LAST SEASON – The Huskers never quite found a consistent level of play and ended up at 16-18 and 6-12 in the league. Tim Miles has elevated expectations in Lincoln, reaching the NCAA Tournament two years ago. However, that’s been followed up by two consecutive disappointing campaigns and though his job isn’t in any sort of jeopardy, he probably does need to see improvement this season to keep momentum building. The Huskers haven’t yet had a fantastic recruiting class under Miles but he’s steadily improved the talent year to year, and has another solid group coming in to follow up last year’s solid class.
The biggest move came just a day or so ago when Andrew White decided to pull out of the NBA Draft and return for his senior year. The KU transfer was everything he had been billed to be in his first season at NU, averaging 16.6ppg and 5.9 rpg from a wing position. He was a 41% three point shooter for a team which really needed that perimeter production. White has the potential to be an even more effective offensive player but he’ll need to continue to use his athletic ability to score more from the midrange and at the rim. At times, I felt he fell into settling for deep jumpers.
Tai Webster has had an inconsistent career in Lincoln but as last season wore along, he seemed to find himself. He ended up averaging 10.1ppg on solid shooting (47/35%) and earned 18 starts along the way. What seems to have helped him make a breakthrough is being moved off the ball. NU had tried to make him a point guard earlier in his career and he struggled with it, but now that he can focus on being a defender and occasional scorer, he plays a more consistent brand of basketball. Expect him to be a starter once again.
The reason Webster could focus on playing the wing was primarily due to the arrival of 6’2″ sophomore Glynn Watson. Watson has work to do…he has to gain more consistency with his jumper for starters…but I really like his future. He is a catalyst, a guy who makes things happen at both ends for his team. I think he’s set to take a signficiant step forward this year and his anticipated maturation is part of the reason I have some optimism for this team.
Anton Gill, a 6’3″ transfer from Louisville, will also push for major minutes. Gill was a top 50 recruit coming out of HS and his decision to leave Louisville was something of a surprise, as it appeared he had finally started to gain some trust from Rick Pitino and was seeing regular minutes in the NCAA Tournament. He didn’t put up huge numbers at the Ville but I’d look at him as somewhat similar to White, who also didn’t produce a ton while at KU…Gill can play and he’ll probably be an effective scorer for NU, either as a starter or a key reserve.
They also have 6’1″ junior Malcolm Laws, who played sparingly last season and likely won’t see a ton of time this year unless injuries hit hard.
Up front, NU has to replace Shavon Shields, a major productivity loss. They won’t do that with any one guy, but a young group of big men does have a chance to get better collectively.
That starts with 6’8″ sophomore Michael Jacobson. A relatively unheralded member of last season’s recruiting class, Jacobson ended up starting 25 times and averaging 4.7 ppg and 4.3 rpg, while also providing a shot blocking presence. In an ideal situation, he’d probably be a key reserve but he showed a high motor and some skills as a young player, so there’s no reason to believe he can’t continue to get better from here.
6’8″ Jack McVeigh was brought in as a big man who could provide some “stretch 4″ elements and he did hit 34% from deep, so the potential to continue to develop is there. He’s another energy guy as well.
Ed Morrow is another 6’8″ sophomore and though he didn’t have a huge year in terms of productivity and only started once, he was the most highly regarded of their big man recruits and is still the guy I think has the brightest future. He has the potential to be an old school physical presence at power forward and he converted 64% of his field goal attempts last year, which shows he knows how to play within himself. I think he’ll take a step forward this season.
6’7″ junior Nick Fuller is a depth guy who probably will be passed up in the rotation by some incoming players, but does bring experience to the mix for NU.
Miles added three frontcourt players in his freshman class, all of whom have potential to help immediately.
I’ve seen 6’8″ Isaiah Roby play in AAU a bit and was impressed. He’s got some real versatiltiy to his game, especially on defense where NU could use some help. He’s big enough to hang in there with some post players but has the athleticism and footwork to guard wings as well. My sense is that he’ll be a Swiss Army Knife type player early on, getting plugged in where NU needs help.
Jeriah Horne is a 6’7″ power forward from Missouri who is a skilled kid without superior athleticism. He reportedly has a solid post game and can also shoot from range. I suspect how quickly he grasps things on the defensive end will determine how large a role he plays early on.
The late addition to NU’s class was the biggest one, at least in a literal sense, in 6’11” 270 lbs Jordy Tshimanga. He’s a late bloomer, really exploding onto the scene as a senior and NU may have come up with an under the radar steal with him. Conditioning is reportedly a concern, as he’s lost weight recently but still can wear down, so I wouldn’t expect to see him playing high 20s type minutes, but it sounds as if he’s got a great shot to see a regular role. He sounds as if he has some skills (can hit out to 12 feet) and good hands, but likely needs some work in continuing to develop post moves. He’ll be a space eater defensively as well.
BOTTOM LINE – I like what Miles is doing. Steadily, he’s improving the talent level in Lincoln, even if the last two years have been disappointing. Getting White to return was big for this year’s chances because it means they have a proven go-to guy on offense, but in the long run, it’s going to be the freshman and sophomore classes who play the biggest role in getting this program back up into the upper half of the league.
I really like Glynn Watson. I think he’s the kind of guy you can build a team around and I think we’ll start to see more evidence of that fact this season. He’s a great place to start with and he’s got veterans around him in the backcourt who can get it done on offense as well. Gill should also make an immediate impact as a scorer.
Inside, it’s a young group but I like their future. I think Morrow will get better. I think Jacobson and McVeigh will be good rotation pieces. Roby should help right away in a variety of ways. I haven’t seen the other two guys personally but Tshimanga could be a big, big addition if he can even give NU 20 solid post minutes. That kind of size could really help.
I see Nebraska bunched up with several other teams…you could put them in a hat with Illinois, Penn State, Northwestern and maybe even Iowa and no order would strike me as untenable at this point. For now, I’ve got NU in the middle of that group. White probably gives them that small edge over a couple of other programs. To be better than that, a mostly young team will have to get a LOT better defensively, though. Over the long haul, that’s where real progress will need to be made.