No Margin for Error
Tuesday night’s loss at red-hot Illinois is a perfect depiction of where Fred Hoiberg’s Huskers unfortunately currently stand.
The Huskers got a lot of the ingredients they need in order to pull out a win in the Big Ten — Sam Griesel played like a star, the team’s designated floor spacers in Keisei Tominaga and C.J. Wilcher both hit their 3s (5-of-8 combined) and good defense (and fortunate shooting variance) kept the Illini in check.
Yet Nebraska still lost by 16. Why? Derrick Walker played just 23 minutes because of fouls and he committed six turnovers on top of that, finishing with just eight points. As a result, Illinois won the paint points battle decisively (36-22). The Huskers were plus-10 with Walker on the floor, but unfortunately the other 17 minutes happened.
With the injuries, Nebraska has no choice but to rely upon a bevy of underclassmen with limited experience, and that group (Jamarques Lawrence, Denim Dawson, Sam Hoiberg, and Wilhelm Breidenbach) combined for five points on 2-of-13 shooting with six turnovers after a pretty solid run of one or more of those guys contributing in almost every game.
Nebraska’s margin for error was slim at full strength. With the injuries to Juwan Gary and Emmanuel Bandoumel, it’s nonexistent. The Huskers have to be firing on all cylinders for more than 20 or 25 minutes if they’re going to get back in the win column, and that’s just really hard to do.
That being said, the blueprint starts with Griesel and Walker being two of the best players on the floor. The former’s aggressiveness (and effectiveness) from the opening tip was a great sign after Griesel had scored 27 total points in the previous three games. Now they just need to keep Walker on the court alongside him (and for the veteran big man to clean up some careless mistakes that have led to his high-turnover games).
It’s been a while since we heard from Coach John Cook, which makes the January edition of his monthly podcast with his daughter (and former Hail Varsity contributor), Lauren West, a worthwhile listen.
Workouts and beach practices have already begun. The newcomers are learning what it takes to a Cornhusker, and Nicklin Hames is learning what life is like as a graduate assistant.
I’ll hit on two of the topics he touched on here, one about an outgoing Husker and the other on an incoming one.
First, Nebraska lost just one player to the transfer portal from the 2022 team, walk-on setter Anni Evans. Cook pointed to her situation as a positive of the portal. The Huskers added a talented setter in their 2023 recruiting class in Bergen Reilly while Kennedi Orr is set to return. Cook said Evans is set to graduate in May and opened some doors for herself with the the way she took advantage of her opportunity last season. She wants to study public administration, and Cook mentioned somewhere along the east coast as a possible destination.
“That transfer makes a ton of sense,” Cook said. “We’re happy for Anni that she’s put herself in this position and she’s visiting schools this spring and will find a place. It’s going to work out great for her, she’s going to get a master’s in what she wants and we don’t offer that here at Nebraska, so that’s another reason for her that it makes a lot of sense for her to transfer.”
Side note while we’re talking setters: Huskers Illustrated’s Lincoln Arneal reported Monday after an interview with Cook that Orr will not participate in beach this spring and instead focus on indoor training as she seeks to return to her pre-injury form.
Cook also provided more insight into the whirlwind recruitment of Florida transfer Merritt Beason. Cook learned that Whitney Lauenstein was stepping away from volleyball during the team’s exit meetings, and since he had promised Lindsay Krause the opportunity to move back to the left side where she’s more comfortable, he began scouring the portal for an opposite hitter. A week later, Beason’s name popped up. Twenty minutes after that, Nebraska was on the phone with her, and the following day she was on a plane to visit campus.
Cook had seen Beason play when he went to watch Bekka Allick and Lexi Rodriguez play with the U21 USA Volleyball Team last summer. Based on what he saw there, he said he lit up recruiting coordinator Jaylen Reyes, wondering why Nebraska didn’t recruit Beason out of high school (she went on to earn MVP of the Pan American Cup as Team USA won gold).
Beason took a few more trips on her visit tour, but what she experienced in Lincoln — Cook said it was one of the best visits they’ve ever hosted — must have stuck with her because she committed to the Huskers soon after.
Cook said he’s really excited about the group he has, and now the challenge becomes keeping them all together as there won’t be a senior on the roster in 2023.
The More, the Merrier?
Wednesday marks the beginning of the late signing period for college football, and Nebraska is set to officially add at least four more high school commits and three more transfers to their previously announced haul, with a few decisions still to be made as of the time of this writing.
Matt Rhule is set to bring at least 38 new scholarship players (27 prep/JUCO recruits, 11 transfers) to add to the 62 scholarship players returning. That gets you to 100 scholarship players, which doesn’t even include the two wide receivers that opted to rejoin the team in Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda and Zavier Betts.
Last time I checked, the limit is 85. With NIL collectives pitching in, coaches can get creative with roster management to find ways to keep a few extra scholarship-caliber players around, but I don’t think we’re going to see upwards of 15 to 20 players have scholarships paid for in NIL money as we head into next season.
The good news is Nebraska doesn’t need to get down to 85 until the fall, which means there is a heck of a lot on the line this spring for newcomers and returners alike as the new coaches gets a better feel for what they have in the program and depth charts start to solidify.
The portal is closed for now, but it will open back up on May 1 and remain open for two weeks. Chances are we’ll see further roster movement at that time.
In the meantime, here’s what the distribution looks like (*edited after Wednesday’s additions*).
- Total: 148 (103 scholarship, 45 walk-on)
- Quarterback: 9 (6 scholarship, 2 walk-on)
- Running Back: 12 (6 scholarship, 6 walk-on)
- Offensive Line: 24 (15 scholarship, 9 walk-on)
- Tight End: 13 (8 scholarship, 5 walk-on)
- Wide Receiver: 22 (16 scholarship, 6 walk-on)
- Defensive Line: 13 (12 scholarship, 1 walk-on)
- Edge: 5 (4 scholarship, 1 walk-on)
- Linebacker: 11 (9 scholarship, 2 walk-on)
- Nickel: 6 (4 scholarship, 2 walk-on)
- Defensive Back: 26 (19 scholarship, 7 walk-on)
- Place Kicker: 3 (2 scholarship, 1 walk-on)
- Long Snapper: 2 (1 scholarship, 1 walk-on)
- Punter: 2 (1 scholarship, 1 walk-on)
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.