LINCOLN — Days after transferring to Nebraska, Josiah Allick capably scouted NU’s roster and those of the Big Ten foes who await.
The Lincoln North Star graduate knew Hunter Dickinson left Michigan and that Purdue’s program had to wait on Zach Edey’s decision. Michigan State has lots of returning talent and a strong recruiting class.
As for Nebraska, Allick is predictably excited. The Huskers, coming off a 16-16 season, have balance, versatility and flexibility.
“We’ll be able to play many different lineups, depending on what you’re looking for,” Allick said. “There are a lot of proven pieces at the Division I level, guys who have shown they can produce and play. We don’t totally have to rely on one person to be amazing for us to win games.”
Allick added a footnote that hangs over the program.
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“If Keisei’s back, that’s huge for us,” he said of NU guard Keisei Tominaga. “He’s a hell of a talent.”
NU remains in slight limbo with its best shooter and top returning scorer. Tominaga’s importance doesn’t quite match that of Edey, but his return is one of the key lingering questions as college basketball shifts into a new offseason phase.
By this time next week, players who initially declared for the NBA Draft will have to announce whether they’re going pro or returning to college basketball. It’ll give a new round of clarity for teams, players still in the transfer portal or 2023 recruits looking for a home.
The Huskers lost out on one 2023 prospect, Eemeli Yalaho, when he picked Texas Tech over NU last week. Coach Fred Hoiberg hasn’t ruled out pursuing more prep recruits or the right transfer, but Nebraska has a strong idea of its 2023-2024 roster headed into Memorial Day.
Hoiberg and Co. answered some questions in the last two months. A few — like Tominaga’s status — remain. Here’s a look at what we know and still have to learn:
»Nebraska loves its two frontcourt additions: NU lost Derrick Walker, Wilhelm Breidenbach and Oleg Kojenets while signing Allick and Bradley’s Rienk Mast.
“We feel really good about our front line and what we have done to add key pieces there,” Hoiberg said during a wide-ranging interview on his monthly radio show.
Mast and Allick each possess all-around score-pass-rebound traits enjoyed by Walker, a second-team All-Big Ten player last season. Both play hard, Hoiberg said and both can hit perimeter jumpers Walker rarely tried. Mast shot 35.3% from 3 last year.
“In our five-out spread offense, that’s going to take our big away from the basket, get him away from the rim,” Hoiberg said. “And that should open up some driving lanes for our guards.”
Tominaga shot 62.4% from two-point range last season, Hoiberg said, because he had open driving lanes and Walker found him on cuts toward the hoop.
Mast and Allick join Blaise Keita, one of NU’s top defenders and rebounders, and Juwan Gary, who can defend taller players. Nebraska must assume a few things — health, for starters — but could have its best frontcourt since the Isaiah Roby/Isaac Copeland tandem in 2018.
“We’re going to have some lineups out there that we can really punish some teams with the rebounding and physicality that we’ve added,” Hoiberg said.
»NU clearly thinks it’ll shoot the 3 better: A curious weakness of the Hoiberg era turned a corner toward the end of last season. Should Tominaga return, he, Jamarques Lawrence, C.J. Wilcher, Sam Hoiberg, Mast, incoming freshman Eli Rice and two transfers — Charlotte transfer Brice Williams and Iowa transfer Ahron Ulis — give Nebraska a variety of options. Williams is a career 40% 3-point shooter — Hoiberg calls him a “hidden gem” — and Ulis, Hoiberg said, has the kind of release to improve upon his 31.3% effort last season.
Even if he didn’t, let’s be clear — the Huskers haven’t shot 35% from 3 as a team since 2010. That was the Ryan Anderson and Bear Jones era. Last year, NU shot 32.6%. From that team, it lost Sam Griesel (32.3%), Emmanuel Bandoumel (22.4%), Breidenbach (23.4%) and Walker, who attempted four 3s in his career. The additions are better shooters, and Hoiberg even thinks Allick — at 15.8% last year — will rediscover his form.
“We just need to get his rhythm and fluidity back,” Hoiberg said.
»Hoiberg’s has sharpened his eye for culture: He had to hastily assemble his first Husker team because the cupboard was bare, and his second team was derailed by a monthlong COVID pause. But Hoiberg thought his third team had NCAA Tournament potential. The Huskers flopped at 10-22. One guard, Kobe Webster, went on the radio and called out the coaching staff.
Hoiberg kept his job but tailored his recruiting approach toward defense and toughness. Hoiberg said he doubled down on culture again.
“That was one of the things I really kind of challenged my staff on,” Hoiberg said. “Let’s go out and find guys that our fan base can really rally around.”
Allick fits the bill. He builds his game on hustle and seeks to have the same impact Lincoln East graduate Sam Griesel had in his one year on the roster.
“I love that underdog role, where everybody’s counting you out,” Allick said. “It’s where I thrive, when the pressure’s on, and we get to go somewhere or we get to have these teams come in with all the expectations and we get to ruin their night for them.”
»Keisei’s call: He’ll continue to take workouts with NBA teams and decide, just before the end of May, whether to stay in the NBA Draft. That decision may be anticlimactic; Tominaga didn’t get invites to the NBA or G League combines. But he could also turn pro in Japan, his home country where he’s a celebrity. Positive NBA workout feedback probably works in NU’s favor, especially if Tominaga believes one more year at Nebraska improves his chances of making the NBA.
»Whether Allick and Gary can play on the Spain overseas trip: NU embarks July 28 on the nine-day trip. Allick wants to be ready by then, but ankle surgery — and subsequent rehab — will make for a tight timeline. Gary’s complete shoulder tear may have ended his season early, but Hoiberg last week offered a twist: Gary arrived at NU with a slight tear that affected his shooting.
“He was going to have to get surgery anyway after the season,” Hoiberg said. “He just got it a little bit earlier.”
Hoiberg had Gary on a diet of one-handed shooting to reset his balance; during last season, his left side bore 75% of his weight on shots.
»Whether Nebraska presses to add one more guy or stick with what’s on hand: NU has 11 scholarship players, but walk-on Sam Hoiberg averaged 21.3 minutes per game over the last 12 contests. In recent years, the Huskers have added freshmen in April (Kojenets), May (Eduardo Andre and Quaran McPherson) and June (Elijah Wood) to minor impact. In 2021, Nebraska had to scramble to replace Dalano Banton — who chose to remain in the NBA Draft — and added Arizona State transfer Alonzo Verge in early July.
Hoiberg said on the radio Nebraska always keeps looking but late additions haven’t always worked in NU’s favor.