The expectations for this Nebraska team were simple: Make the NCAA tournament, and make some noise to put Nebraska Basketball on the map. The short answer to this expectation is the extremely underwhelming results. Nebraska finished 13-18 overall, including a dreadful 5-13 in the Big Ten. The longer answer to the Cornhuskers season has to do more with continuity and ultimately the play of Terran Petteway.
The Huskers started the season playing a very easy schedule, but included head-scratching losses at Rhode Island, at home to a very mediocre Creighton team, a terrible defeat to Incarnate Word and a loss at Hawaii. Losses against Indiana and Iowa did not help give Nebraska fans any confidence, and the Huskers struggled through a home win against bottom dweller Rutgers and a reeling Illinois team. The turning point for this team, however, was a bad loss at Michigan, in which they only mustered 44 points. This was part of a 4 game stretch that included losses at Minnesota (42 points) and Penn State (43 points).
The Huskers were able to beat Northwestern at home, but ended the season on a 9 game losing streak. For a team that sat at 13-9 and 5-5 in conference with a legitimate chance to still make the NCAA tournament, dropping 9 straight is embarrassing for a program that was trending in the right direction.
We break down how each key player performed for Nebraska this season, and try to uncover why things went south so quickly.
Nebraska Key Players:
Terran Petteway: You can't talk about Nebraska without mentioning Petteway, the 6'7 guard/forward who carried Nebraska to the NCAA tournament last season. As much of a hero as Petteway was last season, he was the opposite this season. He finished with 18 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists per game, but also had a negative assist to turnover ration (2.8 to 3.4). For a team that relies so heavily on its star, this stat is completely unacceptable. Combine that with 40% shooting from the floor, including 31% from 3, and you begin to uncover Nebraska's struggles. Petteway averaged 15 shots per game, and had two games all season in which he attempted less than 10 shot attempts per game.
While he did have some phenomenal games (32 points against Michigan State, 27 points at Wisconsin), he had some stinkers as well (1-11 against Michigan, 2-14 at Maryland), and it ultimately cost his team. Petteway had a chance to play his way into the first round of the NBA Draft, but his stats and reputation as a chucker will not help his stock at all. Another year at Nebraska should do the trick, just as long as Petteway looks to flow more within the offense and stops chasing points.
Shavon Shields: If Petteway is Nebraska's Batman, Shields fits the description as Robin. Shields averaged 15 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists, but like Petteway, he had a negative assist to turnover ratio (2.2 to 2.7). Having your top two players with negative assist to turnover ratio is generally not going to win you a lot of basketball games. Shields improved markedly at the free throw line though, shooting 83%on 168 attempts.
Shields saved his best for the final Big Ten regular season game, finishing with 26 points and 6 rebounds in a 3-point loss to Nebraska. More often than not, however, Shields shot below 50%, including a 6-21 stinker against Penn State to end their season. The key for Shields will be figuring out how to play with Petteway. The two will both be seniors next season, and have a chance to make Nebraska an NCAA tournament team again. Both will need to improve shot selection and turnovers to improve on their record.
Walter Pitchford: Pitchford was supposed to be the third banana behind Shields and Petteway. Pitchford instead was a black hole, averaging 7 points and 5 rebounds on 38% shooting. Nearly 60% of his attempts came from 3, a frightening statistic for a player at 6'10. Pitchford only shot 29% on 3s, and 49% from the line. A player that was supposed to stretch the floor and hit mid-range jumpers ended up taking many more 3's and not looking for his teammates (0.5 assists per game). Pitchford's best statistical game came against Tennessee-Martin, where he went 6-10 on 3s and 1 free throw for 19 points and he also had 19 points against Maryland at the end of the season. Pitchford is also only a junior, so Nebraska returns their top 3 scorers as seniors on a team that will look to markedly improve.
Tarin Smith, Tai Webster, Benny Parker: The three guard role players for Nebraska had extremely disappointing seasons, all averaging around 4 points per game despite playing around 20 minutes a night. Webster might be the most frustrating of the three, as he looked to build off a FIBA World Championship appearance with New Zealand. No player averaged more than 2 rebounds or an assist per game, another huge problem for a Nebraska team that only averaged 10 assists per game. All three players return, as Parker will joined the aforementioned three players as seniors, Webster will be a junior and Smith will be a sophomore.
David Rivers, Leslee Smith, Moses Abraham: The three forward role players for Nebraska had similar seasons as their backcourt players, with Rivers the only one of the three to stay healthy and play in every game but one. He averaged 4 points and 4 rebounds in 24 minutes per game, but still was unable to give the Huskers enough. Both Smith and Abraham missed at least 9 games, and neither made a serious contribution. While all three disappointed, they will not be able to have another chance to help Nebraska. All three are seniors, and this leaves a huge void in the frontcourt behind Shields, Petteway and Pitchford for next season.
Overall, Nebraska played much worse than their talent level indicated. A 13-18 season with all their returning star power is a huge disappointment, but returning six of their top nine players should at least give Nebraska chance at the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. 6'7 junior Andrew White, a transfer from Kansas, has two years of eligibility after sitting out this season and should look to play a prominent role in the resurgence of the Huskers. Until then, Terran Petteway will keep jacking shots and the Huskers will be sitting at home come postseason play.