Hoiberg Hopes Tominaga’s Return and Addition of Veteran Players Allow Huskers to Continue Their Rise
12:33 JST, October 26, 2023
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska more than doubled its number of Big Ten wins last season to mark the biggest improvement in Fred Hoiberg’s four years coaching the Cornhuskers. He expects the ascent to continue with a roster that ranks as the conference’s oldest.
The Huskers went 16-16 for their first non-losing season since 2018-19 despite four rotation players missing time because of injuries. They were 12th in the Big Ten at 9-11 after they won six of their final eight regular-season games.
Had we stayed healthy last year, I think we would have had a great chance to be an NCAA Tournament team, Hoiberg said. “We had that grit, defensive mindset and identity, and we wanted to get that same group of guys in here this year. So far that’s what I’ve seen.”
The Huskers’ roster includes eight players who are entering their fourth or fifth seasons as collegians and appeared in at least 62 games apiece. Three have at least 79 career starts each, and four have started at least 25.
We’ve got more depth than any team we’ve had since we’ve been at Nebraska, Hoiberg said, “and we have the size and verstaility to play a lot of combinations. We can play small, we can play big, we can play gigantic if we want to. When you look at the 3-point shooting of guys in our rotation, the majority are at 35% or better.
When you have a team where you know what you’re going to get, it makes your job easier and more enjoyable.
Hoiberg’s biggest offseason win came in May when 3-point shooting star Keisei Tominaga decided to return to Nebraska rather than enter the NBA draft. Tominaga averaged 13.1 points per game for the season and 20.3 as the Huskers won six of their last nine games. His 40.9% shooting from distance after he became a starter Jan. 18 was highest in the Big Ten among players who attempted at least six per game.
Over the summer he helped lead his native Japan to a spot in the 2024 Olympics with his performance in the FIBA World Cup. He was among just five college players in the World Cup and the only one to average more than 10 points per game.
Juwan Gary started the Huskers’ first 17 games and averaged 9.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and a team-high 1.4 steals per game before he sustained a season-ending injury in January.
C.J. Wilcher has played in every game the past two seasons. He had 24 starts last season and scored in double figures 10 times.
Jamarques Lawrence became a starter for the final 12 games and averaged 9.0 points per game in that stretch while shooting nearly 40 percent on 3s.
Derrick Walker, the leading scorer and rebounder last season, is the biggest departure. Sam Griesel and Emmanuel Bandoumel also were starters who graduated. Reserves Wilhelm Breidenbach (Washington), Denim Dawson (Tennessee State) and Oleg Kojenets (Wyoming) left via the transfer portal.
The Huskers added five transfers in guards Brice Williams (Charlotte), Ahron Ulis (Iowa) and Jarron Coleman (Ball State) and forwards Rienk Mast (Bradley) and Josiah Allick (New Mexico).
Williams averaged a team-high 13.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game and shot 40% on 3s and was MVP of the College Basketball Invitational. Ulis was Iowa’s starting point guard last season, and Coleman averaged 14.6 points per game last season and led the Cardinals in assists three of his four years.
Mast was an All-Missouri Valley Conference first-team pick last season after leading Bradley with 13.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game and nine double-doubles. Allick was second in the Mountain West last season with 7.3 rebounds per game.
Ulis was among the Iowa athletes found to have engaged in underage sports betting in violation of state law and NCAA rules. He has been practicing, but his eligibility remains in question.
There are only two true freshmen on the roster, guard Eli Rice from IMG Academy by way of Gallatin, Tennessee, and forward Matar Diop from Keystone Athletic Academy (Pennsylvania) by way of Senegal.
The Huskers open at home against Lindenwood on Nov. 6. They play Oregon State in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on Nov. 18. Their toughest nonconference game is Dec. 3 against eighth-ranked Creighton in Lincoln. Big Ten play starts Dec. 6 at Minnesota.
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