There’s a stark reality that faces first year head coach Tim Miles and his new team, Nebraska basketball. Miles, like many coaches, comes into a situation that isn’t exactly ideal. His charisma and ease of humor have brought a sense of anticipation to Nebraska basketball for the first time in quite a while. He’s been on somewhat of a barnstorming tour since being hired on as the Husker head-man. And by barnstorming, I don’t mean he’s been trying to get as many people into the Devaney Center for it’s final go around, no, I mean he’s been beating every bush and turning over every leaf to try and find players. He’s had a veritable who’s who of the next three recruiting classes marching through the Hendrick’s Training Center and going out of his way to show them how the new arena is coming along and just how great of a facility that’s going to be. He’s also been able to lure a handful of players to town that will be seeing the court sooner than that. Though only one of his recruits from this past year is expected to see any action this season.
Optimism for Nebraska hoops actually is high. Just not for his year. The sense is that fans don’t really know what to do with this team. The on the court expectations are as low as they’ve ever been. Many don’t expect the team to win more than 10 games and an inspection of the roster and assumed talent on the roster would lend some credence to this notion. Nebraska only returns one starter from last year’s squad. Just one. They lose their top five of its top six scorers off a team that finished last in the Big Ten as it was. It’s hard to find much optimism when looking at this team and their future. If we dig a little deeper, however, the situation isn’t quite as dire. This team will see it’s three most talented players sitting out the year to redshirt. On the recruiting trail, Miles has lured three recruits to pledge their commitment that, on paper, are more talented as a group, than anything Nebraska has signed in perhaps a decade. Assuming the New Zealand talent, Tai Webster is all he’s said to be, he could be the most talented player Nebraska has seen since Tyronn Lue. However, Nebraska hasn’t had much luck with highly touted players in quite some time (see Standhardinger, Christian and McCray, Joe). They’re due to have one work out.
Looking to the future is nice and all, but we still have to play this season. Here’s a little of what you can expect from this year’s team. Let’s start with the roster:
Who’s still here:
- Brandon Ubel is set to play his senior season and is the clear leader on this team. Ubel has been a steady though not spectacular player for Nebraska. Ubel has steadily seen an increase in playing time over the course of his time in the scarlet and cream. Known as a solid outside shooter after his freshman year, his shooting touch has disappeared a bit as he’s been asked to shoulder much of the load in paint much of the past two years. Look for Miles try to bring Ubel out to perimeter more and create some mismatches on offense.
- Dylan Talley returns after fighting through a deep thigh bruise last year. Through all that, he emerged as the third leading scorer on the team. He’ll be asked to shoulder much of the scoring load this year and if he is fully healthy, should be in better position to do just that. An athletic guard who started his career at Binghamton before transferring to the JUCO ranks and then Nebraska, his leadership will be key to the success of this team.
- Andre Almedia is a skilled center who has been hampered by injuries his time at Nebraska, so much so that he had to sit out all of the 2011-12 season. He’s a big body, a very big body that should make for a good rebounding. He also has surprising quickness and a soft touch around the rim. He came in as a heralded JUCO transfer, seen as the perfect complement to budding freshman, Jorge Brian Diaz. That didn’t turn out as well as Husker fans hoped. Almedia has had trouble staying on the court and Diaz is no longer with the program. If he can approach the levels that many expected of him coming in, that would be a big boost for a Nebraska team that is going to have trouble scoring points.
- Ray Gallegos has been a bit of a mystery in his time in Lincoln. Expected to be an explosive scorer for the Huskers. His athleticism is evident, but in his limited time in his first two years at Nebraska, he appeared hesitant at times, hurried at others and unconfident in his shot nearly all of the time. With that in mind, he decided to redshirt last season in an attempt to get stronger and regain that scorer’s mentality. Of the players that Coach Miles inherited, Gallegos could stand to gain the most.
- David Rivers saw little playing time last year during his freshman year. The 6’ 7" will be another player who could benefit from the new coaching regiem. Husker fans didn’t get much of a look at Rivers, though he did appear in 19 games last season. Rivers was rated as an ESPN top 150 player coming out of high school, so the potential should be there for Rivers to take a big step forward and be a contributor for this team. The opportunity should be there for him to take advantage of it.
New kids on the block:
- Benny Parker is a small little point guard that is projected to get the starting nod to open the season for this team that has no returning contributors at the point. That rarely bodes well for a team that’s lacking for experience as it is. Parker was an all-state player from Kansas and was also named to the all-metro team by the Kansas City Star. By all accounts, the kid can play, but freshman point guards can tend to struggle while learning on this level. The quicker he can get comfortable in Miles’ system and to this level of play, the better it will be for Nebraska.
- Shavon Shields is an athletic wing from Olathe, Kansas who had opened up a lot of eyes over the summer for his advanced level of play and maturity. He suffered a slight set back after requiring minor surgery to clean up an infection in his elbow. When he gets back, he’s expected to be right in the mix and receive plenty of playing time. He comes from a famous Nebraska family, the son of football star Will Shields, he doesn’t lack from pedigree.
- Sergej Vucetic will make the first player 7’ or taller since Rich King stretched the tape measure at 7’ 2". Not much is known about Vucetic other than he is tall and lanky. He’ll benefit from a year at the training table and in the weight room, but he’ll also be called upon to contribute significant minutes for this Husker squad that lacks depth in the post. It will be a trial by fire for the young Serbian. He’s a wild card for this team. He can take to this level of play quickly, he’ll be a key contributor for this team for years to come.
You’ll have to wait ‘til next year:
- Deverell Biggs finally made it to Nebraska. And he’s going to redshirt. Biggs was an All-Nebraska point guard his senior season at Omaha Central and many Husker fans (at least this one did, anyway) pined for him to commit to Nebraska right out of high school. Nebraska hasn’t seen an athlete with his ability don a Nebraska jersey since Danny Nee was fired. Husker fans hope that talent will translate itself to the Big Ten. He’ll be a part of a significant talent infusion in 2013-14.
- Terran Petteway transferred to Nebraska from Texas Tech. Petteway hails from Galveston, Texas and was a top 10 prospect in the state of Texas coming out of high schools and started 11 games for the Red Raiders last season.
- Walter Pitchford V also transferred to Nebraska after playing his freshman season for Billy Donovan at Florida. Pitchford played sparingly for the Gators, though he did get some time in the round of 64 in the NCAA tournament vs. Virginia in Omaha last March. Pitchford was a fairly highly sought after recruit before ending up at Florida. Pitchford will also have three years of eligibility remaining.
The schedule that was put together for this team does it few favors. The non-conference schedule is highlighted by back-to-back home games vs. USC and Creighton but has a handful of other potential land mines scattered throughout. An early visit from Valparaiso who won 22 games, made the NIT and returns six of their top eight starters. That will be a tough matchup for the second game of the season for a Nebraska team that will very much be still be trying to get their sea legs under them.
Once conference play starts, the schedule makers again did Nebraska no favors. The Huskers open with trips to Ohio St., Michigan and Michigan St. all in the first four games. Wisconsin and Purdue are the first two home games in conference play. All of those teams made the NCAA tournament last season.
There’s no getting around it. It’s likely to be a long year for Nebraska as they bid farewell to the Devaney Center, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to watch in the first year of the Tim Miles era. Barring a rash of injuries, the notion that this is a ten win team for the season isn’t likely. It’s possible, for that things don’t come together at all this year and the bottom falls out completely. Look for Nebraska to push for ten wins in non-conference play. The Huskers will be the better team in no fewer than eight of thirteen non-conference matchups. Three more will be toss up games and NU will be overwhelming underdogs vs. Creighton and Oregon. How Nebraska fares in those toss-up games will determine whether or not they’ll be able to sneak into one or the post season tournaments.
Last season, the discussion in the Big Ten was that it was as strong as it had ever been. Most Nebraska fans had to take the experts word for it, coming into the league for the first time. It didn’t take long for Husker fans to realize what everyone was talking about. Now, a season later, the league looks at least as strong and perhaps even stronger. That’s quite the statement considering the star power the conference lost after last season, but with three teams starting the season in the top five and two more in the top 25, the case is certainly there. Teams like Minnesota and Iowa looking like they have a chance to make a run this season as well makes this conference deep and difficult to navigate for a team like Nebraska who is just trying to find itself. So, where does Nebraska find wins once Big Ten play rolls around? It will be tough early. The magic number for Nebraska to go to any sort of post season is 16. That is a lot to ask of this team. If they’re going to do it, they’re going to have to beat teams like Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois and Penn St. when they come into the Devaney Center. Assuming they win ten games in non-conference play, that still will leave them two wins shy. They’ll need two more, that’s the challenge for NU this year. Find wins five and six in conference play. Establish early in the Tim Miles era that this team doesn’t back down, especially at home and make life difficult on opponents when they come in here. If they can do that, they should be in position vs. teams like Iowa or Minnesota to steal a win or two. It’s a very tall order indeed.
What to watch for:
This team will look dramatically different in year two than it does this year. With Biggs and the two transfers sitting out this year plus the expected signing of this standout guard from New Zealand, Tai Webster, this team will be virtually unrecognizable a year from now, at least in terms of talent on the floor. However, this season, we should start to see Coach Miles mentality and how he wants this program start to take root. By the end of the season, THIS team will likely be unrecognizable to those that watched it from day one. They should steadily improve as the season progresses. This team is all about laying a foundation for the future. There will be rough patches and will probably be beaten badly vs. the top teams in the conference. There will be times when this team is very difficult to watch. But Miles teams have always been tough minded and played hard. They’ve also had very, very bad first seasons. There’s enough talent on this team to avoid a complete implosion, probably, but it is not going to come without some difficult moments to watch this season.
Leading Scorer: Dylan Talley
Most improved: Andre Almedia
Player you’re not talking about now but will be soon: Sergej Vucetic
Player that improves most during the season: Shavon Shields
Stunning upset of the year: Michigan State in Lincoln
Record: 14-17 (5-13)
Conference finish: 11th place