B1G Basketball Preview: Nebraska
The 2014 Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year Tim Miles is looking to bounce back from a 13-18 season, finishing 12th in the Big Ten and missing the NCAA tournament in 2015. After much hype following the 2013-2014 success, the team regressed significantly in year three of the Miles era.
With eight newcomers and only two returning seniors, the Cornhuskers will live and die by the success of their additions. Miles, along with star forward Shavon Shields, will have to lead their young Huskers lineup if they intend on playing basketball deep into March this year.
Key Returning Players
Nebraska will be relying heavily on its senior forward Shavon Shields this year. Last year, he was amongst the team’s top two in minutes, points, rebounds, assists, free throw attempts and field goals. He has started in 82 consecutive games and played in all 31 games last season.
The only other returning senior is guard Benny Parker. Parker provides much need leadership in the locker room, having played in all 96 games since his freshman year. The huskers will depend on him for his defensive presence after leading the team with 45 steals last year.
Sophomore big, Jake Hammond, is the team’s only true center. Miles will be asking much more from him in his second year.
The loss of stud small forward Terran Petteway might not be quantifiable. He was Shields’ on-court counterpart with almost identical stat lines throughout the year. Last year, he helped lead the Huskers, playing alongside Shields in all 31 games. He left the team a season early to sign an NBA contract.
Besides the major loss of Petteway, Nebraska’s frontcourt took a serious hit, losing its top four post players, as three signed professional contracts. Departures of Pitchford, Rivers, and Abraham have left the Huskers lacking a much-needed lineup of big-men to compete with the Big Ten’s rough style of play.
Nebraska once again appears to be extremely weak on the offensive side of the court. Last year, they ranked 13th in Big Ten scoring offense and dead last in 3-point percentage (ranked 340 in the NCAA). With one of their only sharp shooters, Petteway, off to the NBA - it doesn’t seem like this year will be much different. However, the key additions of freshman Glynn Watson and Kansas transfer Andrew White III may provide the change the backcourt needs to buck this trend.
Defensively, the Cornhuskers ranked in the middle of the pack last year. Although defensive assassin Parker and the experience of Shields should prove helpful, it does not appear the frontcourt will be able to hold their own. Perhaps Miles will decide to play small with Shields at power forward to try and a faster pace this season. The Cornhuskers will have to use their speed to compensate for the lack of size by turning defense into offense via fast breaks and quick buckets.
Tim Miles will have plenty of opportunities to gauge his team with a fairly tough non-conference schedule. The strength of schedule may prove to be a challenge for the young team, but provides much needed experience before moving to in conference play
Nebraska’s first test will be in Philadelphia to play preseason No. 11 Villanova. After that, they go on to face Cincinnati in the Barclay’s Center Classic and Miami in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Both teams received a significant amount of preseason top 25 votes.
Key games to watch will be back-to-back games against two strong teams that could prove to be essential wins come tournament time. On December 9th, they face a frequent tournament team in Creighton, and on December 13th, they play Rhode Island at home. This is the Huskers last real test before they begin their conference schedule.
With eight teams receiving preseason votes for the top 25, this will once again be an undoubtedly tough year of play in the Big Ten.
Nebraska opens as softly in the Big Ten as they could ask for, facing: Northwestern, Indiana, Iowa, Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois. All teams will be challenging, but are winnable games for the Cornhuskers. They will need to use these games to really figure out who they are as a team and what style they are most comfortable with.
After that, they are off to an eleven game span where they could potentially be double-digit underdogs in eight of them. They face: No. 13 Michigan State, No. 25 Michigan, No. 3 Maryland, Rutgers, No. 17 Wisconsin, No. 15 Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State twice, and No. 23 Purdue twice before closing their schedule with Northwestern. This is a stretch that I could easily see them coming out of with only two or three wins.
One thing Nebraska will have to take advantage of will be their home court crowd. Basketball is booming in Lincoln and last year, they led the country in highest average attendance jump. With a 10-6 home record in 2014-2015, Nebraska will need to capitalize on their home floor in order to stay relevant in the nation’s toughest conference.
Coach’s Hot Seat
Still high on the success of the 2013-2014 Huskers team that ended the 16-year tournament drought, Tim Miles will be in the driver’s seat for Nebraska basketball for some time to come. This year, he earned a misally one on my hot seat.
The people in Lincoln love this guy. Even after the disappointing season, he is praised for putting fans in the stands and reeling in one of the nations top 25 recruiting classes. Per usual with new coaches, Miles is still slowly turning over the leftover personnel of a previous era. This year will be the first year the coaching staff consists of all Miles’ guys. The fans will be watching closely to see if this will positively or negatively affect the team’s success.
Miles’ recruiting class is something Nebraska hasn’t seen in a long time. In fact, the potential of the newbies even had Petteway pausing before eventually entering the NBA draft. He grabbed two of the top 75 recruits out of one of the country’s top basketball hubs in Chicago. If he can continue to pull recruits from major cities to Nebraska, the future will look quite bright for Miles and the Cornhuskers.
With a young roster and tough schedule, it is hard to be optimistic about this year’s Nebraska team. One thing that you can’t see on paper is Shields’ will to win. This is a guy who is accustomed to the league and as a senior, knows this is his last chance to do something special. With looming questions surrounding his draft stock, I predict Shields leads his unit to a surprising .500 finish.
I have the Cornhuskers off to a rough start and grabbing some key victories and a couple of upsets down the stretch. Look for Nebraska’s youth to develop and bloom late in the season – potentially setting themselves up for a Big Ten Tournament run.
Big Ten Record 7-11
*P.S. Glynn Watson, will be a household name by years end*
Kevin Hudash is a junior majoring in sports marketing. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org