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Nebraska Basketball Player Reviews: the Freshmen

March 23, 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.

We’ve broken down Nebraska’s pair of grad transfers, the two returners from the Tim Miles era and the junior college duo in the backcourt. Our final review looks at Nebraska’s freshman class.

Yvan Ouedraogo

2019-20 Stats: 5.7 PPG, 41.7% FG, 47.7% FT, 6.3 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.3 BPG, 1.5 TPG, 21.4 MPG

After playing his entire freshman season as a 17-year-old, Ouedraogo finally turned 18 on Sunday. His first year at Nebraska was pretty rocky, but he showed some real signs of potential along the way.

Ouedraogo spent most of the season as Nebraska’s starting center and led the team in rebounding at 6.3 per game. He broke Nebraska’s freshman record for rebounds in a season with 203 and double-doubles with three. He had six double-digit rebounding games and six double-digit scoring games.

Ouedraogo grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds including 10 on the offensive end and scored 11 points at home against Northwestern. The 11 points is a career-high, which he set in four different games. Ouedraogo showed off some impressive moves in the post in spurts and he even scored off the dribble a couple times.

However, as well as Ouedraogo rebounded at times, he was better on the offensive end than defensive, often failing to box out and giving up offensive boards to opposing bigs. He also wasn’t much of a rim protecter, blocking just nine shots in 685 minutes on the court.

A bigger problem was his struggles offensively, however. He took 73.2% of his shots at the rim and shot just 52% on those looks. Add in his “2-point jumpers” (which only actually included one true jump shot — an airball — and a handful of hook shots and other close shots) and he shot under 42% from the field. Some combination of a lack of lift, strength and hand-eye coordination resulted in a lot of missed shots at the rim when Nebraska really couldn’t afford it.

Ouedraogo was thrust into a role he wasn’t prepared for this season, especially without going through Nebraska’s offseason strength and conditioning work while he was competing with his national team. Even so, he gave Nebraska everything he had and his growth is one of the few positives from an otherwise forgettable season.

Kevin Cross

2019-20 Stats: 7.1 PPG, 34.3% FG, 27.6% 3FG, 68.2% FT, 3.9 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.4 BPG, 1.2 TPG, 18.3 MPG

Like Ouedraogo, Cross probably could have benefited from a redshirt season. Instead, with Nebraska’s lack of depth in the frontcourt, he was thrust into the back-up five role at 6-foot-6 (despite being listed 6-foot-8 on the roster).

At times, Cross was a nice offensive spark off the bench. He had nine games with 10 or more points and had multiple assists in 10 games with a high of five. He put up season-highs of 23 points and nine rebounds in Nebraska’s loss to Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Cross was a streaky shooter with five games of three or more made 3-pointers. He displayed the ability to make plays off the dribble, both in grab-and-go and halfcourt situations. When he was on the court, Nebraska was able to play a true five-out offense.

However, Cross was off far more often than he was on as his shooting percentages show. He finished with more shot attempts than points 18 times.

Cross opened his Nebraska career with a four-point, 1-of-10 shooting performance against UC-Riverside. Over his next five games, he averaged 12.4 points on 61.9% shooting including 46.7% from 3. The rest of the season, he scored just 6.2 points per game on 32.4% from the field and 25.3% from deep with just one game over 50% shooting.

Cross’s skill set is a great fit for Hoiberg’s system, but in order for him to help Nebraska win he’s going to have to find a way to be a lot more consistent. 

Akol Arop

2019-20 Stats: 22 PTS, 9-16 FG, 1-2 3FG, 3-7 FT, 28 REB, 1 AST, 6 STL, 6 BLK, 4 TOV, 21 GP (5.4 MPG)

The Omaha Creighton Prep product spent most of his freshman season on the bench, only seeing the floor in garbage time. He played 12 minutes in his first nine games with 11 DNPs. Then, after Yvan Ouedraogo got himself benched and Kevin Cross got himself in foul trouble against Michigan, Fred Hoiberg called the 6-foot-6 forward’s name to give Nebraska a couple minutes at center against the Wolverines’ 7-footer, Jon Teske.

Arop saw playing time in every game the rest of the season. He played 11 minutes at Iowa, putting up four points, three rebounds and a block. He played six or fewer minutes in Nebraska next six games before topping 20 in each of the last three.  He put up season-highs with five points and six rebounds in round two against the Wolverines then followed it up with five points including his first career 3-pointer in the regular-season finale at Minnesota.

Arop is an explosive leaper who rebounded at a high rate in his brief playing time. His length and athleticism allowed him to make some splash plays on defense as well as finish above the rim on a couple of occasions. His discipline on defense and polish on offense are what likely kept him off the court most of this season, and those were the areas he was focusing on improving in practice and workouts.

Charlie Easley

2019-20 Stats: 1.9 PPG, 29.3% FG, 16.7% 3FG, 75% FT, 1.0 RPG, 0.5 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.5 TPG, 11.6 MPG

Easley’s rise was one of the big surprises this season as he went from walk-on scout team leader to scholarship player to Big Ten starter. Easley barely saw the court early on but saw his playing time rise over the second half of the nonconference schedule, and he played double-digit minutes in 15 of Nebraska’s 21 Big Ten games (including the conference tournament).

At 6-foot-2, Easley showed he wasn’t afraid to mix it up with much bigger players on a number of occasions, whether it’s scrapping on the deck for a loose ball or boxing out an opposing center on the defensive glass. He tended to be in the right spots defensively and kept the ball moving on offense. The Lincoln native developed something of a cult following, and on Jan. 10, Hoiberg placed him on scholarship for the second semester.

Easley got his first start against Penn State, then started each of Nebraska’s last three games, topping 30 minutes in the last two. However, despite all his winning plays and intangibles, he had a tough time impacting the stat sheet at the Big Ten level.

Easley was a terrific 3-point shooter at Lincoln Pius X, but it just never translated to the college level during his freshman season. He made just five 3-pointers in 28 games, the biggest miss coming at the end of Nebraska’s near-upset of Rutgers at the RAC, where the Scarlet Knights were unbeatable this season.

Nebraska’s been very active on the recruiting trail and will likely fill all 13 scholarships, so Easley will return to being a walk-on after the end of this semester. But he gave Nebraska some much-needed heart and hustle and some good minutes this season. To provide anything more than that, he needs to get the shot to start falling.

Nebraska’s other two walk-ons, Jace Piatkowski and Bret Porter, redshirted this season.

Samari Curtis

2019-20 Stats: 14 PTS, 4-10 FG, 4-9 3FG, 2-2 FT, 7 REB, 1 AST, 1 BLK, 2 TOV, 8 GP (6.1 MPG)

Curtis was the last player to join the team and the first one to leave it as he decided to transfer before the end of the winter semester.

The 6-foot-4 guard cracked double-digit minutes in three of his first four games then saw just 14 minutes in his next four games before making the decision to transfer. He played 12 minutes against Southern and put up five points and four rebounds, all season-highs. Curtis was Nebraska’s best 3-point shooter in his limited action but struggled to care out a meaningful role on a guard-heavy team.

Curtis landed at Evansville in the Missouri Valley Conference.

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