Athletic Director Trev Alberts announced Thursday on Sports Nightly that embattled Nebraska basketball coach Fred Hoiberg will return for a fourth season next year. Hoiberg is 21–62 in three seasons with the Huskers. He’s just 6-46 in Big Ten conference games.
The majority of the media and fanbase had doubts that Hoiberg would return, but it’s likely that his massive $18.5 million buyout this year influenced Alberts’s decision. Hoiberg will come back next year with a restructured contract that includes a reduced salary and buyout.
Here’s the truth. Nebraska basketball has never been good. Aside from a few magical seasons, it’s been average-to-mostly bad for most of the past several decades. They are the only Power 5 team to never win an NCAA Tournament game. If Hoiberg wants to move the Huskers into the top half of the Big Ten, it will take at least the full eight years he was initially given when he was hired in 2019.
And for any hope of immediate improvement next year, here are the four things Hoiberg will need to address this offseason.
Stop the Roster Turnover
Drastic roster turnover has plagued Hoiberg. He’s essentially had to start from scratch three years in a row. If Hoiberg wants consistency and synergy on the floor, he must find a way to keep players in the program for more than one or two years.
Every program expects some attrition. But when starters who can return leave the program, that’s a red flag. This year, starters Trey McGowens, Derrick Walker, and Lat Mayen all have an extra year of eligibility because of Covid. If Hoiberg can convince them to return, it will help this team avoid hitting the reset button for a fourth consecutive year. Of course, since they’ve been in college for four years, particularly during a pandemic, most fans wouldn’t judge them if they decided to move on.
But their return would do wonders for Nebraska basketball. Success on the court often depends on players having the right feel for the game, including their teammates. Playing fast with confidence is only possible when the players know and trust each other. Hoiberg desperately needs that now.
Go Get a True Point Guard
Nebraska’s point guard Alonzo Verge has had a decent season from a statistical standpoint. But there’s one major problem with Verge: he doesn’t actually play like a point guard. While Verge is third in the Big Ten with five assists per game, his style of play doesn’t lend well to managing and facilitating an offense. It’s more like clear-out, playground streetball.
Hoiberg’s offense is predicated on spacing and ball movement. If he doesn’t have a point guard to lead that charge, it’s doomed to fail. Now, Nebraska doesn’t need an old-school point guard like John Stockton or Steve Nash. Keeping and scoring are completely fine–sometimes. The Huskers need someone who knows the offense, can push the ball down the floor, and put it where it needs to go. In a word, they need a point guard who can make the other players on the floor better.
Unfortunately, Hoiberg has yet to find and keep that kind of player and without a point guard in their 2022 recruiting class, it’s likely he’ll have to go into the transfer portal to get him this offseason.
Solve the Defensive Woes
Nebraska is dead-last in the Big Ten in points allowed per game at 79.3. They’re 13 out of 14 in rebounding. It also seems that every Husker opponent is the best three-point shooting team in the world when they play Nebraska.
When Hoiberg came to Nebraska, he brought former Husker head coach and defensive guru, Doc Sadler, with him. Doc has either lost his groove or the players aren’t bought in to what he’s coaching. Is it scheme? Motivation? Laziness? Confusion? You either coach it or allow it to happen. Either way, something needs to change.
Big Ten offenses are too good to play slow, sloppy defense and will make you pay every time. Trey McGowens is the best defender on the team. He has that Gary Payton, “The Glove,” quality to him. But he’s just one man. The shots won’t always fall, so Hoiberg needs to figure out how to ensure a team with constant, relentless, high-energy defense shows up every night.
Recruit Bryce McGowens… Again
Freshman star Bryce McGowens came to Nebraska with the intention that he would be a one-and-done player. He’s the leading freshman scorer in the Big Ten and just set the record for points as a freshman at Nebraska.
And right now, he must be Hoiberg’s top recruit.
McGowens would obviously help Nebraska if he returned. But he’d also help himself with a second year in college. Listed at just 180 pounds despite his 6’7″ frame, he’d benefit from another year of strength and conditioning and putting on 15-20 pounds. More importantly, he’d have another year to hone his defensive skills, which have left something to be desired at times.
It’s probably a pipedream to think McGowens would come back for year two. But would he return if his older brother Trey did? What if his draft evaluation put him in the second round? Maybe it’s not too far of a reach after all. That would be great news for Fred Hoiberg and Nebraska basketball fans.