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Padding the Stats: Power-Ranking Nebrasketball’s Offseason Moves

June 07, 2023

Fred Hoiberg and his staff are still hard at work looking to round out the roster with two open scholarships (the Huskers made the final three for Dayton transfer Mike Sharavjamts Tuesday), but the heavy lifting for the 2023-24 season is already complete.

The Huskers had a lot of work to do to avoid taking a big step back in 2023-24 considering the pieces they lost, but the last two months have treated Nebraska very well with four additions from the transfer portal plus the return of Keisei Tominaga for a fifth season of college ball.

While a new entry or two in the Offseason Tracker is still possible, now seems like a good time to take a look at the moves Hoiberg and his staff made to set the Huskers up for next season. With that in mind, let’s rank the five big moves the Huskers made in terms of expected impact and importance for next season’s success.

1) Keisei Tominaga’s Return

Hoiberg himself opened his press conference on Friday by saying that getting Tominaga back in a Husker uniform was one of the biggest needs for the team, so who am I to disagree?

Tominaga’s season-long numbers were solid, but he elevated his game to an incredible degree down the stretch, averaging 20.3 points on 55.7% shooting including 43.1% from deep over his past nine games. That stretch included seven games of 20-plus-points with a high of 30.

“Just a couple things it was about Keisei’s finish: after February 1, he was third in the league in scoring behind National Player of the Year Zach Edey and Trayce Jackson-Davis,” Hoiberg said. “He was second in the Big Ten in 2-point field goal percentage, which is remarkable for somebody of Keisei’s size to be able to finish … And then he was one of two Power Five players to shoot 50% overall from the field, over 40 from the 3 and over 85 from the line.”

Do I expect Tominaga to average 20 points over the course of a full season in the Big Ten? No. However, what he showed last season was no fluke. With him back, Hoiberg has more than 50% of his scoring back from last season for the first time during his tenure in Lincoln.

The combination of Tominaga’s ability to get buckets with great efficiency and the continuity that he signifies gets him to the top of this list.

Number one was easy. After that is where the debate begins.  Tominaga has is proven at the Big Ten level, one major leg up on the competition. Only one of Nebraska’s transfer commitments comes from a high-major conference (Iowa transfer Ahron Ulis), but his numbers are the least eye-catching of the group. The others put up better numbers against lesser competition, and each of them plays a different position.

2) Rienk Mast’s Commitment

If we were ranking transfer commits based solely on upside and excitement level, I’d be tempted to go with Brice Williams here. However, Tominaga’s return lessens the load on Williams to come in and be a top scoring option from day one.

On the other hand, Blaise Keita still hasn’t recovered from the ankle injury that derailed his first season at Nebraska, and he’s the only true center returning on the roster. Nebraska desperately needed someone to come in and play big minutes at the five spot next season.

Enter Mast, the 6-foot-9, 240-pound transfer from Bradley in the Missouri Valley Conference. He averaged 13.8 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists for the Braves last season. Mast’s ability to score in the post, stretch the floor out to the 3-point line and find cutters and shooters as a passer make him a great fit to replace Derrick Walker.

Production at lower levels doesn’t always translate smoothly once a player moves up a level or two. For that reason, I pulled the numbers each of the three mid-major transfers put up against high-major and NCAA Tournament competition (I excluded freshman year numbers for all three).

Mast played 10 such opponents over the past two seasons and averaged 11.1 points on 40.2% from the field (15.4% from 3) and 73.1% from the foul line, 9.7 rebounds (2.7 offensive), 1.6 assists and 2.3 turnovers in 30.5 minutes per game. He played against Arkansas, Drake, Wisconsin, San Diego State, Colorado State and Loyola in the past two seasons.

Mast gets the majority of his offense around the rim, but that will be tougher to accomplish as an undersized post in the Big Ten (despite how easy Walker made it look at times). While he’s not an elite shooter, I think his ceiling (and perhaps the team’s) will be set by how effectively he’s able to stretch the floor, something he struggled to do against the best competition he faced at Bradley (small sample size acknowledged). He also showed the ability to make some of the same passes that made Tominaga so deadly as a cutter playing off Walker, another point in his favor.

3) Brice Williams’ Commitment

Mast gets the nod because of positional importance (and Nebraska didn’t seem to be in on many other impact-level posts), but I actually have more confidence in Brice Williams and his translation to the Big Ten.

The 6-foot-7 wing averaged a team-high 13.8 points on good efficiency in just 27.1 minutes per game, leading Charlotte in scoring despite only starting 13 games. I have questions about his overall athleticism and how that might limit him somewhat on both ends of the floor in the Big Ten, but the guy can absolutely shoot the ball, and he’s a smart cutter as well. I actually see a lot of similarities between his game and Tominaga’s, despite the obvious physical differences.

Williams’ exposure to higher-level competition is minimal, but he performed more often than not when he got the chance, averaging 13.2 points on 50% shooting (53.3% from 3) and 93.8% from the free-throw line, 5.2 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 2.4 turnovers and 1.4 steals in 30.4 minutes per game across five contests against Boise State, Florida Atlantic, UAB and Davidson over the past two years.

If you asked me for my best bets to lead the team in scoring next season, Tominaga and Williams would be the first two names I mentioned. I think they’ll take pressure off of each other. Nebraska probably could have gotten by without landing a scoring wing like Williams so long as it got Tominaga back, but his addition certainly raises the ceiling.

4) Josiah Allick’s Commitment

I had a tough time picking between Mast and Williams for the second spot, and that’s true again here. However, whereas positional value won out in the previous decision, I’m going the other way here.

Finding a point guard was probably a bigger need than adding a forward (especially considering Wilhelm Breidenbach was still on the team until shortly after Allick’s commitment), but I like all of the ways Allick can potentially help this team after combing through his film. Of course, him being a Lincoln kid (and me covering him in high school) is just the cherry on top.

Allick averaged 8.4 points and 7.4 rebounds as a utility forward who crashed the glass hard and defended anybody and everybody for New Mexico while taking advantage of whatever scoring opportunities came his way. Prior to his one year as a Lobo, Allick spent three years at Kansas City where he was more of a featured option on offense as a sophomore and junior.

Allick’s extra year on the other transfers plus his season in the Mountain West exposed him to tougher competition as he faced 19 NCAA Tournament or high-major teams. He averaged 9.1 points on 56.1% shooting (34.8% from 3) and 74.4% free-throw shooting, 5.9 rebounds (2.0 offensive), 1.2 assists and 1.9 turnovers in 31.9 minutes per game. He faced the likes of St. Mary’s, Iona, Oral Roberts, San Diego State, Nevada, Utah State, Boise State, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas State.

While I think Juwan Gary will get the benefit of the doubt as a returning starter, I could easily see Allick sliding into the starting four spot at some point. He provides more rim pressure as a roll man than Mast, is a rim-running threat in transition and is capable of defending multiple positions while cleaning the glass. He can also slide over to the five if need be depending on matchups, which gives him added value.

Like with Mast, just how impactful he can be could come down to whether or not he’s able to rediscover his perimeter shot and get back to the 35% range he was at his last two years at Kansas City.

5) Ahron Ulis’ Commitment

Point guard was one of Nebraska’s biggest needs heading into this offseason, and that fact alone makes it feel strange to put Ulis at five on this list. However, Hoiberg pursued a handful of other options at that spot before landing Ulis, who is the least-accomplished of all the transfers brought in despite being the only one to play at a high-major level.

He averaged 6.1 points and 2.1 assists while shooting 39.6% from the field and 31.9% from 3 last season for the Hawkeyes, playing 22.6 minutes per game despite logging 27 starts. While I liked some of the things I saw in his tape and a fresh start could be what he needed to take a big step forward in his development, I liked what I saw from the other guys better.

Nebraska needs someone at the point who can initiate offense and get the ball to guys like Tominaga and Williams — who will be more off-ball scorers than primary ball-handlers — as well as push the pace and get the ball inside to Mast. Hopefully Ulis can be that guy, though I wonder how many minutes he’ll play and whether or not Nebraska might be more dangerous with Jamarques Lawrence playing a good number of minutes at that spot as a sophomore.

There’s still a chance Nebraska could look to add another player (like Sharavjamts, who will pick between the Huskers, Memphis and San Francisco) who would push for minutes as the primary initiator, meaning even more competition for Ulis.

While I’ve ranked Nebraska’s big offseason moves here, the truth is they’re all important and how they come together could be the key to a winning season. All five pieces fit together well on paper and match the way Hoiberg wants to play, and I’m excited to see all of them on the court alongside the returners and redshirts. 

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