Photo Credit: John Peterson

Drake’s Takes: Husker Hoops Getting Underway

November 04, 2022

The college basketball season is upon us.

On Monday, the regular season will begin on both the men’s and women’s sides. This includes both Nebraska squads, which will both open the year in Pinnacle Bank Arena, but have drastically different outlooks for the season. 

Since the women’s team plays first, we’ll start with them. The No. 22 Huskers have been given the coveted “noon on a Monday” timeslot to open the year against Nebraska-Omaha. They’ve opened the season with a weekday tipoff time like this in most recent years — the men’s team gets the later slot — but it still feels a bit strange. 

The in-state matchup will begin a year in which the Huskers look to maintain and build on last year’s success. They return all five starters, despite losing one to injury, and bring back a few bench contributors from last year as well. 

To start the year, Nebraska will be led by a de facto big three in Jaz Shelley, Alexis Markowski and Isabelle Bourne. Those three were the team’s top three scorers last season, and another strong year should be expected out of each. 

Shelley is a guard who did nearly everything well last year for Nebraska after transferring from Oregon. She’s a strong shooter, passer and defender, even being selected to the conference all-defense team in 2020-21. 

Markowski is coming off Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, and even maintaining that production would have a major impact. After becoming a starter, she averaged over 15 points per game. Bourne joins Markowski in the frontcourt, and might not get enough credit as an efficient scorer. 

The other two expected starters are Allison Weidner, who started down the stretch last year, and Trinity Brady, who played that role in the exhibition and is in her fourth year of college basketball.

Sam Haiby would be in that starting lineup if not for the knee injury she suffered prior to the season. It was thought to be season-ending, but now it might not be. The ceiling for this year’s team would undoubtedly be raised a bit with her back in the lineup down the stretch.

But Brady, a fourth-year guard who has missed most of the last two seasons due to injury, should help in the meantime. One of the team’s taller guards, she’s been praised by head coach Amy Williams for her ability to do things that don’t always show up in the stat sheet. 

In the exhibition, Brady’s patience with the ball and decision-making stood out to me. 

The questions for this team might be free throw shooting. The Huskers can be near the top of the conference without being lights out from the line, but they were in the conference’s bottom five in free throw percentage. Haiby was one of the team’s best free throw shooters, and only Markowski got to the line more often last year. 

The top of the Big Ten remains tough, and the nonconference schedule is harder this time around. However, even without Haiby for at least most of the year, I think this team should be able to be at least close to what it was a year ago. 

That’s not a prediction you’d like to hear for the men’s team, though. Being around last year’s output would mean another year struggling at the bottom of the Big Ten. 

There’s still a lot of eyes on Fred Hoiberg’s team in a year where the Huskers absolutely need to show improvement. 

The men’s basketball team has carried a similar narrative to football since Fred Hoiberg was hired. Just like Scott Frost, Hoiberg was the big time coach meant to get the program going. I remember a conversation I had on which program would win a matchup of two top 25 teams first. That’s hilarious in hindsight.

Nebraska in year four under Hoiberg faces a tough path to improvement. There’s enough talent on the team to believe it’s a possibility. Sam Griesel and Derrick Walker were enjoyable to listen to at Big Ten Media Days in October, and they’ll both play major roles on this team. 

For the Nebraska teams that haven’t already built up years and years of success, improvement or maintained success is something fans can be rightfully anxious about. It never happened under Frost in football. Baseball had a great season two years back, but struggled in the most recent campaign. The men’s team is hoping to break out of its consistent struggles under Hoiberg, while the women’s basketball team seeks to remain a top contender in the Big Ten. 

I’m just happy college basketball is back, and both Husker teams should at very least produce a number of memorable moments once again. 

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