The new-look Nebraska team took the court for the first time on Monday as the Huskers took on Stella Azzurra Academy in the first of four exhibitions they’ll play during their 10-day tour of Italy.
We were originally told that the games would not be live-streamed, but that plan changed shortly before tipoff and we got a chance to watch as the Huskers smashed Stella 87-56. Twelve different Huskers got into the game (Yvan Ouedraogo, Derrick Walker, Akol Arop and Cam Mack were the only ones who didn’t).
Here are some of my observations from the exhibition.
>> I’ll start with the lineups, because that was one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing during this trip. Who starts? What do the rotations look like? How do the pieces come together?
The starting five was as follows: Jervay Green (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) Dachon Burke Jr. (6-foot-4, 180), Haanif Cheatham (6-foot-6, 195), Thorir Thorbjarnarson (6-foot-6, 206) and Matej Kavas (6-foot-8, 200).
Perhaps the most surprising member of that lineup is Thorbjarnarson, the lone holdover from last year’s team who actually saw the floor. It looks like Fred Hoiberg’s praise for him was more than just lip service. That’s a pretty small group considering the point guard (Green) is listed as the heaviest member of that lineup, but fans should probably get used to it.
Here are the rest of the five-man units I noticed:
- Burke, Samari Curtis (6-foot-4, 190), Thorbjarnarson, Kavas, Shamiel Stevenson (6-foot-6, 245)
- Dalano Banton (6-foot-8, 195), Curtis, Stevenson, Kavas, Kevin Cross (6-foot-8, 240)
- Banton, Charlie Easley (6-foot-2, 190), Curtis, Stevenson, Cross
- Green, Easley, Burke, Cheatham, Cross
- Banton, Curtis, Cheatham, Stevenson, Cross
- Banton, Easley, Curtis, Stevenson, Cross
- Green, Curtis, Cheatham, Thorbjarnarson, Kavas
- Banton, Curtis, Thorbjarnarson, Stevenson, Cross
- Green, Jace Piatkowski (6-foot-4, 175), Cheatham, Thorbjarnarson, Kavas
- Green, Piatkowski, Cheatham, THorbjarnarson, Bret Porter (6-foot-6, 215)
- Easley, Curtis, Piatkowski, Thorbjarnarson, Porter
>> Jervay Green, the transfer from Western Nebraska Community College, led the Huskers with 15 points. He’s got a big frame for a combo-guard and used it will with a handful of strong takes to the basket and a few tough rebounds.
>> Shamiel Stevenson, the transfer from Nevada, caught my eye early on. He’s a strong guard/forward who had a nice inside-hand finish around a defender at one point, then powered through a defender for another bucket, then dropped a dime to a teammate, then splashed a deep catch-and-shoot 3. Whether he’s eligible right away or has to wait until the end of the first semester is still to be determined, but whenever he’s able to get on the floor he looks like a difference-maker for the Huskers.
>> Dalano Banton was all over the place, using his length to wreak havoc defensively. He got a bunch of defections and a couple steals, and also blocked a 3-pointer at one point. Offensively, he initiated things and brought the ball up quite a bit. At one point, he showed off a bit of fancy ball-handling to beat a couple of defenders and dropped anime to Kevin Cross inside for a foul. He’ll have to sit out this season after transferring from Western Kentucky, but the future looks bright for Banton in a Husker uniform.
>> All three of the freshman walk-ons got into the game, and all three scored. Charlie Easley (Lincoln Pius X) knocked down a corner 3, Bret Porter (Millard North) found Jace Piatkwoski (Elkhorn South) on the wing for a 3 (which he banked in) and Porter dropped in a hook shot off a pass from Easley. Easley got regular rotation minutes with Cam Mack not on the trip and held his own pretty well.
>> I believe Matej Kavas finished with 10 points, covering two buckets inside the arc and two outside of it. He wasn’t lights out form deep, but his first bucket was a step-back 3 in the first quarter and he hit another one off the catch in the second half. He also knocked down a short turn-around jumper over his defender and converted a crazy running hook off a nice pass from Thorbjarnarson. Kavas doesn’t get ver far off the ground, however, and struggled to finish at the rim a few times.
>> Defensively, the Huskers did a lot of swarming the ball-handler and gambling for steals with reach-arounds and double-teams, and they used those turnovers to fuel their transition offense. Early on I thought the rim protection and help side rotations weren’t there at all as Stella had a few straight-line drives to the rim hat were way too easy. That got better as the game went on, however, though they did give up a few offensive rebounds thanks to their lack of size.
>> Offensively, they were pretty sloppy for long stretches of the game with a lot of turnovers, but that’s too be expected as it was their first real game together. There were also some sequences of beautiful ball movement, with one such play culminating in a dunk by Dachon Burke Jr.
>> Speaking of Burke, he struggled a bit to finish early on despite showing the ability to get to the rim fairly easily, but he picked it up a bit starting with that dunk and finished with 11 points.
>> I’m still not quite sure how he’s going to hold up against Big Ten competition athletically, but freshman forward Kevin Cross had a good day on Monday. He was second on the team in scoring with 13 points, finishing inside a couple of times, getting to the free-throw line a few times and stepping out to knock down a 3-pointer. At one point, he grabbed a rebound and took it the length of the floor himself for a bucket, drawing a timeout from an unhappy Stella Azzurra coach.
>> I don’t have the final shooting numbers yet, but from what I saw it didn’t seem like the Huskers shot it all that well from the perimeter, although at least six of them hit at least one from what I remember. I don’t think that’s anything to worry about, but I do think it’s worth noting as Hoiberg certainly wants his team taking a lot of 3s.
Nebraska will continue its tour of Italy with a visit to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum on Tuesday. The Huskers will head to Florence on Wednesday where they will take on Silute BC (Lithuania) in the first of two exhibitions at 1 p.m. CT.
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.