As part of previewing the 2017-2018 Big Ten basketball season, The Big Ten Blog will preview each team in reverse order in which I predict they will finish. In the spirit of the school’s crippling athletic disappointment, Nebraska is up next at 13th.
2017 record (conference): 12-19(6-12)
At the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, optimism was abound through the streets on Lincoln. The football team was fresh off a Big Ten Legends division title and the basketball team was moving into its $179 million dollar home, Pinnacle Bank Arean, just steps away from Memorial Stadium. Head coach Tim Miles was just about to enter his second year at the helm after navigating Colorado State to its first at-large bid into the NCAA tournament since 1990. Now, Nebrasketball is coming off of a 12 win season and the football team may be looking for their second coach since Bo Pelini was let go in 2014.
Going into the 2017-2018 season, restlessness has set into the minds of many Nebrasketball supporters. The Huskers have had five losing seasons in the last six. For those unfamiliar with Nebraska basketball prior to their addition to the Big Ten in 2011, Nebraska had not had such a stretch since going 15 straight years of below .500 basketball between 1950-1965.
This isn’t too say Tim Miles is completely on the hook for the struggles in recent years. In all honesty, he’s had some MISERABLE luck retaining talent. After averaging 16.6 points and making 87 three-pointers in 2015-2016, Andrew White transferred to Syracuse as a graduate. He only went on to average 18.5 points and 4.6 rebounds for the Orange and left a gaping hole in the front court that Miles had no time to fill. Now missing from last year’s team is forward Ed Morrow(transfer to Marquette), forward Michael Jacobson(transfer to Iowa State) and guard Jeriah Horne(transfer to Tulsa) – perhaps Miles’ biggest recruit to date. Tai Webster – 17ppg and 4 apg – has run out of eligibility but his departure pains nonetheless. Who’s left?
Junior point guard Glynn Watson Jr. becomes the de facto leader of the Huskers. Averaging 13ppg, Watson proved to be a lethal threat from three – shooting just about 40 percent on the year. At only 6-0 tall Watson will need help along the perimeter so that he can facilitate the offense more with Webster’s departure. Fun fact: Webster is the younger brother of former Illini standout Demitri McCamey. For Webster to succeed he’ll be relying on two sharpshooting freshman to step in Webster’s shooting guard role. Thomas Allen is a 6-1 freshman from Brewster Academy in North Carolina where he hit 11 three-pointers in one game while fellow freshman and Bolingbrook native Nana Akenton hit 46 percent of his three-pointers his senior year.
The only other returning starter from a year ago is senior small forward Evan Taylor. He’s not a scorer (5.2ppg) sooooo any value he provides NEEDS to be on defense as he’s not a reliable ball-handler (1:1 assist:turnover ratio). He’s described as a “glue guy” which translates to “he’s a senior and he’s hung around long enough even though he’s probably bad”.
Miami transfer James Palmer Jr. will also make a run at the shooting guard spot if the young guys do not develop quickly enough. Palmer was a top 150 recruit in 2014 but only managed to average 3.5ppg before leaving South Beach.
In case none of the guards mentioned pique your interest, Iceland native Thorir Thorbjarnsarson enters as a freshman. I spent five minutes on the prior sentence.
The frontcourt will be anchored by a two other imports of varying successes. Much to the pleasure of Miles and Husker fans alike, Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland’s waiver to not sit out half the season was approved. Copeland was a consensus top-50 recruit coming out of high school in 2014 but flaked out after a disappointing start to his sophomore campaign last year that saw his production drop nearly six points. Additionally, Winthrops all-time leading shot blocker, Duby Okeke, will be a defensive specialist with a 7-4 wingspan.
The depth at forward allows Tim Miles to mess with different lineups especially early on in the season as he works in the new influx of players. Sophomore Isaiah Roby has added some 40 pounds of muscle since stepping on campus – he should backup Copeland. Sophomore center Jordy Tshimanga sits at 6-11 and if he can manage to stay on the court, he will be relied on as a team-leading rebounder. 6-8 junior Jack McVeigh will help to stretch the floor as 139 of his 196 shots last year came from three.
Overall, Nebraska had very similar problems in 2016-2017 that bottom-feeding Rutgers had last year: They couldn’t shoot from three (13th in conference) and they couldn’t score very well in general (69.9 ppg ;). Miles may get some slack this year as boosters may want to see how new recruits and transfer shake out – Palmer and Copeland both have two years left of eligibility. Nebraska may have the highest ceiling out of the bottom third of the Big Ten. If the youth at shooting guard translates to the college game and Copeland is a top-50 player in his class, it isn’t without the realm of possibility that they can play into Friday when the Big Ten Tournament comes around.
In reality, the reliance on new pieces is too much to project the Huskers any higher. Miles defenders take solace. Boosters will be cutting too large of checks for Mike Riley’s flogging that Miles may have more leeway in the loss column this year.