The 2023-’24 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2023-’24 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 postseason potential.
Fred Hoiberg is entering his fifth, and likely most important, year in Lincoln. He was a bit of an NBA guy hire coming off of a tenure as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, but he’d previously made a name for himself at Ohio State.
And, frankly, things were supposed to be better than they’ve been. He’s improved his conference record every year... if by one counts for anything.
Until, of course, last year. The Huskers went 9-11 in the league and it feels like there’s something to build on for this year at least thanks to the emergence of Keisei Tominaga. A few good moves in the portal help that out.
Hoiberg needs to show more progress fast if he’s to stick around.
1. 2022-23 Season Performance
- Record: 16-16 (9-11, 12th in Big Ten)
- KenPom ranking: No. 94
- NET ranking: No. 92
- Postseason: Big Ten Tournament First Round
Fred Hoiberg is entering year five in Lincoln and he’s coming off of his best season yet. The bad news is that it also just wasn’t very good.
Nebraska went through some up and downs throughout the season with stretches of futility to ultimately finish strong down the stretch with a four game winning streak against Wisconsin, Rutgers, Maryland and Minnesota before finishing the regular season with a road win against Iowa.
2. Offseason exits
- G Quaran McPherson
- G Sam Griesel
- G Denim Dawson
- F Derrick Walker
- G Emmanuel Bandoumel
- F Wilhelm Breidenbach
It’s a rather long list of departures for Nebraska as Hoiberg and co look to build on a relatively productive season last year. They lost some talent to exhausted eligibility and others to the portal, but it’s still a significant amount of talent to have to make up for.
Walker was a go-to guy and Griesel filled a need at point guard, those are spots that need to be filled.
3. New Additions
- F Josiah Allick
- G Ahron Ulis*
- G Brice Williams
- F Rienk Mast
- F Matar Diop
- F Eli Rice
Hoiberg and the Nebraska staff ended up having to make multiple moves in the transfer portal to get a group together for the upcoming season.
Barring injury, the Huskers’ freshmen aren’t likely to see starting minutes this season. Rice is a three-star just inside the top-200 and Diop is unranked in 247Sports. The former is likelier to see playing time than the latter for a few reasons.
Star Keisei Tominaga suffered an ankle injury during the team’s first exhibition game of the season and will be out for the foreseeable future. He started at shooting guard for the Huskers but Hoiberg loved using him as a (very) undersized three.
Without Tominaga to slide over into that spot when the Huskers go small, it’s likely Wilcher at the three for a majority of the time until Tominaga recovers. Rice could see minutes off the bench in relief of Wilcher. He was a great scorer, particularly beyond the arc, during the Huskers’ recent exhibition win.
As for the transfers?
Josiah Allick (New Mexico) could provide some stability at the four with some minutes at the five. The Huskers had three different guys at their spots in most of their lineups down the stretch last season, so Allick will at the very least give the group some consistency.
Rienk Mast (Bradley), once healthy, will be the Husker’s starting center. They needed to fill a Derrick Walker-sized hole in the frontcourt and got Mast, who was Bradley’s go-to option down low, to do so.
The post wasn’t Mast’s only option, he occasionally extended out to the perimeter with Bradley for a few makes on the season. Not to be relied on, but it’s in his bag and worth keeping in mind as a defender.
He’s currently dealing with a few injuries, including a broken nose, after a random assault off the court. Hoping he’ll be able to recover quickly and be able to rejoin the team.
Brice Williams (Charlotte) was the go-to guy on a decent 49ers squad. Starting at the four, Williams was capable of playing from the three in a few of Charlotte’s lineups. He’s a floor spacer, knocking down 39.7% of his attempts from deep last season.
It’ll be interesting to see how Hoiberg deploys Williams and Allick with both spending most of their time at the four on their prior squads. I’d give the edge to Williams to provide some spacing for Mast.
Ahron Ulis (Iowa) projected to be a key piece in the backcourt until his eligibility came into question after it was discovered that he placed multiple wagers during his time with the Hawkeyes. Nebraska still awaits a decision from the NCAA on his fate but things don’t look great.
4. Points of Optimism
Nebraska is coming off of its best season under Hoiberg, who’d previously disappointed with losing effort after losing effort.
Stringing together multiple wins down the stretch was huge for the Huskers last year, but a loss to bottom-dweller Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament sparked some cause for concern (more below). Regardless, wins are wins.
Keisei Tominaga was, at his worst, incredibly fun to watch and a reason for non-fans to tune into games. Derrick Walker was a big loss to eligibility but the Huskers were able to replace him through the portal with another go-to center.
Hoiberg and co found some good pieces in the transfer portal and freshman Eli Rice could be an immediate contributor off the bench as well as a piece for the future. If things go well this year, Hoiberg could have a vision to sell for more time in Lincoln.
The Big Ten was relatively weak last year and projects to be similarly top heavy this upcoming season. If the parts click, the Huskers could steal a few wins and turn in a respectable league finish for the first time under Hoiberg’s watch
5. Points of Concern
Nebraska made some good moves, but they’re gonna need those guys to gell on the court. That’ll take some time, as it always does, but the first few weeks of the season may be uninspiring.
They’ll probably suffer losses to their premiere non-conference matchups, at home against Creighton and on the road against Kansas State. Oregon State should be a win but it’s not exactly one to feel all that proud of.
After that… Nebraska just needs to show consistency it hasn’t under Hoiberg. Rise up into the middle of the conference with the ability to beat those who dwell on the bottom, compete against fellow 5-9th place teams, stuff like that.
Huge prove-it year, gotta build on that momentum.
6. Top Player
Hoiberg knows he has a go-to guy.
Once he’s back and healthy, it’s the Keisei Tominaga show in Lincoln. He had multiple highlight-reel plays for the Huskers last season and Hoiberg looks set to build a lot of his offense around perimeter shooting.
When Nebraska needs a shot from deep, you know where the ball is going.
7. 2022-23 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/6 - Lindenwood
- 11/9 - Florida A&M
- 11/13 - Rider
- 11/15 - Tony Brook
- 11/18 - Oregon State (neutral)
- 11/22 - Duquesne
- 11/26 - Cal State Fullerton
- 12/3 - Creighton
- 12/17 - at Kansas State
- 12/20 - North Dakota
- 12/29 - South Carolina State
Three categories of game here:
- The gimmes (all but those listed below)
- Kansas State/Creighton (Not Great)
- Oregon State
Nebraska should beat every team aside from the three I’ve named above. If that’s not the case they have some serious problems.
You’d rather not have that Creighton game at home but it’s about as clear of a noncon loss as they come. I’d rather not have a recovering transfer center matched up against Ryan Kalkbrenner as the roster is still figuring one another out against a Greg McDermott team.
Kansas State as well. Jerome Tang appears to be on the precipice of a renaissance in Manhattan after a deep March Madness run in his first year on the job for the WIldcats. Bramlage is going to be a Hornets nest.
Oregon State should be a win. If it’s not, that’s a pretty bad loss to have on your resume and would weigh heavily on Nebraska down the stretch even if they perform well in league play.
Speaking of which…
- 12/6 - at Minnesota
- 12/10 - Michigan State
- 1/3 - Indiana
- 1/6 - at Wisconsin
- 1/9 - Purdue
- 1/12 - at Iowa
- 1/17 - at Rutgers
- 1/20 - Northwestern
- 1/23 - Ohio State
- 1/27 - at Maryland
- 2/1 - Wisconsin
- 2/4 - at Illinois
- 2/7 - at Northwestern
- 2/10 - Michigan
- 2/17 - Penn State
- 2/21 - at Indiana
- 2/25 - Minnesota
- 2/29 - at Ohio State
- 3/3 - Rutgers
- 3/10 - at Michigan
- 3/13-17 - Big Ten Tournament
Really you can just pencil them in as 1-1 heading into January. Minnesota is the conference’s free space and Michigan State is gonna be a buzzsaw.
After that? Things could get interesting. Minnesota is a free two wins and the Big Ten is largely in flux outside the top two this season with plenty of new pieces at just about every program with stalwarts like Wisconsin and Ohio State coming off of down years.
If the Badgers and Buckeyes continue to falter, Nebraska could capitalize as they see both twice. The Huskers see the Boilermakers just once and it’s early in the season so they can avoid a deflating loss down the stretch.
Here are a few stretches that stick out to me:
- 1/6 - at Wisconsin
- 1/9 - Purdue
- 1/12 - at Iowa
We’ll know more about Wisconsin by this time and if Nebraska is able to pull off the upset at home after playing Purdue close last season they’ll have a key win to hang their hat on for the rest of the year.
Iowa is the key game here. They’re in a bit of a rebuild/reload year after the departures of Kris Murray and Filip Rebraca. If they do indeed have a down year, those are the teams the Huskers need to beat for a good enough conference record to get to the big dance.
- 2/29 - at Ohio State
- 3/3 - Rutgers
- 3/10 - at Michigan
They’ll need to close the season on a high note. If Ohio State and Michigan falter again while Rutgers doesn’t play above its level down the stretch last season, a 3-0 finish heading into the Big Ten Tournament is in play here.
If they’re on the bubble, enough momentum in the league’s tournament could propel Nebraska into the big dance.
8. Projected Starting Lineup
- PG: Jamarques Lawrence - 80%
- SG: Keisei Tominaga/Sam Hoiberg - 100%
- SF: CJ Wilcher - 90%
- PF: Brice Williams - 90%
- C: Rienk Mast/Josiah Allick - 100%
Here’s how I think Hoiberg and co will want to look when they open the 2023/24 season. If Tominaga and Mast aren’t healthy by then? Hoiberg and Allick will be the ones starting in their stead.
This lineup gives the Huskers four guys willing to fire from the perimeter around Mast or Allick, with the former capable of attempts (at least) from there himself. With plenty of physical play from Big Ten frontcourts, Hoiberg could spread things out and hit shots over their heads.
9. Team Perspective from Corn Nation
Jarek Shearer of Corn Nation offered the following thoughts on the upcoming Nebrasketball season:
First of all, for the love of God can the injury bug stay away from Nebraska athletics, particularly men’s sports? Keisei Tominaga’s ankle injury during the exhibition game against Doane hasn’t really allayed any fears that this team won’t be as competitive if guys can’t stay healthy.
Having said that, this is easily the deepest team talent-wise that Fred Hoiberg has had at Nebraska. Last season a fair number of guys got hurt, but instead of rolling over the “next man up” fought even harder. I believe that had last year’s group not gotten beat by Minnesota in the first round of the B1G Tournament they would have been an NIT team.
This is where the expectation is for this season. Bare minimum an NIT bid. It would show a step in the correct direction as far as building this program. Going deep in the NIT would be even better, especially if they can host multiple games at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
For me personally however, I would like to shoot a little bit higher. So much so, that I believe this group can WIN an NCAA Tournament game. Statues await anyone who can finally undo this tremendous curse/hex/voodoo thing that has kept Nebraska as the only Power 5 team in the nation from winning a game in the big dance. As guys get healthier, especially the bigs, this group can prove it will play with anyone in the country, and I believe they can make a run in any tournament it is involved in at the end of the year.
10. Overall Season Outlook
This could be a boom or bust season for Hoiberg’s job status above all else.
Any improvement over last year’s finish would almost certainly buy Hoiberg more time, especially with the focus on Matt Rhule’s building project across campus. If there’s regression Nebraska could be in a position to make a move.
Overall, I think Hoiberg made the right kind of moves this offseason to put together a team that can contend with the middle of the league and beat those at the bottom. Any upset over the juggernauts at the top would be a huge plus.
Projected Big Ten finish: 12th