For the first six games of the season, we saw the same eight-man rotation for Nebraska. With one scholarship player out for the season, one suspended, one ill and one ineligible, Fred Hoiberg’s bench has been short this season.
That’s starting to change, however, and the bench is getting longer as the Huskers head into Big Ten play.
In Nebraska’s win over Doane on Thursday, freshman center Eduardo Andre made his debut after missing the first six games according to COVID-19 protocol. Trevor Lakes, the transfer from the University of Indianapolis, also received a waiver from the NCAA on Thursday to play this season, so he made his debut against the Tigers as well. That’s two more bodies for Hoiberg to factor into his rotation.
“It is tough, there’s no doubt about it,” Hoiberg said. “When you’ve played six of your seven nonconference games with basically the same rotation, now you’re adding two important pieces and we’re four games away now from adding another one in Derrick [Walker]. For us, it’s about sacrifice.”
Walker will join the mix once his suspension ends after Nebraska’s 11th game. With three new players in the mix, roles will change. That’s the sacrifice Hoiberg is talking about. And now they have to figure out how all the pieces fit together on the flow in arguably the toughest conference in the country.
Against Doane, Lakes showed why Hoiberg brought him in as a transfer from the Division II level. He showed off a quick, effortless release on his jumper en route to a 4-of-5 performance from deep. The 6-foot-7 forward grabbed six rebounds and dished out two assists without a turnover in 26 minutes.
The jumper from Division II to the Big Ten is massive. Lakes originally planned to take his NCAA-mandated redshirt year as a transfer to work on his body and his game, but when the Division I Council voted to allow all Division I transfers immediate eligibility, it also made the waiver process simpler for transfers from other levels, and Nebraska decided to take advantage.
“I was preparing for this season with Coach Gates and some of the GAs,” Lakes said after the Doane game. “We were doing a lot of ball-handling and stuff like that, trying to get my ball-handling better, and then trying to work on my body, trying to get faster, trying to get stronger. I definitely improved in those areas. All I did was shoot 3s tonight, but I definitely improved in those areas, trying to get my foot speed quicker. I think I’ll have a lot more growth now with getting to play these games actually. Instead of sitting out, I’ll get to experience what it’s like to play in the grind of the Big Ten, get to play against the best teams in the nation. So I think this, ultimately, will be very good for my development.”
His debut was impressive, but it came against NAIA-level competition. He’ll have to show he can still get open and get his shot off while holding his own defensively against Big Ten opponents. However, for team with one player shooting better than 35% from 3 on the season in Kobe Webster, Lakes could prove to be a valuable piece moving forward.
Andre was impressive in his debut as well. At 6-foot-10 and 233 pounds with a wingspan Hoiberg has described as “almost 7-foot-5.” Andre brings a completely different physical profile to the table than anyone else on the team. He made all four of his shots from the field, showing both power with a dunk and touch with a few other finishes. He also blocked two shots.
On the flip side, Andre also showed he has a way to go in terms of his mobility on the perimeter, and it will be a while before his stamina level is where it needs to be. Even so, he showed enough that I think Husker fans can be excited about what he’s going to bring to the program.
Once Walker is eligible, he’ll be in the mix at the five as well along with Andre and Yvan Ouedraogo, and that depth will allow Lat Mayen to spend less time at the five. After four more games, Nebraska will be able to go three-deep at center and will have three very different perimeter options off the bench as well in Lakes, Webster and Shamiel Stevenson. A shallow team is starting too look a lot deeper.
“I don’t know if we’ve had anybody emerge to the point where they’re going to play 38 minutes a game,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to have to have some depth, try to keep guys fresh. You’ve seen how in a couple of our games with really playing eight, we’ve faltered in the last 10 minutes of the game. Hopefully with the two guys that we’ve added to the mix now, that will have our guys a little fresher down the stretch so we execute and can finish off some games. Two of our three losses we were ahead with under 10 to play. Creighton, we were in a four-point game with about 14-and-a-half to play. Hopefully with a little more depth, that will keep our guys fresher and we can play better down the stretch.”
It’s going to take some time for guys like Lakes, Andre and Walker to get up to full speed and Hoiberg has to figure out how all the pieces fit together, but the added depth and versatility they bring will be important for Nebraska moving forward as the Huskers navigate a brutally tough Big Ten slate.