Padding the Stats: Projecting Big Ten Basketball Standings
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Nebraska Basketball Review: Hard Forwards to Handle

April 27, 2018

Hail Varsity’s year in review series has already looked back at what the point guards and wings did this season for the 22-11 Huskers. Now it’s time to move to the frontcourt and break down the forwards.

Isaac Copeland (Junior)

2017-18 Stats: 12.9 ppg, 47.2% FG, 36.9% 3FG, 70.2% FT, 6.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.0 tog, 1.0 bpg, 30.7 mpg

Copeland became the first 5-star prospect in program history when he chose to transfer to Nebraska after two-plus seasons at Georgetown. The Huskers got a huge lift during the non conference when Copeland was granted immediate eligibility rather than having to sit out until the end of the first semester and he went on to start in all 33 games.

Copeland scored in double figures 23 times as a junior with a high of 30 on his way to being named All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. He notched three double-doubles and was second on the team in both scoring and rebounding.

Copeland’s ability to finish above the rim as well as step away from the basket and knock down mid-range jumpers was an integral part of Nebraska’s offense this season and the 6-foot-9 forward was responsible for one of the best plays of the season for the Huskers.

Copeland’s relationship with his 3-point shot has been a complicated one throughout his career. As a freshman at Georgetown, Copeland shot 38.9 percent from deep, albeit on less than two attempts per game. As a sophomore, he more than doubled his attempts but only converted 27.2 percent of the time. Out of the gates at Nebraska, it looked like Copeland was closer to his sophomore self as he shot 28.6 percent through the first two months of the season. However, after he settled into his role at Nebraska and worked off the rust from the back injury that kept him out of action, Copeland found his stride and shot 44.6 percent in January and February.

Copeland floated through games at times, finishing with five or less points five different times this season, but overall he had a solid season for the Huskers and was a big part of why Nebraska won 22 games. Chalk up another successful sit-out transfer for Tim Miles.

Isaiah Roby (Sophomore)

2017-18 Stats: 8.7 ppg, 56.5% FG, 40.5% 3FG, 72.4% FT, 6.3 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.5 tpg, 2.0 bpg, 24.0 mpg

Things really started to click for Nebraska when Roby moved into the starting lineup at the center position, but I’d still classify him as a forward at 6-foot-8 and 226 pounds with a diverse skill set.

Roby’s freshman season was basically a wash as a stress reaction knocked him out of commission for months leading up to the season and he never looked comfortable with the speed or physicality of the game. After a healthy offseason spent largely in the weight room, the sophomore came back a completely different player and his numbers were up dramatically across the board.

Roby led the team in rebounding in just 24 minutes per game and was second in 3-point percentage after shooting just 4-of-20 as a freshman. He was third in the Big Ten in blocks per game behind Michigan State’s likely NBA lottery pick Jaren Jackson Jr. and Purdue’s 7-foot-3 Matt Harms. His length and athleticism made him a disruptive force on defense and allowed him to hold his own on the glass despite battling with bigger players at the five most of his minutes. 

Roby is a complete mismatch offensively for opposing fives with his ability to shoot from the perimeter, put the ball on the deck to attack close-outs and find the open man if he drew a help defender. He also did this:

Roby's two biggest flaws at this point are his ball security (he improved quite a bit from his freshman year) and how foul-prone he is (which didn’t get any better this year). If he can clean up those two areas, he could be an all-conference player.

Roby was one of the most improved players in the Big Ten and played himself onto the fringes of the NBA radar. He did not declare for the draft like Copeland and James Palmer Jr., but Tim Miles did submit his name along with theirs to the undergraduate advisory committee to get some feedback about how the pros view his game. A similar jump in his junior year could land him in the draft next season.

Jack McVeigh (Junior)

2017-18 Stats: 1.9 ppg, 34.5% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 100% FT, 1.1 rpg, 7.5 mpg in 14 games

McVeigh didn’t quite have the role he might have hoped for as a junior. After playing in 64 games with 15 starts through his first two seasons, McVeigh rode the bench in more than half of Nebraska’s games this year including 15 of 18 in conference. With the rise of Copeland and Roby, and perhaps a lack of development on McVeigh’s part, minutes were hard for Tim Miles to find for the 6-foot-7 Aussie.

McVeigh’s greatest strength was his perimeter shot, but he never truly developed it into a consistent weapon as he shot just 33.9 percent from deep for his three-year career at Nebraska. On the defensive end, while he did a good job of being in the right spots as a help defender and was a good communicator, he struggled to hold his ground against opposing bigs and wasn’t quick enough to stay in front of wings. With his struggles on defense and his lack of consistent impact on offense, Miles decided to roll with a shorter bench as Roby and Copeland played almost all of the minutes at the four.

Despite the benching, McVeigh remained in good spirits on the sidelines, taking part in the “bench mob” celebrations and cheering his teammates on. He even started his own podcast.

McVeigh’s best game of the season came against North Texas in November when he finished with 10 points on 4-of-7 from the field (1-of-2 from 3) and 1-of-1 from the charity stripe with six rebounds in 12 minutes.

Looking Ahead

The forward position is very much in a state of flux for Nebraska heading into next season. McVeigh has already left the program and signed with the Adelaide 36ers of the NBL in his native Australia. Copeland, who will turn 23 and has already suffered multiple injuries throughout his college career, could choose to turn pro regardless of what the response is from the NBA. He has until May 30 to decide whether or not he wants to return to school at Nebraska.

Roby should be an even bigger part of what Nebraska does next season. If Copeland doesn’t return, Roby could slide over to the four. If he does, Miles could choose to roll with the small-ball lineup with Roby and Copeland playing together that led to so much success this season. 

Miles has talked about incoming freshman Brady Heiman, a 6-foot-11 recruit from Platteview, playing the four at Nebraska but his skill set is closer to that of a center and that is what he’s played his whole career. Either way, Heiman could use a redshirt year to add weight to his slight frame. Depth is certainly a question for the Huskers heading into 2018-19.

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