a starter in the Big Ten, check out the March issue of Hail Varsity Magazine.
Dachon Burke Jr.
2019-20 Stats: 12.2 PPG, 40.1% FG, 30.4% 3FG, 56.6% FT, 3.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.4 SPG, 1.5 TPG, 28.0 MPG
Burke was the only other returner from Tim Miles’s last season, though he never got the chance to suit up for Miles as he redshirted after transferring from Robert Morris.
As a sophomore for the Colonials, Burke put up 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.1 steals per game. Even with a year off to work on his game, the production didn’t translate to the high-major level as his numbers took a hit across the board. He wasn’t terribly efficient at Robert Morris, but he was still a positive player with a .528 true shooting percentage. That took a nosedive to 46.5% at Nebraska as he struggled from everywhere on the floor. Burke finished with more shot attempts than points in 12 of his 28 games.
Burke took nearly 46% of his shots at the rim but made just 53.8% of those looks. He offered some high-flying highlights but also missed far too many layups. He was also a fan of difficult mid-range pull-ups and step-backs despite shooting just 25.7% on 2-point jumpers.
He was incredibly streaky from the 3-point line as well. Burke went through stretches of 2-of-11 (18.2%) in his first three games, 17-of-37 (45.9%) in eight games, 3-of-36 (8.3%) in 12 games and 12-of-28 (42.9%) in his last six games.
Despite his overall inefficiency, he still had some pretty big moments this season. He started 27 of his 29 games and cracked double figures 19 times. He had four 20-point outings with a season-high of 25 at Indiana in mid-December, a game in which he hit a 3-pointer at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime. He diced up Wisconsin for 20 points on 10-of-14 shooting in January with all 10 makes coming at the rim, and he grabbed a season-high eight boards in that game as well.
Defensively, he was all over the place. As a 6-foot-4 guard, he led the Huskers in both steals and blocks. He showed the ability to be incredibly disruptive when he was engaged. However, he also looked to gamble and go for steals more often than he chose to stay sound and within Nebraska’s defensive scheme.
Burke sat out one game with an illness, then missed curfew during Nebraska’s road trip to Minnesota for the regular season finale and was sent home, suspended for that game and Nebraska’s Big Ten Tournament game last Wednesday. He tweeted out a statement on Twitter apologizing for missing curfew and saying that he planned to focus on his school work and graduating while the team traveled to Indianapolis for the tournament, indicating a grad transfer for his final season might be the path he takes.
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.