When Tim Miles was hired as Head Coach at Nebraska on March 24, 2012, he took the reins of a program that had made only 6 NCAA Tournament appearances – the last nearly 15 seasons before – and was one of 2 BCS schools to have never won a NCAA Tournament game (the other, Northwestern, has never been to the big dance).
It’s apparent under Miles that times are changing for the Cornhuskers. After a 15-18 (5-13 Big Ten) mark in his first season at Lincoln, the Huskers followed with a 19-13 record and a 4th place finish in the Big Ten (11-7) after many "experts" picked them to finish at or near the bottom of the conference. Key to the turnaround was the addition of two major contributors (transfers Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford) and a continued upgrade to the facilities with the move to Pinnacle Bank Arena. The season was capped by the Huskers first trip to the NCAA tournament since 1998, a 74-60 loss to Baylor.
With nearly everyone back (guards Deverell Biggs and Ray Galleges were the only significant losses), Nebraska is looking to boldly go where no Cornhusker team has gone before. It’s only fitting to send them on their way with 5 Bold Predictions for Nebraska Basketball for 2014-15. Shall we begin?
#1 – Moses Abraham will lead the Big Ten in blocked shots.
Pretty bold statement for a guy who only saw the court an average of 13 minutes a game last year at Georgetown (where he went by Moses Ayegba). Even with limited playing time, he was second on the Hoyas with 23 blocks. With the injury to Leslee Smith over the summer, look for Abraham to start and see 20-25 minutes a game. The 6’9", 247-pound center give the Huskers a solid inside presence, a behemoth to control the paint and protect the rim.
#2 – Nebraska will be in the Top 3 of the Big Ten in scoring offense.
For as much success as the Huskers had in 2013-14, it left a lot on the table. Nebraska ranked 10th in the league in scoring offense at 66.8 ppg, with a points-per-possession average of 1.02.
Look for those numbers to change drastically this winter in Lincoln. Abraham’s arrival lets the 6’10" Pitchford – who led the Huskers in 3-pt percentage at 41.0 – move to his natural position as a power forward, rather than having his perimeter skills anchored inside at center. Petteway and Shavon Shields are dangerous from the wings, and with another year in Miles’ system should be more comfortable – and productive. Sophomore Tai Webster struggled down the stretch of his freshman year, but should resemble the steady floor leader that many projected him to be coming into last season.
#3 – Petteway will make First-team All-American.
It can be argued Petteway was the biggest surprise of the conference last season, going from obscurity after transferring from Texas Tech to Big Ten 1st team All-Conference. His 18.1 ppg led the league in scoring, he was #23 in the conference in rebounding (4.8) and tied for 4th in free-throw percentage (82%). Now as the best player in a conference that lost most of its stars at the top (Roy Devyn Marble graduated; Gary Harris and Conference POY Nic Stauskas left for the NBA), he will have the opportunity to be center stage the entire season. Watch for him to make the most of it.
#4 – Nebraska will win the Big Ten regular-season championship
The Huskers have a slightly more difficult schedule than its top challenger for the conference title, Wisconsin. Both play Michigan St. only once (both games at home), Ohio St. once (both on road), and Michigan once (both on road). Nebraska has an 11-day stretch in mid-February where road games to Purdue, Maryland and Ohio St. are sandwiched around a home game with Iowa. The Badgers, however, close out the conference regular season with hosting Michigan St before trips to Minnesota and Ohio State. The Cornhuskers win their first regular-season conference title since sharing the Big Seven title in 1950 with Kansas and Kansas St.
#5 – Nebraska will advance to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament
By far the Boldest of these 5 predictions, but certainly attainable. The Huskers have all the pieces needed with the addition of Abraham, which gives the Huskers a more balanced lineup. The defense is solid, and Miles gives them direction in coaching. And the Huskers are even more motivated by the way last season ended (71-67 loss to Ohio St in first round of the Big Ten Tournament along with the loss to Baylor). It looks to be a banner year in Lincoln.