As soon as news broke that Pittsburgh transfer Trey McGowens received his waiver and was immediately eligible, I started running through different lineup configurations this addition unlocked for Fred Hoiberg this season.
Based on our Mailbag questions this week, I wasn’t the only one. As I scanned the questions before settling in to write this column, I noticed this one:
Starting 5 for game 1 now that we know Trey McGowen's status.
— Branden (@Go_Big_Red) October 5, 2020
Fortunately for Branden, I was already planning to take an early stab at projecting the rotation. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a chance to see any workouts or practices first-hand. At this point, I’m relying on what these guys have shown in the past, what the coaches have said and what just makes sense to me.
I’ll start with this: I think Teddy Allen will probably lead the team in scoring, so let’s just plug Teddy Buckets in at one of the wing spots. Last year should have taught us all a valuable lesson about how junior college production doesn’t always translate to the Division I level, but the difference between Allen and Jervay Green, who came to Nebraska from the same JUCO Allen did, is that Allen has already shown he can produce at the high-major level, and that was without a perimeter jump shot which he seems to have rediscovered in his one year at Western Nebraska Community College.
Husker fans have been waiting for over a year now to see Dalano Banton unleashed, and the coaches have spoken very highly of him throughout that waiting period. The 6-foot-9 Canadian was a former top-100 recruit coming out of high school that showed a lot of talent as a freshman at Western Kentucky but never found consistency. When he first arrived, I wondered if Nebraska saw him as a true point guard in the half court or simply a guy who was capable of grabbing a board and pushing it up in the open floor. Granted, Hoiberg is a fan of having multiple playmakers on the floor at the same time, but even so it seems like Nebraska is really invested in playing Banton at the point. Defensively, that creates some interesting lineup possibilities.
Next to Banton in the backcourt, Hoiberg has an interesting decision to make. Kobe Webster started all 85 of his games at Western Illinois. McGowens started 64 of his 66 games at Pitt. One of them is likely headed to the bench. For the sake of maximizing spacing and giving Nebraska a chance to get the most out of Banton, I’d probably lean towards Webster starting. He’s a better shooter than McGowens and is capable of both spotting up when Banton has the ball and taking over playmaking responsibilities if Hoiberg wats to get Banton involved in other ways or when teams collapse on him.
That being said, I’m guessing Hoiberg will likely give McGowens the first crack at the starting spot. At 6-foot-4 and 191 pounds, he offers a completely different look and gives Nebraska more defensive flexibility. His athleticism should make him an asset for the Huskers in the open floor, and as evidenced by his seven career games with 20-plus points (including highs of 33 and 30), he’s capable of catching fire and going off at any time. During his two seasons at Pitt, McGowens really struggled with efficiency while playing next to another point guard with similar weaknesses in Xavier Johnson, and I’m worried that Banton and McGowens could create some of the same redundancy. We’ll see if Hoiberg tries to stagger their minutes somewhat.
Last season, if Shamiel Stevenson had received his waiver to play immediately, I think he would have been a starter, and heading into the offseason I expected him to be a starter in 2020-21 as well now that he’s finally eligible. However, the more I hear, the more I think that won’t be the case any longer. I think the starting four spot may go to the other JUCO transfer, Lat Mayen.
At 6-foot-9 and 205 pounds, Mayen has the kind of length in the front court Nebraska just didn’t have last season, and Mayen is a strong rebounder despite his slender frame. He also might be the best shooter on the team based on what he’s shown in practice thus far. Mayen shot 38.4% from 3 on 3.5 attempts per game at Chipola College last year. With his height and rebounding combined with his shooting touch, he’s an ideal stretch big in Hoiberg’s system.
Stevenson is a very different kind of player than Mayen — he’s shorter, thicker and more explosive — but he’s also a good rebounder and capable 3-point shooter whose length and 245-pound frame should allow him to play bigger than his 6-foot-6 height. I don’t know that Hoiberg can go wrong picking between these two.
That leaves us with the center spot. Yvan Ouedraogo started 30 games as a freshman basically by default, and while he showed flashes his consistency was sorely lacking. Now Hoiberg has another more experienced option in Tennessee transfer Derrick Walker, and the young Frenchman likely won’t have his spot handed to him again. As the incumbent, I think the slimmed-down, bouncier version of Ouedroago (who is no longer 17 years old) will get a chance to retain that spot to open the season.
However, if Ouedraogo can’t improve on his 41.7% conversion rate on field goals, we could see Walker replace him sooner or later. Nebraska can’t afford for those bunnies not to go down. Walker, a 6-foot-8 froward from Kansas City, didn’t play a ton at Tennessee, but he did log minutes on multiple NCAA Tournament teams and Allen recently praised him for doing all the little things you need your big man to do in order to win.
So to recap, I’m going with Dalano Banton at the one, Trey McGowens at the two, Teddy Allen at the three, Lat Mayen at the four and Yvan Ouedraogo at the five for my opening day starting lineup. However, I could easily see any of Webster, Stevenson or Walker cracking the lineup at some point, and Hoiberg also has the option to go small if he wants by playing Mayen and Stevenson together in the frontcourt. I haven’t even mentioned Thorir Thorbjarnarson, the guy with more Big Ten experience than anyone else on the roster. I think he rounds out the nine-man rotation and will provide some much-needed spacing when he’s on the floor.
Sophomore Akol Arop and freshmen Elijah Wood and Eduardo Andre are on the outside looking in for me as Hoiberg isn’t likely to go 12 deep, though all three have an opportunity to impress the coaches and crack the lineup at some point this season.
We still have to see how well these guys can perform once they get out there on the big stage, but at least on paper, this year’s Nebrasketball team certainly looks to have more talent and lineup versatility than last year’s did, and that has me excited for what should be another brutally tough Big Ten season.
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.