Key Departures: Teddy Allen (–>N. Mexico St); Dalano Banton (NBA); Shamiel Stevenson (Pro);
New In Town: Alonzo Verge Jr (<–Arizona St); CJ Wilcher (<–Xavier); Keon Edwards (<–DePaul);Bryce McGowens (#28); Wilhelm Breidenbach (#100); Quaran McPherson (#207); Oleg Kojenets (#210); Keisei Tominaga (JUCO)
State of the Program:
Fred Hoiberg continues to charge forward in his noble attempt to resurrect this Nebraska program from the ashes left behind by Tim Miles’ tumultuous exit. Last season was a step in the right direction, as they improved 50 spots in overall efficiency rankings to 102nd overall, largely behind a top-50 defense. The overall record still looks ugly, with a 5-34 Big Ten record over Hoiberg’s first 2 years, but this season could be another jump forward with another influx of talent. What’s key to watch in rebuilds such as this is an establishment of a winning culture, and to see them competing harder and harder is a positive sign on that front. Improving the defense from 152nd to 40th year over year is absolutely an accomplishment, and a reflection of a culture of competing hard every possession. Now the talent is having a chance to catch up, and if that culture continues to permeate throughout the program then I expect more gains to be made on this journey back to relevance. They also are beginning to get some stability, as they welcome back several key contributors from last season’s team they can continue to build around. That group is led by G Trey McGowens (SR), F Lat Mayen (JR), F Derrick Walker (SR), and G Kobe Webster (SR). All 4 of them started games for the Cornhuskers a year ago and McGowens was the key scorer and playmaker after Teddy Allen left the program mid-season. That group combined with the incoming talent should lift this Cornhusker team out of the cellar of the Conference in another positive step for this program.
It’s a huge group of guys coming into the program, with some redshirts likely to come, but the headliner of the group is Arizona St transfer G Alonzo Verge Jr (SR). He was a prolific scorer with the Sun Devils whose game reminds you of former Maryland star Anthony Cowan. He can score at all 3 levels and has the creativity and skill to get a clean look at any moment. The Cornhuskers need that spark and playmaking and he’ll likely be a starter in the backcourt. Also looking to start right away is brother of Trey McGowens, 5-star 6’6” G Bryce McGowens (#28). McGowens is the best recruit Nebraska has ever landed, and is almost a spitting image of former Villanova and current Suns star Mikal Bridges. Same thin, long frame with the same defensive upside, along with athleticism and a more developed offensive game than Bridges had at this stage. He can come in and be a star right away for Nebraska. A couple of other transfers have a shot at minutes, the first of which is 6’7” wing Keon Edwards (FR) out of DePaul. Edwards is largely unproven, as he enrolled early a season ago and didn’t get much action. He was a top-100 recruit though, and comes in as a special athlete that has a high ceiling if he can develop his game. Former Xavier G CJ Wilcher (FR) also enters looking for backup minutes, and his game is mostly as a crafty scorer, as his athleticism doesn’t jump off the page, but he can earn minutes if he can provide some scoring punch. The other member of the Freshman class who has a legit shot at minutes is 6’9” big man Wilhelm Breidenbach (#100) who will battle RS FR Eduardo Andre for backup big minutes. His game is a little quirky, but he has a lot of potential with his height and length combined with decent handles and a decent shot. He should develop as a very good stretch big man, especially if he adds strength to his wiry frame. The rest of the incoming class will likely redshirt or never see the floor, as it’s a massive group on the roster.
Prediction: 11th Big Ten (NR)
All-in-all I love what Hoiberg is building and unequivocally believe he will get this program to the NCAA tournament in the next couple of years. I don’t expect them to vie for that this season, but I definitely expect huge steps forward to be taken. They will no longer be the bottom dweller in the Conference, and I think they even pull a few surprise wins over the top teams at home. You will not be able to overlook Nebraska this season, and even though they will likely still be sub-.500 in Conference play it’ll be an entirely different feel this season. The McGowens brothers combined with Verge and Mayen give the Huskers some legitimate threats offensively. If they can maintain the improvements that were made on the defensive end then they should surprise some people in terms of how close they compete against elite teams. Ultimately winning matters above all else, but in this long term resurrection plan this season can be a key turning point for Hoiberg on this journey.