Photo by John S. Peterson
Nebraska Basketball

Men's Basketball Review: Supporting Cast

April 25, 2019
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The dust has settled on the beginning of the Fred Hoiberg era, so now seems like a good time to look back at the final season under Tim Miles to take stock of what the Huskers lost and what they have coming back for next season.

Derek Peterson has taken a look at the 2018-19 season through the scope of a handful of statistics (plus/minus, finishing at the rim, defensive shot profile, assists) in his Behind the Box Score (Premium) series. Now it’s time to focus in on the players themselves.

We’ve already examined the core four and the walk-on warriors. Now it’s time to look at the rest of the supporting cast.

Sophomore Guard Thomas Allen Jr.

Stats: 8.7 PPG, 43.6% FG (36.4% 3FG), 86.2% FT, 2.8 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.0 TPG, 30.2 MPG, 110.2 ORtg, 103.0 DRtg, 4.8 BPM, .108 WS/40

The former 4-star recruit slid into the starting off-guard spot vacated by the graduation of Anton Gill and Evan Taylor and made a solid leap from his freshman season. He was second on the team in 3-point percentage and showed some real burst attacking the basket in advantageous situations.

However, he was the fourth or fifth option offensively while he was out there with the other starters and seemed to have a hard time finding his place as his big scoring games were few and far between. He only reached double figures in 10 of his 29 games, topping out at 18 on two occasions.

He had the reputation of a sharp-shooter after a terrific prep career but he only made 36 triples in 29 games and shot just 33.3 percent in conference play. He didn’t develop all that much as a playmaker either as his assist percentage (12.8) was closer to Isaiah Roby’s (2.5) than it was to James Palmer Jr.’s or Glynn Watson Jr.’s (and theirs at 18.2 and 18.4, respectively, weren’t anything to write home about).

Allen injured his ankle during Nebraska’s loss at Michigan State on Feb. 28 and that proved to be his last appearance in a Husker uniform. Allen missed the rest of the season and announced after Nebraska hired Hoiberg to replace Tim Miles that he was transferring to North Carolina State.

Sophomore Wing Nana Akenten

Stats: 4.3 PPG, 36.4% FG (30.4% 3FG), 47.1% FT, 2.5 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.4 TPG, 12.9 MPG, 100.0 ORtg, 101.6 DRtg, 0.2 BPM, .091 WS/40

After barely playing as a freshman, Akenten cracked the rotation as a sophomore and even served as the team’s sixth man who brought some energy off the bench during the nonconference. Akenten averaged 6.6 points off the bench while shooting 40.9 percent from 3 and grabbing 3.2 rebounds in 15.5 minutes per game, splitting his minutes between the wing and the four. 

His play fell off a cliff once the Big Ten season began, however. In conference play, he scored just 2.8 points per game and connected on just six of his 35 3-point attempts (17.1 percent). As a result, his playing time dropped to 11.1 minutes per game. Akenten was a minus on defense and his shot selection was always questionable, so when those shots stopped falling it became hard for Miles to find time for him.

Miles suspended Akenten indefinitely for a violation of team rules on March 7 and the sophomore missed the final six games of the season. He announced last week that he will be transferring from Nebraska.

Freshman Wing Amir Harris

Stats: 2.2 PPG, 57.5% FG, 28.6% FT, 2.5 RPG, 0.7 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.6 TPG, 11.7 MPG, 96.6 ORtg, 96.6 DRtg, 3.4 BPM, .090 WS/40

The long and bouncy wing saw his season derailed before it ever really got going as he fell victim to a bout of mono in December and missed six games. He slowly worked his way back into shape after losing quite a bit of weight and started seeing consistent, significant playing time down the stretch. However, he missed the postseason after suffering a injury in the team’s regular season finale against Iowa, though he continued to play through it in that game and even scored what proved to be the game-winning bucket in overtime.

Harris was a complete non-shooter as a freshman as he didn’t even attempt a perimeter jumper and he shot just 4-of-14 at the free-throw line. Even so, I didn’t really notice teams ignoring him on the perimeter defensively so he didn’t necessarily destroy Nebraska’s spacing while he was out there. He made his impact in the paint, using his length and athleticism to get to the rim and finish in impressive fashion. Eighty percent of his shots came at the rim and he shot 71.9 percent on those shots.

Harris’ true value came on the defensive end, however. At 6-foot-6, his length and toughness allowed him to guard one through four. His youth and inexperience occasionally led to a mistake, but overall he was a big plus on that end. He was second on the team in both defensive rating and defensive box plus/minus behind only Isaiah Roby. Harris was a terrific rebounder for a guard as well, leading the team in defensive rebounding rate at 20.1.

I thought Harris should have been given a longer leash than he did this season, particularly when you consider how little Nebraska’s other options off the bench were contributing and how heavily Miles was riding his starters, but Harris still got a good deal of experience as a freshman and I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops under Hoiberg.

Sophomore Wing Thorir Thorbjarnarson

Stats: 2.0 PPG, 33.9% FG (17.4% 3FG), 66.7% FT, 2.4 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.6 SPG, 0.5 TPG, 12.2 MPG, 93.1 ORtg, 98.7 DRtg, 2.7 BPM, .074 WS/40

The Icelandic sophomores playing time was all over the place. In some games, he saw only garbage time minutes — or didn’t play at all. In others, he saw rotation minutes off the bench. Down the stretch, he was pressed into starting duty.

He scored a career-high nine points in the season-opener against Mississippi Valley State but never matched that total again. Thobjarnarson cracked the rotation when Isaac Copeland Jr. went down with a torn ACL, grabbing 10 rebounds in 17 minutes the game after the injury.

With Akenten’s suspension and the injuries to Allen and Harris, Thorbjarnarson played 15 or more minutes in Nebraska’s final six games with a high of 35 in the season-ending NIT loss to TCU.

Thobrjarnarson crashed the glass hard and was one of Nebraska’s better passers, but he struggled mightily to score the ball from all over the court. He shot just 50 percent at the rim, the lowest percentage on the team, and converted just 15 of his 33 2-point attempts overall. He was even worse from the perimeter, shooting 4-of-23 on 3s. In total, Thorbjarnarson scored 50 points on 56 field goal attempts and 12 free-throw attempts. 

Freshman Center Brady Heiman

Stats: 1.8 PPG, 59.5% FG (0.0% 3FG), 29.4% FT, 1.7 RPG, 0.1 APG, 0.5 BPG, 0.2 TPG, 8.6 MPG, 113.6 ORtg, 102.3 DRtg, 3.0 BPM, .107 WS/40

Heiman needed a redshirt season to add mass to his frame and polish his skills, but he didn't get it with Nebraska’s lack of depth. He saw some decent playing time during the nonconference, but over the final 18 games, he saw double-digit minutes just five times and never played more than 11 minutes. He scored just 10 total points and committed 22 fouls in those 18 games.

Heiman opened his career with strong performances against a pair of lesser opponents with nine points, 13 rebounds and a block against Mississippi Valley State and 10 points, five rebounds and two blocks against Southeastern Louisiana. Arguably his best performance came against Minnesota on Dec. 5 when he gave the Huskers a serious spark in the first half and finished with nine points on 4-of-4 from the field and 1-of-2 from the line with five boards and a block in 15 minutes.

Heiman put a solid 15 pounds of muscle on his frame prior to the season, and now he’ll get an entire offseason to continue building up his body as well as refining his skill set. His perimeter shot is a work in progress (he was 0-for-1 tis season), but he can certainly run the floor which is one of the traits Hoiberg mentioned he looks for in a big man.

Redshirt Freshman Guard Justin Costello

Stats: 9 PTS, 2-7 FG (2-7 3FG), 3-5 FT, 2 REB, 4 AST, 1 STL, 2 TOV, 28 MIN, 10 games

Elkhorn South’s all-time leading scorer (who broke Johnny Trueblood’s school record to earn that title), Costello redshirted his first season at Nebraska but was eligible to play this season and appeared in 10 games. He knocked down a 3 in his first game against Mississippi Valley State and knocked down another one against Oklahoma State.

 
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