Assessing Nebraska's Frontcourt Situation for 2019-20
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Padding the Stats: A Different Feel to Hoiberg’s First Nebraska Class

May 17, 2019

On Tuesday, I wrote about Fred Hoiberg’s hit rate on the recruiting trail as he looked to almost completely flip the Nebraska roster in the span of a month.

Then he landed another transfer on Wednesday afternoon. Then he picked up another high school recruit on Wednesday evening. Now he’s sitting at 14 scholarships committed (until and unless Isaiah Roby stays in the NBA Draft, something I expect him to do).

Barring any further attrition or any newcomers failing to make it to Lincoln for whatever reason, Hoiberg’s first roster is set.

Guards: Cam Mack (sophomore), Jervay Green (junior), Haanif Cheatham (senior), Dachon Burke (junior), Samari Curtis (freshman)

Wings: Matej Kavas (senior), Thorir Thorbjarnarson (junior), Shamiel Stevenson (junior), Akol Arop (freshman), Dalano Banton (redshirt sophomore)

Bigs: Yvan Ouedraogo (freshman), Kevin Cross (freshman), Derrick Walker (redshirt junior)

The final tally includes two junior college transfers, two graduate transfers, three sit-out transfers (with a waiver likely coming for one) and four class of 2019 recruits — 11 new players in total.

Hoiberg’s first recruiting class at Iowa State included three high school recruits, one junior college recruit, one graduate transfer and four sit-out transfers. That first class led to a 16-16 season. Melvin Ejim was an impact freshman and a four-year starter, Darion “Jake” Anderson played well as a graduate transfer and three of the transfers who redshirted became starters the following season.

“My first year at Iowa State we took over a team that had four or five scholarship players and there wasn’t a lot of expectations that year but we went out that first season and put together a .500 record, a 16-16 record, which was respectable,” Hoiberg said during his introductory press conference. “That group was as fun a group as I’ve ever had to coach, it was a group of six guys that we played, with a couple others that played spot minutes. But those guys were great, they bought into what we were trying to do and really set the tone and set a culture for what we wanted everything to look like. Then I had a group of four transfers that sat out that I knew when they became eligible we’d have a chance to be pretty special. And then those next four years we ended up building on that making NCAA tournaments.”

This first class seems a little different. Hoiberg didn’t want to give a timetable for success during that first press conference, but he doesn’t seem to be taking his time.

Hoiberg and his staff put more of an emphasis on adding players who could make an impact right away. Green, who committed initially to Tim Miles, was his first priority. Cam Mack was also high on that list after he decommitted from St. John’s. Both are top-rated junior college recruits, both have all-conference potential and both are likely day-one starters in Lincoln.

Hoiberg also brought in two graduate transfers instead of one. I don’t know that either one will be even honorable mention All-Big Ten, but they both fit what Hoiberg wants to do and should allow others to maximize their talents. Kavas was a career 44.7-percent 3-point shooter at Seattle and at 6-foot-8, he should serve as a perfect stretch-four, spacing the floor for Mack and Green to get to the rim. Cheatham will take on tough defensive assignments and score when Nebraska needs him to.

I was high on Dachon Burke before with his ability to defend and get to the rim, and with Hoiberg working with him I’m a bit more optimistic about his perimeter shot continuing to improve. Whatever they get from Curtis is a bonus. The backcourt should be a strength for this program over the next couple of years.

How far this team goes in 2019-20 could depend on how well the frontcourt manages to hold its own. Defending power forwards is a little different in the Big Ten than it is in the WAC and Nebraska has very little experience in the frontcourt other than him.

Stevenson was another good addition that adds to the idea that this team might be ready to compete sooner rather than later (especially if he gets that waiver). At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, he has the bulk and length to hold his own defensively on defense while creating a mismatch on the other end.

Both Kevin Cross and Yvan Ouedraogo strike me as the kind of players that would be well-served with a redshirt year or else playing 10 to 15 minutes off the bench in year one. Cross is something of a late-bloomer and Ouedraogo will be 17 years old for the duration of the season. I believe both will hold their own on the glass, but what about defense? That I’m not sure about.

Will Nebraska be an NCAA Tournament team in 2019-20? I don’t know, but I think it has a better shot of getting there than Hoiberg’s first team at Iowa State did. Even another NIT bid would be a solid starting point off which to to build, especially with Dalano Banton and Derrick Walker poised to step in for the departed Cheatham and Kavas after a redshirt year.

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