It's year three of Nebraska's stay in the B1G, and Tim Miles has assembled what should be his best team yet. The frontcourt is talented, if inexperienced, and the backcourt is just straight-up good. Combine this with a brand-new, 15,000-seat arena, and the Huskers may just have the perfect formula to make a postseason run. Unfortunately for Miles and the Husker faithful, the B1G may not cooperate with that plan. The conference is as deep as it's ever been - the teams slated to finish 6-12 all have legitimate hopes of reaching the postseason.
If you count 6'7" Shavon Shields as a guard, as Nebraska does in this instance, then the Huskers will be running with three in the backcourt most of the time. That's by design - Miles is making the best of his personnel, bringing together a combination of veteran experience and skilled newcomers.
Tai Webster: The New Zealander was the subject of some hype this preseason, as any kid with offers from all over the United States who decides on Lincoln should have. Miles has had the chance to work with Webster for just a few short months, and he's taken every chance he's had to sing his praises. Described scoring point guard, the Kiwi will need to hone in on the distributor side of his game for the Huskers to operate at their full potential.
Ray Gallegos: He's suspended for the first two games of the season, but Gallegos will be relied on for senior leadership and scoring. His stats weren't very pretty last season, especially from an efficiency standpoint, but you can probably chalk that up to the 1,237 minutes he played. More bench depth and less scoring responsibility should make Gallegos a much more effective player in '13-14.
Shavon Shields: Perhaps the most overlooked player in the conference, Shields should make quite a leap in his sophomore season. He came on strong at the end of last season and has the physical kind of game that fits the B1G style of play to a T. Don't be surprised to see his scoring average rise dramatically from the 8.6 ppg he recorded his freshman year. He's also a very adept rebounder (5.1 per game in 2013) that should provide support for his frontcourt.
Leslee Smith: One of a number of transfers in the frontcourt, Smith has the frame to be an effective low-block presence. Whether or not he can play at the B1G level is another question, but the early returns are encouraging - he posted 12 points and five boards in Nebraska's exhibition with Nebraska-Kearney,
Walter Pitchford: Another transfer, this time from Florida, Pitchford should offer some shot-blocking and rebounding on defense and serve as a stretch 5 on offense. He shot 3-6 from deep against UNK, so he could add an extra dimension to a team that isn't stacked with three-point shooters.
The Huskers have more skilled players than at any other time in their B1G existence. Webster and Shields could get minutes on almost every other team in the league, and leaning on them on offense could prove to be a fruitful strategy. Pitchford, Smith and likely sixth-man Terran Petteway are newcomers who, if they find their swimming legs, could act as a proficient supporting cast.
As with most newcomer-driven squads that aren't Kentucky, there's sure to be some growing pains for a team so dependent on brand new players, especially in such a difficult conference. It's been said before, but the non-conference for Nebraska will expose what kind of team they can be pretty quickly. Home dates with Dunk City and Miami (FL) and trips to Creighton and Cincinnati will be great litmus tests and make or break Nebraska's postseason hopes.
Miles is building something here. The school's commitment to the program indicates that it's a matter of "when," not "if" Nebrasketball will become a player in the B1G. There's talent on this roster that can compete, but it feels like the Huskers are still a year away (if there's little roster turnover, watch out in 2014-15). They'll be entertaining for sure with young stars in Shields and Webster, but it'll likely take another season for the fruits of that relationship to fully bear.
Prediction: 12th in Big Ten