Nebraska essentially had three different seasons last year, and two of them were really bad. In the non conference, the Huskers struggled to a 6-6 record, capped by a loss to Gardner Webb. While this was worse than expected, it wasn’t THAT shocking. What was more surprising was “season two,” the beginning of conference play. Nebraska got off to a 3-0 start, including road wins at Indiana (before IU proved they weren’t nearly the team most expected them to be in the preseason) and Maryland, and then a home court victory over Iowa. It was just strong enough to convince some that perhaps NU had figured some things out…and then came “season three.” Nebraska lost 8 of their next 9 games, coinciding with an injury to starting power forward Ed Morrow, who had given them an edge inside that they otherwise lacked. They ended conference play at 6-12 and lost their first game in the BTT to Penn State, thus ending the season at 12-19.
Tai Webster – Webster finally delivered on the hype he’d received as an incoming freshman coming off playing for the New Zealand national team. He led NU with 17ppg, paced the team in assists and was third in rebounding at 5.1 per game. A late season shooting slump took his three point percentage just under 30%, but for much of the year he was an improved shooter and his ability to finish at the rim left him with a still reasonable 42% overall FG mark. The bottom line is that Webster was a dynamic offensive player who was able to score and draw fouls at a strong rate, giving a team which so often has struggled to score since joining the Big Ten a consistent offenisve threat.
Ed Morrow – This loss was surprising, as Morrow opted to transfer to Marquette after the conclusion of his sophomore season. Morrow played well, averaging 9.4ppg and 7.8 rpg, and provided stellar interior defense as well, tying for the team lead in blocks despite missing 7 games. More than just what the raw stats demonstrate, Morrow gave this team a presence, a nastiness it otherwise lacked. His loss is a big one, both for this upcoming season and for the program.
Michael Jacobson – Another surprising transfer decision came from Jacobson. Also a soph, he started all 31 games and averaged 6 ppg and 6.2rpg at center and power forward. While Jacobson was unlikely to ever become a star, he had been an improving player and a consistent starter, so this too is a loss, as it hits at NU’s interior depth.
Jeriah Horne – A third Husker to transfer, Horne opted to depart after his freshman season in Lincoln. The 6’7” forward only averaged 12 mpg but saw more time and an expanding role as the season went along.
Nick Fuller – Fuller saw his role decrease dramatically as a senior, playing in only 15 games for NU. His loss isn’t likely to be felt strongly, given the limited minutes.
Glynn Watson – NU loses Webster but they return the other dynamic guard on last year’s team in 6’1” junior Watson. He averaged 13 ppg and saw major improvement in his shooting over his freshman season, hitting 42/40% on the season. Watson has the physical tools (good quickness, wirey strength) and skill set to be an All Big Ten level player. For this season, he’s going to have to carry a large load for NU as he no longer has Webster to share the playmaking duties with, and he will be NU’s top scoring option as well. I think he’s up to it and expect a big season, but the burden will be heavy.
Jack McVeigh – The 6’6” junior also showed improvement over his freshman season, averaging 7.5ppg. He shot 33% from deep but seems capable of improving that number. He’d be helped if he could develop a little more diversity in his offensive game, but that may not be in the cards. McVeigh started 11 games last year but I think he’s on track to be a regular starter this season.
Evan Taylor – Taylor is a 6’5” senior guard who was a solid rotational option last season after transferring in from a JUCO. Taylor started 21 games and averaged around 24 mpg, mostly due to his work defensively. On offense, he’s a non-threat from deep (only made 6 3s all season) but can score a little bit inside the arc. Last year, Nebraska could afford Taylor to be a bit part offensively last year when they had Webster out there. It’ll be interesting to see how large his role is this season, or if he can improve his scoring.
Jordy Tshimanga – Tshimanga is a guy with immense potential. He’s a legit 6’11” 280lbs center but not unathletic or immobile, at least when he’s fresh. He’s a raw player in some ways but showed decent touch at times and could be very productive in the post as he improves his conditioning and continues to develop his footwork. He averaged 5 points and 4 boards in just over 12 mpg. If they can even get him up to around 20mpg, you’ll see much more production. I think he has pro potential, but it’s going to depend upon his physical development as much as anything else.
Anton Gill – Gill is a 6’4” senior guard who transferred in from Louisville last year and of whom much was expected. Gill only played in 12 games before getting hurt and missing the rest of the season, but he was struggling mightily even when he played. He was a top 50 recruit out of HS and showed some potential while with the Cardinals, so I don’t write off the possibility he could help this team on the wing, but it better happen quickly, else Tim Miles will be tempted to go with younger options.
Isaiah Roby – Roby is a 6’8” soph with potential to be a good modern 4 man. He struggled with his shooting as a freshman, hitting only 39/20% from the floor, but he has the potential to be better than that. He has enough athleticism to be a versatile defender in time as well. I expect his role to increase a lilttle this year, and maybe more than that.
Isaac Copeland – Copeland is a 6’9” 220lbs transfer forward for Georgetown. A top 50 recruit coming out of HS, Copeland never quite made good on his potential in DC, though he did average 11 ppg and 5.4rpg during his sophomore year. He’s long, with some shooting ability (almost 40% from 3 as a freshman) and athleticism. Copeland has two years of eligibility left and should play a big role for NU. The question with him is whether NU wins their appeal to get him eligible at the start of the season, or whether they have to wait until January. He’s a very different kind of player than Morrow, but Nebraska will hope he can provide a similar overall contribution, just in different phases of the game.
James Palmer – Palmer is a 6’6” wing who transferred in from Miami (Fl). He’s a good defender and brings some size to the wing spot for NU. He averaged around 12 mpg and 3.5 ppg over two seasons in South Florida but Miles will hope for more contributions in Lincoln. Expect him to at least play a large rotational role if not push for a starting spot.
Dube Okeke – Okeke is a 6’8” 230lbs grad transfer from Winthrop, where he helped that team to an NCAA bid last season. Okeke won’t likely be a star but he was a very strong shotblocker at Winthrop and if he can do that and rebound, he’ll be a significant addition for NU. Expect him to more or less split the 5 with Tshimanga.
Thomas Allen – Allen is a 6’1” guard who originally signed with NC State but reopened his recruitment after Mark Gottfried was fired and picked NU over Kansas and others. Expectations are that Allen can help both on and off the ball, and with Watson also having that versatility, the two should play together a lot. Allen is a top 100 recruit and should be able to help Nebraska right away at the guard spots.
Nana Akanten – Akanten is a 6’6” forward from Illinois. An unranked recruit, he nevertheless could have an opportunity to earn a role, particularly if a guy like Gill struggles again.
I think the clock is ticking on the Miles era. Nebraska isn’t a basketball power…there’s limited history and tradition there…but they’ve sunk a lot of resources into that program and it is reasonable to expect more than they’ve gotten in the seasons since Miles one and only NCAA trip since taking this job. Just as troubling is the constent loss of players…STARTERS…to transfers or early departure or even retirement from the sport in once case. If it was once or twice, you’d understand that, but the exodus of three players, all of whom played regularly and two of whom were starters, this offseason is baffling. Miles seems like an amiable guy but there’s been too much of this going on to not think that something is off kilter there. What exactly, I’m not sure, but there’s too much frequency to think it’s all happenstance, at least for me.
Nebraska has some talent on hand. Watson is now a proven offensive force in this league, Copeland and Allen come on board with some reason to think they can be productive players, and Tshimange should only continue to develop from here. Yet, it’s difficult to see this bunch being able to do enough offensively to finish anywhere but near the bottom of this conference. If they miss the Tournament again, will that be the end for Miles? Could be.