The 2013-14 college basketball season was a magical one for Nebraska and its fans. Second-year head coach Tim Miles led the team past an 0-4 start to conference play and into the NCAA Tournament. It was an improbable run highlighted by shocking upsets, stifling defense, and a breakout performance from a certain Texas Tech transfer.
Terran Petteway received minimal playing time during his freshman season in Lubbock, but with the Huskers he more than fulfilled his role as offensive spark for a team that sorely needed a playmaker. He scored 18.1 points and grabbed 4.8 rebounds per game on his way to being named to the All-Big Ten First Team by both the coaches and the media. The best part is that he still has two years of NCAA eligibility left. We might not have seen the best of Petteway yet.
So can Petteway get even better in his return to Nebrasketball next season? He's already one of the top players in the conference; can he be the conference's best player?
The short answer is "yes." Three of the five members of the 2014 All-Big Ten First Team are either graduating or entering the NBA Draft. The one returnee besides Petteway is Frank Kaminsky. He's a much more efficient player than Petteway thanks to his smooth post moves and the presence of teammates who can shoot the ball.
Those two things are probably not going to change in the near future. Kaminsky should once again be a key cog in a Wisconsin attack that surrounds him with rangy players like Josh Gasser and Sam Dekker. Petteway will once again be heavily relied upon to carry the basketball and give Nebraska's otherwise anemic offense some life. His high usage gives him a leg up on Kaminsky when it comes to the "best returning player" conversation (for what it's worth, Yogi Ferrell is also a big part of this argument), but it also makes Petteway a less efficient player.
Even with Petteway being awesome in 2014, the Husker offense was ranked 10th in the Big Ten per KenPom's adjusted efficiency. The good news is that there is room to grow. Petteway only shot 43 percent from the field last season, including 33 percent from three-point range. Those pedestrian rates are partly due to Petteway constantly having the ball and needing to create his own shot. He ranked 25th nationally in usage rate, and he only saw more of the ball once Deverell Biggs was kicked off the team in late January.
For Petteway to become a more efficient player in 2015, Tai Webster, Benny Parker, and incoming freshman Tarin Smith need to act as distributors. If they can break down the defense with dribble penetration so that Petteway doesn't have to create as much, his shooting percentages will go up and his turnovers will go down. That's a good recipe for improving on offense.
The continued development of Shavon Shields as a second scorer will also help Petteway reach his potential. The rising junior turned into a much more consistent player late in the 2014 season after struggling to score in double digits at the start of Big Ten play.
With the way Tim Miles has his team playing defense, Petteway doesn't need to get much better for the Huskers to return to the NCAA Tournament next season. However, if Nebraska wants to improve on 2014, it has to get better on offense, and Petteway is obviously a big part of that. With some help from his teammates, he can transform into a more efficient scorer and have a great chance at Big Ten Player of the Year honors.