How will history remember the 2012-13 Nebraska basketball team? Well, frankly, it probably won’t, at least not by anyone other than the die-hard fans. Really, there wasn’t that much that was all that memorable about this season. It was the final season in the Devaney Center, a fairly non-descript building that housed a fairly ordinary team for much of its time as home of Nebraska hoops. It was a team of capable players, but none that would be considered elite, but this season is one that first year head coach Tim Miles and Husker fans hope will be one of the most important in program history.
It’s true there were no stunning upsets or miracle runs in conference play. There was no all-conference player or coach of the year award. What this season was, was one where a foundation was laid. Expectations were set and a mentality was developed. It didn’t happen instantly. It took a while for things to take hold for Miles’ crew. That’s not uncommon for programs undergoing regime change.
At the beginning of the season, it wasn’t uncommon for prognosticators to scoff at the potential of this team. More than a few thought ten wins would have been unattainable for this squad. Winning games in the Big Ten, a conference expected to be as strong as it has ever been? Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen. No how, no way. Maybe they could beat Penn St. Maybe. But Iowa? Minnesota? Northwestern? Purdue? Nope. Keep games at Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois in doubt at the final media timeout or later? Not gonna happen. Let’s just survive this one and see what happens next year. Perhaps they might be competitive then. There’s no talent on this team.
Turns out, the pundits were wrong. There was talent on this team. There may not have been much depth, but there was talent. We saw that fairly early on in the season when this team defeated an experienced talented Valparaiso team, 50-48 and a thorough victory on the road in the Big Ten/ACC challenge vs. Wake Forest. The internal expectations for this team were much different than the ones that anyone outside of the programs set for themselves.
At the end of the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Huskers already had nine wins, one shy of the threshold most said would be enough to consider the season a success. However, Big Ten play loomed. This conference was as strong as it had ever been and the Huskers faced a five game stretch that would challenge even the best of teams in the conference. While the Huskers had opportunities to win three of those games, they found themselves on the losing end of all of them. Things could have spiraled from there, but a gutty win they almost gave away on the road vs. Penn St. kept spirits buoyed. A win two games later vs. Northwestern and the stated goal of post season play suddenly turned from pipe dream to outside possibility.
The Big Ten grind continued for the Big Red and ultimately, it proved too much for the Huskers dream of playing beyond Chicago. It ended with a few nice moments, likely what most will recall as fans look back on this season. The 19 point comeback vs. Iowa, a game that likely could have been the difference between the Hawkeyes making the NCAA tournament and ultimately being left out and the final home game victory over a Minnesota team hanging on to their tournament hopes by a thread in their own right (it didn't keep them from dancing) to close out the Devaney Center, were moments that gave glimpses of what might be in store in the future for Husker Hoops. A victory over Purdue in the Big Ten tournament was a nice little sendoff for this team as well.
Steady play from seniors Dylan Talley and Brandon Ubel plus a variety of electric performances from Ray Gallegos kept the season from being the disaster most expected. Perhaps the most important development to come out of this season had more to do with the, well, development of freshman Shavon Shields. Shields missed five of the first six games of the season with an elbow injury. It didn’t take long for him to become a fixture for the Huskers on the floor, however. Shields played 20 minutes in the loss to Creighton, just his third in a Husker uniform. From there, only once would he play less than that. Shortly after conference play began, he was inserted into the starting lineup and would not leave the rest of the season.
Shields' breakout performance came on the road in a win over Penn St. He had 29 points and was perfect from the free throw line, going eight-for-eight. His performance was instrumental to the Huskers winning their first conference game of the season. His role continued to develop and become more vital to the success of the Huskers as the season went a long. His development was a welcome one as Coach Miles and his staff will be looking for a new crop of leaders as next year rolls around
In many ways, this season was about next year and beyond. Miles redshirted three players that, if eligible, would likely have dramatically changed the course of the season for this team. Combined what is expected to be one of the more talented classes to sign with the huskers in the past decade, the reality is that the team that opens up the shiny, new Pinnacle Bank Arena will bear little resemblance to the one that shut down the Devaney Center. How that will translate in the wins and losses columns remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: excitement for the future of Nebraska basketball is as high as it has been since the Huskers last made the NCAA tournament, 15 years ago.
Revisiting preseason predictions:
Leading Scorer: Dylan Talley – Bingo. Talley carried much of the scoring burden for the Huskers much of the season.
Most improved: Andre Almeida – Not so much on this one. Almeida struggled to get going this year, battling foul trouble and was unable to get in to much of a rhythm because of it. Almeida has some skill, but was never able to realize it at Nebraska.
Player you’re not talking about now but will be soon: Sergej Vucetic – Wrong on this one, too. I thought NU’s need of post players would have led to more opportunities for him to play, but it wasn’t the case. Coaches continue to say they like Vucetic and think he has a role on the team. In hindsight, a redshirt and a season for him to adjust and add some strength might have been good for the kid.
Player that improves most during the season: Shavon Shields – Nailed it. Has a chance to be a fan favorite for a long time. If you haven’t heard, he’s the son of former Husker football great Will Shields. Just preparing you to hear that every game the next three years.
Stunning upset of the year: Michigan State in Lincoln – Nope, not quite. Huskers didn’t really have one of these this year. Came close a couple of times.
Record: 14-17 (5-13) – Nailed this one too. I took a lot of heat for such lofty predictions for this team. I had to restrain myself from not taking out a billboard in the Haymarket advertising my foresight.
Conference finish: 11th place – Missed this one. They finished 10th.
All in all, not a bad record. As we move into the off-season, look for monthly updates on Husker Hoops and coverage of significant stories as they present themselves. Until then, enjoy the rest of the tournament, here’s to the Huskers being in the middle of this thing soon.