Nebraska Basketball Review: The Men in the Middle
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebraska Basketball Review: The Men in the Middle

May 01, 2018

Hail Varsity is wrapping up its Nebrasketball position reviews today with a look at the three-headed center position. Last week, we broke down the point guards, wings and forwards.

Jordy Tshimanga (Sophomore)

2017-18 Stats: 4.0 ppg, 45.5% FG, 56.4% FT, 4.6 rpg, 0.5 apg, 1.2 tpg, 0.5 bpg, 13.6 mpg

The big man out of Canada had a rocky second season in Lincoln, so much so that he almost left early in the second semester, but he bounced back and had a much better second half of the season.

Tshimanga got off to a slow start to his career but picked it up down the stretch, averaging 7.5 points and 6.2 rebounds on 50.8 percent shooting over the last 10 games (up from his overall averages of 5.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 44.9 percent). The strong finish elevated expectations for Tshimanga heading into his sophomore season, but despite opening the year as the starting center with both Ed Morrow Jr. and Michael Jacobson gone, Tshimanga regressed. 

Over the first 17 games of the season, Tshimanga averaged 3.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.3 turnovers and 2.4 fouls in just 15 minutes per game while shooting 36.2 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from the foul line. He simply couldn’t get the ball to go through the rim despite most of his looks being point blank, and Tim Miles’ efforts to get him going with early touches never succeeded. The fouling issues that plagued him as a freshman didn’t go away as a sophomore either. 

Against Wisconsin on Jan. 9, Tshimanga had his best game of the season to that point, finishing with nine points on 3-of-5 from the field and 3-of-4 from the free-throw line with six rebounds in 18 minutes. However, after that game, rumors began to circulate that Tshimanga, frustrated with how his season was going, had decided to transfer elsewhere. After a few days and some discussion with Miles and Tshimanga’s family, the sophomore decided to return to the team. 

He missed two games and took a few more to get back up to speed, but Tshimanga closed out the regular season with a solid eight-game stretch. He averaged 6.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in 12.8 minutes per game. His play improved tremendously, but in his absence Isaiah Roby had emerged as a viable big-minute player at the five in a small-ball lineup, so his role was limited. Still, the turnaround was impressive and important for the Huskers moving forward. 

Duby Okeke (Senior)

2017-18 Stats: 0.8 ppg, 45.0% FG, 40.0% FT, 1.8 rpg, 0.1 apg, 0.6 tpg, 1.0 bpg, 7.0 mpg

With front court depth depleted by the transfers of Morrow and Jacobson, Miles went out in search of a stop-gap option on the grad transfer market. That search produced Okeke, the 6-foot-8, 247-pound shot-blocker from Winthrop.

Okeke produced some spectacular highlights (mostly blocks and dunks) as well as some memorable lowlights (mostly fouls, blatant goal-tends and his free-throw attempts), but overall his contributions were fairly minimal. His season highs at Nebraska were four points (against Minnesota), four blocks (against Rutgers) and five rebounds (against Boston College). He logged just nine double-digit minute games with a high of 16 (against both North Texas and Minnesota). 

Okeke may have only totaled 22 points in his Husker career, but he did play in 28 of the 33 games this season. 

Tanner Borchardt (Junior)

2017-18 Stats: 0.9 ppg, 46.2% FG, 42.9% FT, 1.8 rpg, 0.1 apg, 0.1 tpg, 0.1 bpg, 5.9 mpg in 20 games

Borchardt was the surprise of the season. The Gothenburg product originally made the team through a walk-on tryout as a freshman, left the team after his first season, re-joined the team midseason last year and stuck with it this time heading into the 2017-18 season. The 6-foot-8 center transformed his body over the offseason, cutting weight and adding strength and stamina to the point where Miles was mentioning him as a potential contributor heading into the season.

Sure enough, when the season rolled around Miles was true to his word and gave Borchardt a chance to play. After a few minutes here and there during the nonconference season, Borchardt came up huge in back-to-back games in the middle of the season.

Against Stetson, Borchardt had the best game of his career when the Huskers actually needed it as the Hatters gave the Huskers all they could handle in Lincoln before Nebraska pulled out a nine-point win. Borchardt came up a bucket shy of a double-double with eight points on 2-of-3 from the field and 4-of-5 from the line with 10 rebounds and two blocks in 14 minutes. He followed that up with four points, two boards and two blocks while playing an important 12 minutes in a win against Northwestern to open Big Ten play.

Borchardt wasn’t a consistent part of the rotation throughout conference play, but he was ready whenever Miles chose to call his number. To reward him for his contributions, Miles placed Borchardt on scholarship for the second semester.

Looking Ahead

All signs point to Tshimanga returning at this point, and if he can build off of his solid stretch run this season instead of regressing like last year, Nebraska could be in decent shape at that spot. Okeke is gone but Borchardt will be back as that emergency option whenever they need him. 

Isaac Copeland’s decision will impact this position significantly. If he returns and Miles continues with the small-ball starting line-up with Roby at the five, then Tshimanga and Borchardt supply adequate depth. If Copeland goes pro, Roby likely slides over to the four and Tshimanga would slide back into the starting lineup. If that’s how things play out, Nebraska probably needs to hit the transfer market hard to add to the frontcourt. Currently, Brady Heiman (Platteview) is the only interior player in the 2018 class and a redshirt year would likely be in his best interests. 

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