The 2022-’23 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2022-’23 season with analysis on each program’s previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team’s starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local “insider” who covers said team.
It is now going into year four of the Fed Hoiberg era in Lincoln and the first three seasons were much the same results-wise each year. From a total rebuild attempt in year one, to a season derailed by Covid outbreaks and an absurdly condensed schedule in year two, and finally an injury and roster cohesion plagued season three.
Yet each season there was a spark at the end of the year that saw Nebraska show promise of what it could have been all season. Year four seems like a make or break with coach Hoiberg as he agreed to a renegotiated contract with a reduced buyout at the conclusion of last season.
Some key players are back this season, though, and others out of the transfer portal could prove pivotal toward turning things around for 2022-’23.
1. 2020-’21 Season Performance
- Record: 10-22 (4-16)
- KenPom Team Rating: #140
- NET Rating: #145
- Postseason Appearance: N/A
Nebraska started the season about as bad as a squad can, falling 74-75 at home to Western Illinois in the season opener. Despite the immediate setback, the Huskers had competitive losses that suggested hope. An eight-point loss to intrastate rival Creighton and quadruple overtime loss at North Carolina State suggested the team had the talent to potentially compete and win some games against quality opponents any given night.
However, injuries to Wilhelm Breidenbach and Trey McGowens early in the season spelled disaster. Without the point guard and leadership role McGowens brought, the team floundered and failed to run a cohesive offense for quite some time. The season was quickly sunk and fan interest waned.
However, late in the season with McGowens returned to the lineup and healthy again, Nebraska finally found its groove. Too little, too late, but the Huskers finished the regular season strong with three straight wins. All three were road wins and included victories over a ranked No. 23 Ohio State (78-70) and No. 10 Wisconsin (74-73). That momentum came crashing down just days later in a 69-71 loss to Northwestern in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament, and thus the season concluded as well.
2. Offseason Exits
Nebraska saw 11 players graduate, transfer, or leave early for the NBA. Some are a big hole in production to fill, while others were benchwarmers. The top name on the list of departures is obviously former five-star recruit and the first ever one-and-done player in Nebraska history, Bryce McGowens. The younger McGowens brother was the leading scorer with 16.8 ppg while adding 5.2 rpg as well. He departed for the NBA Draft and was selected in the second round by the Minnesota Timberwolves on behalf of the Charlotte Hornets.
Also gone and leaving a big hole in production is Alonzo Verge, Jr. and his 14.5 ppg (second most on team) and 5.5 apg (leading assists on the roster). Older brother Trey McGowens is also gone to the 2022 NBA Draft, though his final season with Nebraska was derailed by injury for the first third or so of the season and he was eventually drafted in the G-League.
Eduardo Andre transferred to Fresno State, Trevor Lakes left for Southern Indiana, Lat Mayen signed overseas to play in his home country of Australia, and Kobe Webster graduated.
As for players who did not see significant, or any minutes, Jackson Cronin transferred to UMass, Keon Edwards to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Chris McGraw graduated and became a graduate assistant at Vanderbilt, and Jace Piatkowski entered the transfer portal and left the team.
3. New Additions
Nebraska grabbed a few promising transfers out of the portal again this season. Juwan Gary from Alabama is the most high-profile name on the list, but Sam Griesel from North Dakota State is perhaps going to be the most consequential transfer. Emmanuel Bandoumel from SMU is the other addition.
Gary saw plenty of action for Alabama his past two seasons, averaging 15.5 mpg as a sophomore with 6.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 0.6 spg, and 0.3 apg. He was a four-star recruit out of high school and the No. 93 player in his class per the 247Sports Composite.
Griesel is a Lincoln native and grew up a Nebraska fan. As he said at Big Ten Basketball Media Days, this season in a Husker jersey he is “just trying to honestly make my 10 year old self proud and be a positive role model.” Griesel’s stats sheet is from a Summit League squad, but he posted 14.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 3.4 apg, and 0.9 spg lasts season for the Bison. He also appeared in the 2019 NCAA Tournament with the Bison as well, where NDSU defeated North Carolina Central in the play-in round 78-74 before falling to No. 1 seed Duke 62-85 in the First Round. Griesel’s skills at the point guard position drew high praise from coach Hoiberg.
Bandoumel brings an outside shot that should prove a threat to opponents with 36.1 percent shooting from deep last season with SMU. He averaged 106. ppg, 3.8 rpg, and 1.8 apg for the Mustangs as a junior last year.
As for the Class of 2022 signees, Nebraska picked up a few high-profile recruits this year. Ramel Lloyd, Jr. headlines the class as a four-star and just barely outside the top-100 at No. 104 in the class per 247Sports. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 190 pounds, the 2022 prospect hails from Woodland Hills, California and played at Sierra Canyon High School.e was a highly rated small forward and could work his way into the rotation this season.
Jamarques Lawrence is a three star shooting guard per the 247Sports composite. The 6-foot-6 and 175 pound prospect hails from Roselle, New Jersey. He rates as the No. 5 player in New Jersey and No. 25 shooting guard prospect in the 2022 class.
Blaise Keita was the No. 1 JuCo prospect in the 2022 class and helped lead his team to the national title in 2021. Keita was a dominating center at the lower level and his 6-foot-11 frame and 230-pounds brings an imposing presence down low. Keita should prove to be a valuable backup to Derrick Walker as he transitions to the Power-Six level of college basketball.
Finally, Denim Dawson is a three-star small forward from Castaic, California. The 6-foot-5 and 180 pound freshman has explosive athleticism and excels in transition play and attacking the rim.
4. Points of Optimism
Just simply by how bad the past three seasons have been, the bar could not be lower for this Nebraska team to overachieve compared to recent seasons. Combined with how weak the non-conference schedule is this season and the expected struggles of the Big Ten, it would be difficult to fail to improve.
Pessimistic optimism humor aside, there is also plenty to be excited about for improvement this season by Nebraska. Derrick Walker returning was a huge pickup for the Huskers. The big man started to really build a role in the offense last season. He has the versatility to challenge down low in the post position and also dish it back out to teammates on the perimeter. He should prove a pivotal player for the team improving its record.
Sam Griesel is also a big addition. If the preseason praise by Hoiberg is to be believed, then the offense has a point guard who can truly run it this season unlike the past two when Dalano Banton was hurt by Covid and Trey McGowens was taken out by a broken foot. Not only that, but Griesel will likely prove a fan favorite as a hometown kid who will also be doubly motivated to play hard and ensure the team finds success.
5. Points of Concern
At the end of the day, this team has not added any sure fire player that is a guaranteed difference maker. With a squad that hasn’t won more than 10 games as a high-water mark the past three seasons, that doesn’t add much in the form of hope. While returning players like Walker are important and additions like Gary could help, none are a sure-fire All-Big Ten candidate.
On top of that, one of the biggest problems this program has faced in the Hoiberg era is consistent point guard play. While Griesel is an easy player for the hometown fan base to love, he has spent four seasons playing at North Dakota State. The competition the Bison see is not what a Nebraska player sees in Big Ten action. Staying poised under pressure and being capable of effectively running the offense at the increased competition level is by no means a given.
With no true point guard besides Griesel on the roster, even should he prove capable there is the risk of injury or what happens when he has to sit for minutes to rest during games. That lack of depth at the position is a potential unresolved achilles heel.
6. Top Player
Derrick Walker is the easy pick. The big man has all the potential and maturity to have a breakout season this year. He was already the No. 3 leading scorer and the leading rebounder on the team last season. Walker is an obvious pick and the top candidate for being the go to player for Nebraska this season.
7. 2021-’22 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/7 - Maine
- 11/10 - Omaha
- 11/17 - at St. John’s
- 11/20 - Arkansas Pine-Bluff
- 11/24 - Oklahoma (Orlando, FL)
- 11/25 - Memphis/Seton Hall (Orlando, FL)
- 11/27 - TBA (Orlando, FL)
- 11/30 - Boston College
- 12/4 - at Creighton
- 12/17 - Kansas State (Kansas City)
- 12/20 - Queens University of Charlotte
There are a couple of games that should show whether Nebraska has any fight in it for Big Ten play, but otherwise the non-conference is easy to tune out on. After two warm-up acts to open the season, St. John’s offers the first clear test. The Red Storm are No. 37 in the preseason KenPom and have home court advantage in the Gavitt Games matchup.
Two games later, a Thanksgiving Day matchup in the ESPN Events Invitational against KenPom’s No. 28 ranked Oklahoma squad is the second toughest game of the non-conference. Either opponent in the second game of the event is a top-50 KenPom opponent as well.
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge brings on Boston College in Lincoln. The Eagles are all the way back at No. 76 in KenPom, a challenge for sure but hardly top competition. The same goes for a neutral court matchup against old Big 8/12 foe Kansas State a few games later as the Wildcats sit at No. 77.
Creighton will be the toughest game of the non-conference and one that few should expect to go well. The intrastate foe is No. 22 in KenPom and No. 9 in both the AP and Coaches. Even if Nebraska is overachieving this season, this one will likely end poorly for the Huskers.
- 12/7 - at Indiana
- 12/10 - Purdue
- 12/29 - Iowa
- 1/3 - at Michigan State
- 1/7 - at Minnesota
- 1/10 - Illinois
- 1/13 - at Purdue
- 1/18 - Ohio State
- 1/21 - at Penn State
- 1/24 - Northwestern
- 1/28 - at Maryland
- 1/31 - at Illinois
- 2/5 - Penn State
- 2/8 - at Michigan
- 2/11 - Wisconsin
- 2/14 - at Rutgers
- 2/19 - Maryland
- 2/25 - Minnesota
- 2/28 - Michigan State
- 3/5 - at Iowa
When a team has as low of expectations as Nebraska does this season, there are hardly any “easy” draws for scheduling, but at the end of the day the Huskers certainly had a few breaks. Single draws against Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin are extremely helpful. Though Nebraska does have to play Michigan State, Purdue, and Illinois twice, it could be worse.
As for the toughest portion, there are two three-game stretches that stand out the most to me:
- 1/10 - Illinois
- 1/13 - at Purdue
- 1/18 - Ohio State
- 2/8 - at Michigan
- 2/11 - Wisconsin
- 2/14 - at Rutgers
If Nebraska can win one game out of those six, it will be a big improvement on prior seasons and a significant moment for this one. The Huskers will otherwise need to make sure to pick up some wins against teams like Northwestern, Minnesota, and Penn State this year. The Wildcats are on the schedule just once, but those three teams are likely the easiest opponents for wins this season and UNL has struggled to get those wins in prior seasons of late against similar lesser teams in the Big Ten.
8. Projected Starting Lineup
- PG: Sam Griesel (Sr.) - 100%
- SG: Emmanuel Bandoumel (Sr.) - 90%
- SF: C.J. Wilcher (So.) - 80%
- PF: Wilhelm Briedenbach (SO.) - 100%
- C: Derrick Walker (Sr.) - 10%
(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)
Sam Griesel is essentially the only true point guard on the roster, really. That is especially true given that Quaran McPherson was lost to a season ending injury during training. Griesel came back to his hometown and childhood program to play and Hoiberg added him to the roster to be the starting point guard. This one is a given.
Based on early indications from exhibition action, it seems that Emmanuel Bandoumel will be the starter heading into the season. Given most of the other shooting guards behind him on the roster are freshmen/underclassmen, it seems likely this job is his to lose for the season in that regard.
Meanwhile, the small forward position may see competition this season for the starting role. C.J. Wilcher seems like he is the probable candidate to start the season, but Juwan Gary didn’t leave Alabama to be a sixth man or coming off the bench role in all probability. Once he gets more accustomed to the system, Gary may battle Wilcher for the starting job.
After that, it is a lock that Wilhelm Briedenbach will start at the four and Derrick Walker at the five. Barring injury, these two should be expected to remain the starters in these roles all season.
9. Team Perspective From Patrick L Gerhart of Corn Nation
Okay, I’ve been dreading this...
It’s basketball season and the Huskers are putting together a team. Yes, the mighty Big Red from Lincoln are going to be playing once again in the Big Ten. Yes, they’re fielding a men’s basketball team for the upcoming season.
To be honest, I’m not expecting much out of Nebraska this year. Most publications are picking the Huskers dead last in the Big Ten. This is all of course, understandable. Fred’s teams have not given much hope for the fanbase or anyone who watches them nationally for them to be chosen much higher.
This is Fred Hoiberg’s fourth season and his record is 24-67 in Lincoln. He had a “banner” year last season going 10-22. Which was an improvement from the previous two seasons where he only won seven games each.
The coaching staff has been gutted. The past three years have proven that changes needed to be made. Gone are Doc Sadler, Matt Abdelmassih, and Armon Gates. Replacing them are Adam Howard and Ernie Zeigler. So yeah, a house cleaning was needed for Fred to have any chance of saving his job in 2022-23.
The team returns only four players who saw any worthwhile minutes from last year. C.J. Wilcher, Quaran McPherson, Wilhelm Breidenbach, and Derrick Walker. Wilcher, Breidenbach, and Walker are projected starters this season along with newcomers Sam Griesel from North Dakota State and Emmanuel Bandoumel from Southern Methodist.
Derrick Walker will once again be one of the more impactful players as he was last season. He should have help form a more mature Breidenbach and Wilcher on the floor.
Expectations are low and there are a few that do not expect Fred to make it to the 2023-34 season. Time will tell as Hoiberg has had plenty of time to build his roster to his liking and at the very least contend in the middle of the Big Ten. However, he has not even sniffed that since arriving in town.
The season starts out a little light but should give us an idea what this team is going to do. If they struggle early on, it might be a long winter on the Great Plains.
10. Overall Season Outlook
At one point talking about the Cornhuskers on a season preview podcast episode the other week, I managed to psych myself up into thinking this team might stand a chance at finishing with 15 or more total wins on the season and 10th place or maybe a spot higher in Big Ten action if things really clicked.
After two exhibition games of bad shooting, that balloon popped far faster than Trev Albert’s excuse of a helium shortage ended the pollution plagued football tradition (at least for one season so far). If the team manages more than 10-12 wins overall and doesn’t finish in the bottom three of the Big Ten, then it should likely be considered the optimistic result. If the team finishes better than that, man was it a great season by recent standards.
Big Ten Prediction: 14th Place
[Editor’s Note - The projected Big Ten finish here is by Thomas Beindit.]
On a side note, this will be my final article writing for BT Powerhouse. It has been a privilege to write about Big Ten basketball for the past two seasons. I appreciate everyone’s interest in the coverage of the league I have had to offer during my time on staff with the website and hope you enjoyed my writing as well. However, as time goes by other obligations must take my increased focus. Thank you all for your readership and to Thomas for having me be a part of the staff for a time.
Some people have hobbies.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 4, 2020
I watch college basketball.