Big Ten Basketball Preview: Nebraska
Let’s meet the team that has a legitimate chance of finishing dead last in the Big Ten Conference: Nebraska. After going (15-18, 5-13 Big Ten) a season ago, the Huskers finished tenth in the conference under second-year coach Tim Miles.
The Huskers, who haven’t qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 1998, won’t be in the mix for March Madness this season either. Plain and simple, this is a football school that historically hasn’t invested much time, energy or resources into the men’s basketball program.
In-conference offense: 0.92 points per possession (11th)
In-conference defense: 1.07 points per possession (10th)
--Credit to ESPN.com for the above numbers
The key returner for the Huskers is senior guard Ray Gallegos who was second on the team in scoring last year after averaging 12.5 points per game. Perhaps more importantly for the Huskers is that Gallegos led the team in minutes a year ago at 37.5 per contest.
Another key returner in Lincoln is sophomore guard Shavon Shields. The Olathe, Kansas native was fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 8.6 points per game, and second in rebounding with five boards a game.
One player that, while more of a newcomer, who could be the most important key returnee in Lincoln is freshman guard Tai Webster. From Auckland, New Zealand, Webster is viewed as a player that, had he attended school in America, would be viewed as a potential top-50 recruit.
That’s obviously not the caliber of player that Nebraska is used to recruiting and Webster could add some much-needed star power to the Husker roster. In the 2012 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Venezuela, Webster averaged nearly 14 points a game as a 17-year-old.
Nebraska will be looking up and down the roster in search of a replacement for leading scorer Dylan Talley who led the team in both scoring (13.7 PPG) and assists (2.5 APG) while finishing third in rebounding at nearly five boards a game.
Talley, who signed with a pro team based in Germany upon graduating from Nebraska last August, was the type of do-it-all guard that the Nebraska coaching staff will greatly miss.
The Huskers also graduated its third leading scorer and leading rebounder from a year ago in senior forward Brandon Ubel.
The 6’10” forward averaged 11.5 points per game and 6.7 rebounds a contest for Big Red a season ago. For a team that mightily struggled in rebounding, Nebraska will have to find a way to improve its rebounding rankings after losing its top glass cleaner.
The Huskers have two marquee non-conference contests against perennial NCAA Tournament qualifiers Creighton (Dec. 8) and Cincinnati (Dec. 28) with both of those contests being on the road.
Nebraska will also compete in the Charleston Classic where it takes on UMass in round one and could potentially face No. 23 New Mexico later on in the tournament. Big Red will tangle with Miami in the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Obviously when you’re playing in the Big Ten Conference you’re going to be forced with navigating through the toughest conference slate in college basketball.
Nebraska’s conference opener is a New Year’s Eve date with an Iowa Hawkeyes team whose arrow is clearly pointing upward. Its next two Big Ten contests are at No. 11 Ohio State (Jan. 4) and home against No. 7 Michigan (Jan 9). The Huskers will have to play the Buckeyes and Wolverines one more time each.
Coach’s Hot Seat
Second-year coach Tim Miles is in no danger of losing his job at any point during this season for a few reasons. First, he hasn’t been given enough time to really make his mark on the program and second, he benefits from not having to manage his team based on any loft expectations.
Obviously Miles will have to improve on the 5-13 Big Ten record that Nebraska posted a season ago, but the Huskers brass would probably be pleased if the team even matched its five wins from last season.
If Webster pans out and proves to be as good as advertised, Miles will almost assuredly be given the lion’s share of the credit for brining the young Aussie into the fold. Webster could prove to be the most important recruit in program history when all is said and done.
Miles’s hot seat rating is a 2-out-of-10 at the present moment and really shouldn’t fluctuate from that ranking at all this season with the program having nowhere to go but up.
There is virtually zero hope of Nebraska making the NCAA Tournament and a first round exit in the Big Ten tournament is also incredibly likely. The arrow for the program is really in the middle right now as it has nowhere to go but up.
Webster, who will arguably be the best player on the floor for Nebraska when it kicks off the season at home against Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 8th, will be in the mix for Big Ten Newcomer of the Year.
While still an unknown to the college basketball world, the freshman guard could be the most important piece in turning the program around.
Aaron Carr is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.