Padding the Stats: Overreacting to the Huskers' Italy Trip
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Padding the Stats: Overreacting to the Huskers’ Italy Trip

August 16, 2019

Nebrasketball’s trip to Italy, which ended earlier this week, was our first real look a the new roster Fred Hoiberg has assembled, and it’s our last look as well until practices start up in a month-and-a-half or so.

Logistics determined we only got a chance to watch one of the four games the Huskers played and we did not get a full box score from any of the four games. Beyond that first game, our data points are limited to individual point totals, recaps and highlights from SID Shamus McKnight and Ben McLaughlin and thoughts from the players and coaches in post-game interviews.

With so few data points to consider, attempting to reach some grand conclusions about this team would be unwise. But I’m going to do it anyway because where’s the fun in showing restraint? Here are some of my takeaways from Nebraska’s 4-0 tour through Italy.

First off, here are the scoring totals and averages for the 10 main rotation guys (walk-on freshmen Jace Piatkowski and Bret Porter each made one bucket during the trip):

  • Dachon Burke Jr.: 11, 20, 11, 12 = 54, 13.5 PPG
  • Haanif Cheatham: 7, 20, 12, 8 = 47, 11.8 PPG
  • Jervay Green: 15, 6, 8, 4 = 33, 8.3 PPG
  • Samari Curtis: 5, 8, 13, 7 = 33, 8.3 PPG
  • Shamiel Stevenson: 9, 6, 5, 11 = 31, 7.8 PPG
  • Matej Kavas: 10, 9, 9, 0 = 28, 7.0 PPG
  • Kevin Cross: 13, 2, 2, 10 = 27, 6.8 PPG
  • Thorir Thorbjarnarson: 2, 5, 7, 11 = 25, 6.3 PPG
  • Dalano Banton: 7, 4, 6, 6 = 23, 5.8 PPG, 
  • Charlie Easley: 3, 3, 0, 15 = 21, 5.3 PPG

I’ll get this out of the way first: I don’t have a starting lineup for you. First of all, three guys eligible to play this season (Cam Mack, Yvan Ouedraogo and Akol Arop) didn’t even play during the trip. Mack and Ouedraogo in particular could weigh heavily into this discussion. Hoiberg used four different starting lineups in Italy, but I don’t believe we’ll see any of them when the season rolls around.

It is worth noting that just one player started all four games in Italy: grad transfer Matej Kavas, the 6-foot-8 sniper from Slovenia by way of Seattle University.

When CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein dropped by a Nebraska practice before the Huskers left, his early prediction for the starting five included Mack, Jervay Green, Haanif Cheatham, Kavas and Ouedraogo. One name missing from that lineup? Dachon Burke.

The 6-foot-4 transfer from Robert Morris is one of just two players back from last year’s team and after redshirting last season he’s ready to show Husker fans what he’s capable of. Burke led the Huskers in scoring in Italy and was the only player who cracked double figures in all four games. If Burke isn’t in the starting lineup when the season rolls around, it will say a heck of  a lot about the five guys that are.

On the other end of the spectrum, Green led the Huskers with 15 points in his first game but was fairly quiet the rest of the trip as it was his only double-digit performance. The transition from junior college to high-major basketball is not easy, and it often takes a lot of those players a while to settle in when they arrive at a four-year school. I’m still very high on Green and his future, and based on the way Hoiberg made it a priority to re-recruit him immediately, it seems the staff is as well. However, perhaps it will take him a bit more time than I expected for him to be a difference-maker.

Regardless of how the starting lineups looks, Nebraska has a chance to have a pretty terrific backcourt. We still haven’t seen Mack suit up in a Nebraska uniform and the JUCO transition applies to him just like it does to Green, but hopefully by Big Ten play those two should be settled in and ready to go. Burke is dynamic on both ends and Cheatham offers size and experience. Between those four, Hoiberg has a chance to carve out a pretty solid rotation, and with Cheatham’s size at 6-foot-6, we might even see all four of them share the court. But something I took away from the Italy trip is that they might have more depth in the backcourt than I realized.

Freshman Samari Curtis, a late addition to the recruiting class, is a guy that I didn’t consider much when I started to think about what the rotation might look like for this team. His high school stats are ridiculous as he averaged over 34 points per game as a senior in Ohio, but he showed in Italy that he can be more than just a bucket-getter.

After the Huskers’ final game, Hoiberg was very complimentary of Curtis and the way he played the game.He only recorded one double-digit scoring game, but he also did a good job of creating plays for others and making good decisions. At 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds, if he can consistently make plays for his teammates as well as find ways to score, Hoiberg might to have to find minutes for him right away.

Even Charlie Easley, the walk-on freshman out of Lincoln Pius X, had his moments. He led the Huskers with 15 points in their final game and knocked down a handful of 3-pointers throughout the trip. If Nebraska needs to turn to him in a pinch, he might be capable of holding his own depending on the situation.

Whereas I feel better about the guards after seeing some of them play, I’m probably just as worried about the frontcourt as I was heading into the trip.

Hoiberg experimented with a lot of different lineups and out of necessity, many of them were very small.

Kevin Cross, the 240-pound freshman who is listed at 6-foot-6 but looks closer to 6-foot-6 in person, had an up-and-down trip with double digit performances in the first and last games but just four total points in the middle two. I don’t know how many minutes Cross will be able to play right away from a conditioning and athleticism standpoint, and that goes for Ouedraogo as well who didn’t exactly tear it up for the French U18 team.

If they can’t get 40 productive minutes from the two of them, then Hoiberg is looking at guys like Kavas and Shamiel Stevenson guarding fives while Thorbjarnarson and Cheatham defend fours. They got away with that against the Italian and Lithuanian teams they played just fine, but I’m not sure if that will hold true against Big Ten competition. As Hoiberg has said many times now, though, that’s why he hired Doc Sadler.

In the grand scheme of things, the bonding experience was the most valuable part of the trip for the Huskers and Hoiberg still has two and a half months to tinker with things and whip the team into shape. But that doesn’t mean we can’t overreact in the meantime.

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