This was a hard season to follow. Despite that, there was not a ton of expectations on the team going into it. They lost a couple of seniors and a handful of transfers but a lot of young talent was coming up through the system to eventually take over. Plenty to work with for the future.
There was little talk of this year having an NCAA Tournament run with this team. Expectations were along the lines of the NIT. But hey, strangers things have happened and conference could go better than expected. Many teams were young this year across the Big Ten. The Huskers could have taken advantage of it. People were optimistic.
Yes, it was a young team. Though one that had some of the most talented players that Nebraska had seen in quite a while. Tai Webster was the sole senior. This was going to be the team that Tim Miles was going mold into something that would last for years. No more rogue players doing what was best for them and no more drama.
Fate came in early with the transfer of Andrew White III to Syracuse. We try to treat that as if it was something that didn’t matter, but it did. He wasn’t going to be the leader on this team, he never was. However, he was going to be they key to which this years team was going to base itself off of. This we know, never happened.
The season did start off on a good note. A four game run was capped off with a nice win over Atlantic 10 power Dayton in the Wooden Classic in California. A Dayton team that has since gone on to win the Atlantic 10 for a second year in a row. It was followed by a well played loss to Pac 12 power UCLA. Losses to Clemson and Virginia Tech came after. Both were disappointing but nothing that wasn’t terribly expected.
Summit League champions South Dakota came to town and relieved the Huskers of their losing streak. A nice little reprieve before thorough beatdowns by Creighton and Kansas. While both losses were not unexpected the Huskers play in both brought some concern that wasn’t there earlier in the year. They seemed to fall apart during the game, digging themselves into a hole that would be hard to get out of.
The lack of experience and understanding of Tim Miles game plan were starting to show through. Scoring droughts were becoming common place as the games went on and the ability to get out of them was at times baffling. Things you would hope they would work themselves out of through the year. It was still early, but nothing seeming too daunting for this squad.
Then there was Garder-Webb. This was a game that the Huskers had no business losing, but they did. It’s become common place now with Nebrasketball. Pick one game that they should win with half the team on sick leave, and they will lose. It happened in 2014 against Incarnate Word. Then again in 2015 against Samford. I can only imagine what team might walk away with a unexpected win in Lincoln next year.
Conference started off well enough like the non conference slate. There were nice wins against at the time #16 Indiana, Maryland, and no one can forget the double overtime win against Iowa. The Huskers were shaking off any demons from the start of the year. They were technically ranked at the top of the Big Ten. It was early, but things were looking good for Nebraska.
Then the team received a bit of a gut punch.
Ed Morrow Jr., Nebraska’s most reliable big man, went down with an ankle injury, one that would take him out for the next seven games. While everyone was disappointed in the loss, no one expected what eventually happened.
Looking back, you can see the spark when Ed was on the floor. He brought a much needed presence that not only dominated in the paint, but also with the team. His absence left a big hole. Senior Tai Webster and sophomore Glynn Watson Jr. did what they could but without Ed the team seemed a little bit lost.
Nebraska went 1-6 in his absence. Though their lone win was against #20 and eventual Big Ten regular season champion Purdue. Showing that this team, while young and inexperienced, was capable of playing above their abilities. Once he came back it seemed that what was once a promising team had already started to unravel.
Two wins against Penn State and Ohio State were the final two wins of the season before four devastating losses that seemed to show the team disintegrating in front of our eyes. All culminating with an overtime loss to Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament.
Something was going on with the team at the end of the season. Something internal just wasn’t right. They had played so well for the most part at the beginning. Even many of the losses to superior competition showed promise of what could be as the season would go on.
Maybe the tough competition in the non conference and the eventual slog through the conference got to to be too much. There could be as many as 14 of Nebraska’s opponents making the NCAA Tournament this year. The constant onslaught of top competition could have just gassed the team. They looked as if they had nothing left in the tank the last few games.
It could also have been the coaching. Maybe Tim Miles and his assistant lost the focus of their team as the season went on. There could have been drama on either side that could have lead to this. The transfers, injuries, and other disruptions could very well have created a rift between the players and coaches.
No matter what it was or your thoughts on who’s to blame, the season is over. Tai Webster, the lone senior will move on. The team, for the most part, will be back next year along with transfers James Paul Jr. and Isaac Copeland. Both of which should contribute well next year.
And they will all be coached again by Tim Miles. Believe what you want about the state of the program and the future that it holds. The path this team is on is still lead by the gentleman from Donald, South Dakota. Whether you believe in him or not.
I still hold hope.