Corn Nation Pre Season Basketball Round Table
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We are right around the corner from the start of the 2016-17 NCAA basketball season. Some of us here at Corn Nation decided to give you our thoughts on this year’s Husker men’s basketball team.
I am joined by Corn Nation’s very own David McGee and Patrick Janssen from the Big Red Cobcast. Will you get in depth knowledge that will make you a wiz in Vegas? I would most likely guess you won’t. You will, however, get an understanding of the type of team that Nebraska will most likely put on the floor this year.
Q: What were your thoughts on Nebraska Basketball at the end of last season?
David McGee: I actually thought we saw the young players turn a corner at the end of last season. The last three or four games of the regular season and into the Big Ten Tournament we saw a different effort and intensity level, especially among the freshmen. It was like they learned what was required to play at this level and be successful. If they can carry that over into this season, I think that will be a great sign for this season.
Pat Janssen: My thoughts were, “I like this team. They’re so close.” I thought the only thing missing was a true big man. I thought it was a longshot to add Jordy Tshimanga, but I thought he was a necessity. Sure, I was worried about losing Shavon Shields, but I figured Andrew White III could be that guy. And then….
Patrick Gerhart: The end of last year was tough because you could see a lot of promise in this team. I think that if there was better leadership on the floor you might have been able to see a different result than what happened. Shavon Shields was good, but I never really thought he had the ability to bind this young team together where they could take the game to the next level. Throw in whatever drama came with the Kansas transfer and you might have seen a different team than what ended the season.
Q: Who will be the leaders on this years team?
DM: This will be Tai Webster’s team. Glynn Watson Jr. is the point guard, and the nature of the position is that of a leader. I think he will be a main leader sooner rather than later.
PJ: I can’t really argue with David on any of that. By nature of being a senior on his last go-around, this is now-or-never time for Tai. And this is a guy who’s been through a lot. He’s like a poor man’s Taylor Martinez or Tommy Armstrong. Ton of talent. Hasn’t fully put it all together. Lots of criticism. He’s going to have to make a leap this year. That said, I also think David is correct in his assessment of Glynn. I think he has more of an alpha dog persona than Tai, and he will become the defacto leader by the time it’s all said and done.
PG: I would like to say Tai but it all depends upon his ability to get out of his head. He seems to still go in and out of funks while out on the floor and it affects his game. If he can control that the team should have a good focal point to follow when games get tough. If he seems to falter at some point I hope to see some of the younger guys like Ed Morrow or Glynn Watson Jr step up and take over. Both of these guys seem to have a better temperament while playing and could hopefully help guide the team. Maybe transfer Anton Gill will be able to bring in some leadership with his skill set.
Q: Outside of the leaders, who are you most looking forward to seeing on the court and why?
DM: Isaiah Roby, no question. He has been viewed as the most talented player Tim Miles has ever recruited. He’s a super talented player and will be a major contributor right away. His adjustment to major college basketball might just be the key to where the season goes for NU.
PJ: I hope we actually get to see Roby soon. He sounds like a real talent, but that injury scares me. Regardless of all of that, it’s Tshimanga who I’m most looking forward to seeing. I want to see if Nebraska is actually a different (better) team with a true space-eater in the middle. I’ve heard nothing but great things about his work ethic and love for the game, and he’s certainly got a big-time body. We’ve had athletic wings before. When’s the last time the Huskers have had something resembling a dominant (scratch that, competent) center? Aleks Maric?
PG: Roby for sure but also Jordy Tshimanga. The guy is a real “big man” and it will be nice to see him go toe to toe with the other centers in the conference. Patrick hit it on the the head.
Q: Are there any key games on the schedule that stand out to you as important?
DM: The biggest game for me, if this team has postseason aspirations, is the first game in the John Wooden Classic vs. Dayton. The Flyers have consistently been a quality, NCAA tournament team. They have made the tournament three straight years including a berth in the Elite Eight in 2014 and Sweet 16 in 2015 and open the season just outside the top 25. They are experienced and return 3 of their top 4 scorers from last years. This will be a very tough challenge for the young Huskers. That game will be played on the evening Thanksgiving Day in Anaheim. It will be an energyless, empty gym. Dayton will be a favorite. It’s a classic recipe for an upset for a team like Nebraska. If they can take advantage of that and knock off the Flyers, they’ll likely play UCLA, a preseason top 20 team. If they lose, they’ll face Portland and they’re not exactly the Trailblazers. They’ll be a 200-ish RPI team. So, the game vs. Dayton will have an impact that will be felt in March. Win it, you get a chance to knock off teams that will help your RPI all season long. Lose it, you run the risk of playing teams that will drag you down.
PJ: Again, it’s hard to argue with David. You have to beat the Daytons and UCLAs of the world to really give yourself an at-large berth. From a matter of program perspective though (and let’s not forget that college basketball recruiting has a much more accelerated track than college football recruiting), there’s a dire need for Tim Miles and his crew to make a splash. Or at the very least avoid a (to continue the college football comparisons) Bo Pelini-type loss. The Huskers can ill-afford to get run out of the building by 40 points against Kansas. This is the second year of his best recruiting class. It may be asking a lot to come out of Allen Fieldhouse with a win, but whether or not this team is competitive will say a lot about the current state and the direction of this program.
PG: I’m looking straight at Kansas. For one, they are probably the best all around team on the schedule. From the starters to all the way down on the bench. Nebraska doesn’t need to necessarily win but will need to play KU close and make it worthwhile game. Doing that would give them a good boost of confidence to go into Big Ten play. It’s also going to be a nationally televised game so there should be many influential eyes across the nation that will be watching. It will pay dividends if Nebraska wins or even plays it close. If Nebraska loses badly, it will be hard to get the national folks to view them differently.
Q: What does Nebraska need to do this season to make the NCAA tournament?
DM: Well, as I outlined above, beating Dayton and playing some teams with better RPI’s would be a good place to start. Not losing to a Samford or Incarnate Word type team (beware Gardner-Webb on Dec. 18…) would be a good place to start. They’re also going to have to do some things that they’re not expected to do. Upset teams like Michigan State or Purdue or Wisconsin when they visit Pinnacle Bank Arena, too. It’s unlikely they get there this year, but that’s what would be required.
PJ: Going above .500 in the Big Ten with no major disappointments in non-conference play should do the trick.
PG: No stupid losses as mentioned above and pulling off some decent upsets in conference play that would put them in the upper middle tier of the 14 teams.
Q: How safe is Tim Miles job this year? If he is in trouble, what does he need to do to keep it?
DM: Barring something really bad happening off the court or the bottom completely falling out, I think he’s safe for this year. Next season becomes the big one, I think.
PJ: First thing’s first. I love Tim Miles. Love him like he’s my own nerdy brother. He’s injected an excitement in this program that had been lacking since Danny Nee, all without coming across as a dickhead. I appreciate that, and him, more than you could ever know. He needed to drag Nebraska basketball into the NCAA Tournament in his first five years, and he did that. But expectations followed, and a series of unfortunate events (and underachieving seasons) followed. There has been a wave of high-achieving players and assistant coaches leaving every year, which is both an excuse for some of those disappointments and also cause for concern. He’s mostly improved this team in a very difficult league, but a third straight losing season in year five under a different athletic director than the one who hired him may be tough to survive. I don’t think he needs to get to the NCAA Tournament, but an NIT might be a necessity.
PG: For him to not get fired I think he will need to keep the team above .500 and keep the team solidly in the middle of the conference. If we see another year where they are fighting throughout conference play to get out of the basement then he might be sweating bullets to get the extension that would make possible recruits happy.
Q: Finally, what is your prediction for the team this season?
DM: It’s difficult to project with so many young players on the roster. I don’t think they’ll be the 12th or 13th team in the conference. I think they’ll be better than that. The observations I’ve made about this group is that they’re a very loose bunch. They enjoy each other. That wasn’t always the impression I’ve gotten the past couple years. These past two classes have been very good. As good as NU’s seen in a long time. The next couple of years that needs to show up on the court. I think we see it in flashes, increasingly so as the season progresses. I think they’ll get back to the postseason in some fashion this year. I think the NCAA tournament is probably a little out of their reach this year. But if they can get an NIT or CBI berth (something I think they’d take this year), that should prove positive for them in the years to come.
PJ: I’d feel fan-fucking-tastic if Andrew White III were still in tow. Goddamnit, I’d feel great. Nebrasketball has had pieces throughout Tim Miles’ tenure, but never a complete roster. With the addition of Tshimanga, they seemed as close to a complete arsenal of weapons as they’d had since the Nee days. Then White peaced out, and we lost our only proven true shooter. If one or two guys can provide an uptick in three-point shooting (which isn’t out of the realm of possibility), this could be a fierce team, one that I think people are highly underestimating. Replacing the scoring of Shields and White will be key, and a tall order at that, but I think this is the year we start to see what all the hubbub was about with the previous recruiting class. I think the ‘Skers finish in the middle of the Big Ten and put themselves on the bubble for an NCAA berth, I honestly think they’ll be either one of the last teams in or the first teams out.
PG: A lot of the drama from last season is gone. It was shipped off to upstate New York. I think that should help the team out greatly in terms of cohesiveness. That was something that didn’t seem to gel well last year when times got tough. I would say they will play better together this year especially if the leadership takes hold early and does it’s job. It’s a young team but it’s a talented young team and I can see that working out for the Huskers for once. I see them going into conference play with roughly 8 wins and to keep that winning percentage up through conference play. Ending up most likely in the middle of the conference rankings and close to and NCAA birth. It won’t be a dream season but it will leave the team and fans feeling a little better again when it is all said and done.