Just over a week out from the start of Nebraska men’s basketball 2020-21 season, a Big Ten schedule has not been released. However, fans should soon gain some insight as to what the Huskers’ first few weeks of games will look like.
“Hopefully in the next 24 to 48 hours, we’ll be able to put out the non-conference portion of our schedule, but we’re still working out the details,” Huskers head coach Fred Hoiberg said at a press conference Monday.
The Huskers were able to simulate the experience of a live game last week with an intrasquad scrimmage at Pinnacle Bank Arena with Big Ten referees, according to Hoiberg.
He said Teddy Allen, a junior transfer who played high school basketball in Nebraska for Boys Town and spent time at West Virginia, shone in particular, scoring 29 points.
“He was terrific,” Hoiberg said. “It wasn't like he went out there and came down and just fired up shots. I thought guys moved the ball really well, he was the benefactor of a lot of that good ball movement and shot the ball extremely well.”
Nebraska returns just three players that saw the floor for the team last season, with one of those being sophomore forward Akol Arop, who will be out for the year.With only two returning contributors, it is possible the starting lineup could be composed entirely of newcomers.
“It's going to be different players on different nights,” Hoiberg said. “We may not finish with the same group every night, depending on who's got it going. We have an idea of who we're going to start on Wednesday, but that can change. Guys are still out there competing for playing time, competing for the all-important crunch time minutes. But the versatility of this lineup, the different weapons that we have, I'm excited about that.”
Something Nebraska struggled with in particular last year was defense. Nebraska ranked 333rd in opponent points per game, 352nd in defensive rebounding and 283rd in opponent field goal percentage.
“We're longer,” Hoiberg said. “I think we're more athletic. I think we're going to have more versatility to have different defenses because of our length. The versatility of this team not only offensively, but defensively as well, is very good.”
The highlight of the week was Nebraska signing its first five-star recruit in program history on Friday in guard Bryce McGowens. He joins four-star center Wilhelm Breidenbach and Japanese sharpshooter Keisei Tominaga, a junior college transfer, in the 2021 recruiting class.
“I think we'll be very competitive this year,” Hoiberg said. “And then you add three more pieces to our team next year. You know, I think the future is very bright.”
Tominaga, who Hoiberg said recently made 48 3-pointers in a row on video, is already a very popular player in Japan. He has over 41,000 followers between Instagram and Twitter.
“We feel [Keisei] is as good a shooter as there’s going to be in the country next year,” Hoiberg said. “He’s played on a very high stage so there’s not going to be too big a moment for him. I think he can be a role model for kids in his home country of Japan.”
Assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih noticed Breidenbach at an NBPA Top 100 camp in Virginia where both he and Hoiberg were instantly drawn to “the guy in the goggles.”
“He’s an incredible passer,” Hoiberg said. “He's got a really good unique skill set as a guy that’s 6-10 that can pass with both hands, is skilled and can pop to the top of the floor and knock down shots at a high level. I think he can initiate offense. He's a tough kid that plays with a constant motor. So we're really fortunate and feel great about Wilhelm because of that unique skill set, and how well he'll fit.”
Abdelmassih said that he’s excited about all three players, and that they’re “not even close to reaching their potential.”
McGowens’ older brother, Trey, a Pittsburgh transfer, recently received a waiver to play immediately at Nebraska and figures to be a key factor for the Huskers this year.
“I think a big part of it was obviously talking to Trey,” Hoiberg said. “So when he talked to Bryce just about how great of a situation it has been for him so far and how well he would fit into how we play, I think that got Bryce excited.”
Abdelmassih also credits the resume he and Hoiberg have from their time at Iowa State, sending 10 players to the NBA in five years, and Hoiberg’s uptempo playing style, to helping land Nebraska’s first five-star recruit.
“The system certainly maximizes the skill sets of our players, always being one of the fastest teams in the country,” Abdelmassih said. “The faster you play, the more opportunities you have. The more opportunities you have, probably the happiness is as high as possibly can be. We feel like we're a destination to attract the best players in the country, the best players in the world.”
While each of the three players are different, Abdelmassih said that all three are skilled and a commonality between them is their shot-making ability. He said that with this trio and the players set to return next season, the team is excited for the future.
The coaches believe the Huskers have the makings of a perennial Big Ten contender if the program continues to trend in this direction with recruiting.
“We want to put ourselves in a position to compete for championships,” Hoiberg said. “And that's why we took the job here. You know, we want to help take this program to where it's never been before and be a consistent NCAA [Tournament] team. And if I didn't think we could get there, I wouldn't have taken this job.”
Before any of that, the Huskers will have to start the season, which is set to happen Nov. 25 in Lincoln at the Golden Window Classic.
“I think the biggest thing for us is just to go out and prepare as if we're going to play a full season,” Hoiberg said. And like I said, hopefully get through it and get to an NCAA tournament.”