Versatility on Wings Allows Fred Hoiberg to Win with Different Big Men
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Versatility on Wings Allows Fred Hoiberg to Win with Different Big Men

May 05, 2020

One of Fred Hoiberg’s goals for the 2020 recruiting cycle was to add size and physicality up and down the lineup, and he accomplished that between the three guys sitting out and the group of players he signed.

Nebraska doesn’t have to play almost exclusively four-guard lineups anymore.

“I think the biggest thing is versatility with this group,” Fred Hoiberg told reporters during a conference call. “I think it’s going to give us the option to play a lot of different ways. I’ve talked about the size; we got beat up a lot on the glass and inside based on, one, experience — we had a 17- and an 18-year-old playing the five spot, both freshmen, that I thought both improved as the season went on — but again, the size and physicality in this league took a toll on our group.”

Nebraska got bigger at a lot of spots, but center wasn’t really one of them. Derrick Walker is only listed at 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds. However, he’s 22 years old and has two seasons plus a redshirt year of skill and physical development under his belt. Nebraska won’t be relying on two freshmen in the post anymore. Hoiberg’s also had a lot of success with guys Walker’s size in he middle, so long as he had the right pieces around him.

“When I look back at my time at Iowa State, some of the most successful teams I had were when I had five really skilled players on the floor, but with that, having the ability to compete and rebound from all five spots,” Hoiberg said. “My best team at Iowa Sate was when I had Georges Niang at the five but I had Melvin Ejim at the four that was as good a rebounder as there was in the league, I had Dustin Hogue at the three who’s a great rebounder, DeAndre Kane at the point who can really rebound the ball. So I think you’re going to see that with this team next year.

“You’ve got a guy like Dalano at 6-8 that’s going to play a lot with the ball in his hands that’s an excellent rebounder. Teddy Allen averaged almost eight rebounds. Lat [Mayen] averaged almost a double-double. Kobe King at his size and strength I think will be a very good rebounder. We’ve got guys I think across the board that can rebound that can allow you to play maybe some smaller, more skilled lineups. This lineup I think does bring a lot of versatility. You can play small, you can play big, and we’re going to have a lot more depth, and that’s something I’m excited about.”

The team Hoiberg mentioned featured Niang (6-foot-8, 230 pounds) at the five, Ejim (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) at the four, Dustin Hogue (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) at the three and DeAndre Kane (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) at the one with either Monte Morris (6-foot-2) or Matt Thomas (6-foot-4) at the two. 

One potential starting lineup for Nebraska could include Baton (6-foot-8, 195 pounds) and Kobe Webster (6-foot, 170 pounds) in the backcourt, Teddy Allen (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and Shamiel Stevenson (6-foot-6, 245 pounds) on the wings and Walker inside. The skill set don’t necessarily match up identically up and down the lineup, but there are plenty of similarities between those two groups.

Perhaps the piece that adds the most versatility is Mayen, the junior college transfer from Chipola who began his college career at TCU. At 6-foot-9 and 205 pounds, Mayen shot 38.4% from 3 on nearly 100 attempts as a sophomore while also pulling down 8.4 boards per game. He still needs to prove he can carry that over to the Division I level, but that profile of height, shooting and rebounding is exactly what Hoiberg didn’t have last year.

“I love everything about the kid,” Hoiberg said. “The first thing I saw when I went out and watched him at Chipola this year was his defensive stance and his ability to move his feet. I think he’s going to be a guy that’s a very versatile defender that can defend multiple positions. He had eight double-doubles this year, he’s a 38% 3-point shooter, he’s got a beautiful shooting stroke and I think he’ll play very well off of our guards. We’ll have multiple playmakers this year that can make plays to get our guys open shots. He was an 82% free-throw shooter at 6-9; that’s pretty darn impressive.”

Mayen briefly played for Jamie Dixon at TCU before transferring to Chipola, and Hoiberg spoke highly of Dixon’s ability to coach players up, especially on defense. Walker’s been working on his perimeter shot during his redshirt year, but neither he nor Ouedraogo have shown the ability to stretch the floor like Niang could to this point. Mayen is a different story.

“I think he’s a true combo-forward,” Hoiberg continued. “Even at times I think we can play small and put him at the five because I know he’s going to battle and then he’ll be able to space the floor and take bigs away from the rim on the other end. You can play him anywhere and we’re looking at different things within our system to put guys in different spots really at all five positions on the floor. Last year we pretty much knew where everybody was going to go, but next year we’re going to change that up a little bit. I think Lat’s one of those guys that can play anywhere within the system.”

Hoiberg places a premium on versatility and skill with his big men. That being said, one hing he did a great job of at Iowa State is adjusting his offense to incorporate different pieces each year, and that includes a traditional big man. 

In Hoiberg’s final season in Ames, Jameel McKay (6-foot-9, 225 pounds) averaged 11.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks while shooting 58.3% from the field. He didn’t have any range (zero 3-point attempts, 59.8% free-throw shooting) but he was a key part of a team that won 25 games and made the NCAA Tournament. That’s why Hoiberg recruited Ouedraogo and it’s why Adama Sanogo was at the top of Nebraska’s board for its last remaining scholarship before committing to UConn early on Tuesday.

Hoiberg has succeeded with different styles of centers throughout his career, from a 6-foot-8 point-forward in Royce White to a 6-foot-8 skilled scorer in Niang to a 6-foot-9 rim-runner and shot-blocker in McKay. He can adapt his offense to get the most out of whoever plays the five at Nebraska so long as he has the right pieces around him, and that’s what the 2020 recruiting cycle has been about.

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