Fred Hoiberg started his postseason meetings with his players this week, and as a result we’ve already started to see attrition with the departures of three scholarship players and one walk-on.
Yvan Ouedraogo was the first to announce he was entering the transfer portal, and I don’t think it came as a surprise to anyone. The writing was pretty much on the wall as soon as he fell behind Eduardo Andre on the depth chart and started logging DNP-CDs down the stretch of the season. He did a couple things well, but Nebraska simply couldn’t afford to keep trotting him out there with how many possessions he wasted with his inability to finish on offense.
Akol Arop missed the whole season because of a knee surgery, and that likely set him back far enough that it was going to be hard for him to crack the lineup (even if Nebraska could really use an infusion of athleticism).
Elijah Wood didn’t see the court this season outside of garbage time, playing in just 13 games, and he didn’t show anything during that time to make you think he was ready for more than that. Nebraska was originally looking at him as a 2021 prospect as he planned to do a year at a prep school, but once Kobe King changed his mind about transferring to Nebraska Hoiberg offered that scholarship to Wood.
Bret Porter is also moving on after spending the last two years as a walk-on.
At this point, fans of every program in the country should expect some degree of attrition with their favorite team at the end of the season. We’ve seen plenty of it in Lincoln the last two years, but at least to this point, it feels different.
“We’re going to have continuity next year with a good core coming back and with some great additions,” Hoiberg said after Nebraska’s season-ending loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament. “That’s going to be important going into the season.”
He mentioned continuity and being excited about getting to work more with this returning core under more normal conditions with a regular practice schedule. What exactly is that core? Here’s currently what the projected roster looks like for 2021-22.
- PG: Trey McGowens, Kobe Webster (Chris McGraw)
- SG: Bryce McGowens, Keisei Tominaga (Jace Piatkowski)
- SF: Dalano Banton, Shamiel Stevenson
- PF: Lat Mayen, Trevor Lakes, Wilhelm Breidenbach
- C: Derrick Walker, Eduardo Andre
Webster’s decision to return is certainly notable. Webster set out as a grad transfer looking to prove that he could play at a high-major level. After a transition period, he emerged as a 40% 3-point shooter, and he averaged 13 points in five starts to close out the season. After four years of college under his belt and after winning just seven games during a pandemic-impacted season, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see him pursue professional opportunities.
But Webster apparently enjoyed his time in Lincoln and believes in what Hoiberg is preaching enough to stick around for another year.
Derrick Walker wasn’t a dominant force be any means this season, but once he joined the lineup it clearly made a difference and allowed Hoiberg to do more of what he wanted on both ends of the floor. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with a full season.
I thought (and Fred Hoiberg agreed) that Trey McGowens played some really solid basketball in four of his last five games and he looks to be embracing more of the primary point guard role he played down the stretch. His continued progression will be a huge part of what this team does next year, particularly if Hoiberg doesn’t go grab a new starting point guard out of the transfer portal.
I’m not sure what to think of Dalano Banton as he didn’t seem to be the same player post-shutdown. He showed enough when he was playing well to still be excited about his potential, but he needs to polish up either his ball-handling or shooting (or even better, both) in order to be more consistently impactful.
Lat Mayen was pretty streaky, but he did shoot 36.7% from 3. We’ll have to see if Trevor Lakes can find a role as a sharpshooter after dipping his toe into the Big Ten waters this season.
Hoiberg mentioned the “great additions,” and the centerpiece of that 2021 recruiting class is 5-star shooting guard Bryce McGowens. I watched some of his high school tape and I definitely saw why he has been held in such high regard. He’s an incredibly gifted scorer who will likely be one of Nebraska’s leading scorers right away. The key question for the younger McGowens brother is how well does he handle the physicality of the college game. He’s long and lanky at 6-foot-6 and doesn’t have a ton of muscle on his frame. He’s skilled and crafty enough to get to his spots and draw fouls at any level, but will he be able to finish with contact? Can he be efficient early in his career?
The other additions are Keisei Tominaga, a 6-foot-2 guard who is shooting over 50% from 3 at the junior college level, and Wilhelm Breidenbach, a skilled 6-foot-9 stretch forward who also likely needs to add significant strength in order to handle the rigors of the Big Ten.
Combine the talented additions with a returning core that will have more time to continue building off what they did last season and I think Nebraska has a chance to take a significant step forward next season.
However, this roster still has its flaws. One of the biggest is a lack of foot speed and quickness on both ends of the floor. That was a massive problem this season and the roster doesn’t look to be much improved in that area heading into next season.
On offense, Nebraska did not have a lot of guys that could consistently get open on offense and beat their defenders to create an open look for himself and others. The Huskers took a lot of contested shots last season, which I think contributed to the team’s recurring scoring droughts. Teddy Allen was the best at that, but he’s gone. The hope is that Bryce McGowens will be that guy, and I think he certainly has that potential.
The lack of foot speed is perhaps more apparent on the other end, however. Trey McGowens is the one guy on the roster you could count on to have a chance of staying in front of quick guards. Webster, Mayen and Lakes are all pretty slow-footed. Banton can be disruptive defensively with his length but he’s not a great on-ball defender by any means. I don’t think any of the 2021 recruits look like impact defenders. The Huskers put together some terrific stretches of defense this season even with the roster’s limitations, but those limitations also showed up in big moments and in games Nebraska should have won.
Nebraska doesn’t have great on-ball defenders and it doesn’t have great rim protection (Eduardo Andre may get there, but he isn’t there yet). Nebraska should still have a chance to win some games next season if the Huskers prove to be able to really shoot the ball. If most of Bryce McGowens, Tominaga, Mayen, Webster, Lakes and Breidenbach can shoot in the mid-to-upper 30s percentage-wise, Nebraska could have a chance to outscore teams next season — so long as they take care of the ball.
“Our offense really picked up these last three weeks of the season,” Hoiberg said. “You look at our assist numbers, it’s where we need them to be … We’re starting to figure it out. Again, we’re not going to have a whole new team next year where you have to introduce a system and pretty much start from scratch, which is what we’ve done the first two years. We have a foundation in place and that’s huge moving forward.”
I’ll look back and reevaluate what this team looks like once the roster is officially locked in, but these are my thoughts (with input from Fred Hoiberg) on the state of the program right now. This roster still has very real flaws and questions the Huskers need to answer, but there are some things to potentially get excited about as well.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.