The greatest issue at hand for head coach Fred Hoiberg’s new-look Nebraska team going into next season is what system he’ll use. In his first season at Nebraska, he ran an unorthodox four-guard, one-forward system. This system consisted of a primary ball handler, a secondary ball handler and floor spacer, a 3-and-D specialist, a cutter/floor spacer and a more traditional pick-and-roll big.
This scheme may appear strange, however, it’s not uncommon for Hoiberg’s coaching career. In 2011-2012 with Iowa State, Hoiberg played a similar starting five with three guards and two forwards. However, one of those forwards was Royce White, who had duties more commonly associated with a guard.
The reason to suspect him to switch back to a more traditional two-forward, three-guard distribution is due to the signings Nebraska made during the offseason. The additions of junior forward Lat Mayen and the eligibility of junior forward Derrick Walker mean that at least three starting quality forwards will be available for selection with sophomore forward Yvan Ouedraogo returning after a year of starting under Hoiberg.
If Hoiberg’s system from last year transfers over to this year, there will be three quality big men competing for the same spot. A two-forward lineup also isn’t without precedent in Hoiberg’s coaching career. He ran a fairly traditional setup with Robin Lopez while with the Chicago Bulls, and in the 2012-2013 season with Iowa State he played Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim in the same frontcourt, two forwards.
For this Nebraskalytics, we’ll cover a potential starting five with the former Hoiberg system with one forward, but it’s possible that he debuts a completely different one over the course of next season.
Primary ball handler: Kobe Webster or Dalano Banton
What Hoiberg needs from a primary ball handler and playmaker in this system is someone who can operate the pick-and-roll effectively while also being a threat going downhill towards the rim. He should also have some kind of 3-point shot in his repertoire, though that’s not as important as the prior qualities. Both Webster, a senior guard, and Banton fit this profile to an extent. Webster ran point for Western Illinois and held a respectable 37.4% 3-point shooting percentage. Analysis of Webster’s tape shows a fantastic ball handler with an efficient shooting motion. A high release point coupled with a rapid-fire stroke means that Webster can be a weapon.
However, his running of the pick-and-roll can be a bit suspect. He prefers to pull up for a mid-range shot or 3-pointer at the top of the arc, and it’s hard to tell whether or not he has mastered basic slips or skip passes. Without these capabilities, his ability as a ball handler for Hoiberg will be limited. At the same time, he held a fairly high assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.72, though compared to sophomore guard Cam Mack’s 2.7, it looks somewhat sparse. His 6-foot frame may concern people, but he knows how to use his body well and is strong going to the basket.
While Webster has an apparent lack of tricks in his passing arsenal, Banton is the opposite. The Toronto, Canada native has magnificent ball handling abilities and can hit complex skip passes and slips to rolling bigs with ease. This natural passing ability is complemented by a power going downhill, one that forces opposing players to leave their marks and defend Banton. Banton’s gravity, in this case, can’t be underestimated.
However, Banton doesn’t have much of a 3-point shot. He only shot 21.6% from the 3-point line in his one year at Western Kentucky. Without this capability, defenses can sag off Banton and thus gain more control over sets that rely on empty space in the high and low post. Banton’s live creation not off of controlled sets might also be suspect. He has a tendency to telegraph passes and this implies a certain level of predictability in his choices. When confronted with an unknown situation, he may not be able to produce the right pass or even recycle possession into something more comfortable.
Secondary ball handler and floor spacer: Teddy Allen
Junior guard Teddy Allen has the ability to be a fantastic shooter for the Huskers, while also being able to shoulder some of the playmaking duties when need be. For one, his 88.1% free-throw percentage from his time at Western Nebraska Community College will be a breath of fresh air for the Huskers, who were infamously one of basketball’s worst shooting teams from the charity stripe last season. This, coupled with an impressive 51% field goal percentage and 37.1% 3-point percentage outlines Allen’s possible role quite neatly.
Like junior guard Dachon Burke Jr. last season, Allen will be responsible for driving into the paint and grabbing points from sheer force of will. He could be one of Nebraska’s highest quality producers next season, soaking up easy points from the free-throw line and dragging Nebraska through tough situations. On top of that, Allen appears to be a competent defender who at the very least is active on the defensive end. His shot form is a little low, and could be blocked when matched against tougher defenders, but ideally, all of Allen’s shots from the 3-point line will be catch-and-shoot opportunities, not off-the-dribble pull ups. If utilized correctly, Allen could be Nebraska’s best player.
3-and-D Guard: Shamiel Stevenson
Junior guard Shamiel Stevenson sat out last year due to NCAA transfer eligibility rules, but is poised to make an impact for the Huskers this year. Defensive box plus-minus ranked Stevenson as a positive for Pittsburgh during both seasons in which he played, although he only played 32 minutes in the 2018-19 season. Stevenson’s 245-pound frame supports the idea that he can be a strong positive on defense when matching up against similarly-sized wings.
His offensive game can be serviceable too. He shot 37.5% from the 3-point line during his first season at Pittsburgh and 60% from the stripe, both sustainable metrics (though one would hope his free throw ability was a bit better). Stevenson’s greatest contribution would be in the form of his defense as well as catch-and-shoot opportunities. Ideally, he wouldn’t dribble much at all and mostly expend energy minimally offensively before moving back onto defense.
In theory, junior Trey McGowens could also run this spot for the Huskers, though he may not be eligible for this next season. It’s also important to note that McGowens is about 55 pounds lighter than Stevenson. At the same time, over his two seasons at Pitt, McGowens proved himself to be a strong defensive presence, with an average defensive box-plus minus of 2.7. This is a promising metric for the guard, and it means he could step in for Stevenson at this spot. The only concern would be that Stevenson can defend larger wings while McGowens could largely be dominated there due to a slighter build. Against smaller teams, one might see more McGowens, and against larger teams, there might be more Stevenson.
Cutter and floor spacer: Thorir Thorbjarnarson
Senior guard Thorir Thorbjarnarson proved himself to Hoiberg over the course of the season by being Nebraska’s greatest off-ball threat. His movement was an integral part of the Huskers’ offense and one can assume that he’d be given a similar role next season.
Thorbjarnarson was also a positive on defense last season, which shouldn’t change all that much with the new supporting cast around him. Thorbjarnarson hasn’t had a lot of consistency throughout his three years in Lincoln, but continuity in a role should be helpful.
The biggest concern with Thorbjarnarson’s game is the quality of service going to him. He thrives when hit off of designed offensive sets and with momentum. In games where Nebraska struggles, he’ll probably struggle, and can’t necessarily dictate games on his own. However, if one assumes that the Huskers are better this year than last year, Thorbjarnarson should be too.
Forward: Derrick Walker
This is probably the most contentious position to pick other than point guard. While sophomore Yvan Ouedraogo is coming off a full season as a starter, he struggled at times dealing with Big Ten big men, and that may lead Hoiberg to look at his other options for the spot.
Of the options, junior forward Derrick Walker fits Hoiberg’s needs best, although it’s not perfect. Walker’s greatest attributes include a good deep outlet pass and rebound security. These things can help up the tempo of an offense considerably. On top of that, Walker has a fair frame for the Big Ten, though he’s by no means a center.
The problems with Walker include the fact that he didn’t shoot a 3-pointer during his time with Tennessee, which is something valuable in Hoiberg’s system. If a player can threaten with the possibility of a 3-pointer, they can open up more space for themselves in the low post or driving. Walker doesn’t seem to be the most agile of forwards, and it’s hard to say that he has a good downhill presence. He should be good in the pick-and-roll, which is important for Nebraska’s forwards. Walker and Ouedraogo are very similar players, however, Walker showed more during his time with the Volunteers than Ouedraogo showed last season.
Mayen is a different type of forward compared to Walker. He has more 3-point shooting than his counterpart, but is not necessarily better than Walker at anything else. He has good rebounding numbers, but they’re not exceptional. This makes Mayen an interesting choice for the starting spot, but not necessarily an inspired one. Mayen didn’t play a lot at TCU in 2018-19, but he did show enough to indicate that he’s a strong defensive presence and a competent offensive one. His ability as a roll-man is fair, but not as good as Walker’s. The extent of Mayen’s contribution will be interesting to watch throughout the season, with the possibility that he starts not an altogether foreign one.