The 2016-’17 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview' series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the 2016-’17 season with analysis on each program's previous season, offseason departures, new additions, strengths, weakness, top player, and top storylines. Each post will also include predictions on each team's starting lineup, season performance and commentary from a local "insider" who covers said team.
Sometimes in life, we do everything right and somehow, it just doesn’t work out.
Maybe it’s studying hard for that big test, putting in extra time at work for that promotion, or training extra hard for that upcoming race. The investment was made, but unfortunately, the result just doesn’t quite correspond.
For Nebraska basketball, that’s been the tale of the last two seasons.
Despite recruiting well, developing players, and adding experience, somehow and someway, things just haven’t worked out for Tim Miles and his staff. Although it seemed like things would finally be different in Lincoln after Nebraska’s surprising turnaround and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2014, not much has been pretty since as the Huskers have posted just a 29-36 (.446) record since that March postseason trip.
What’s been particularly perplexing about these struggles is that they’ve come in the face of talented returners like Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields, a huge transfer addition in Andrew White, and two quality recruiting classes. On paper, this was a program that should have been reaching new heights, but instead, posted a frustrating 11-25 (.306) record in league play and failed to put together consistent play.
Although there’s still hope for Nebraska this season with Glynn Watson and Tai Webster returning and the addition of transfer Anton Gill, this is shaping up to be the most important season yet for Miles with the Huskers. The roster is far from loaded following the attrition this offseason, but at some point, Nebraska needs to get back to moving in the right direction and avoid stagnation. Otherwise, the Huskers run the risk of regression back to a struggling program.
With that, here’s a full look at what to expect out of Nebraska this season.
BTPowerhouse Season Preview Podcast
Along with reading BTPowerhouse's season preview post for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, make sure to check out the site's podcast preview of the Cornhuskers, featuring BTPowerhouse Manager Thomas Beindit and Cornnation Contributor Adam Furley breaking down Nebraska's roster, incoming recruits, schedule, and season outlook.
1. 2015-’16 Season Performance
- Record: 16-18 (6-12)
- KenPom Team Rating: #85
- RPI Rating: #162
- Postseason Appearance: None
Last season was a year of mixed results for the Huskers. Although the team failed to reach the postseason and finished in the lower half of the conference, it did improve from a statistical perspective. In other words, Nebraska did improve from the season prior, but that improvement was so minimal that it didn’t really matter.
Ultimately, that improvement yielded a 16-18 (.471) overall record and an 11th place ranking in the Big Ten. That’s a pretty underwhelming performance and Nebraska achieved it in relatively boring fashion with just three wins (Michigan State, Rhode Island and Wisconsin) against solid KenPom teams and just two losses (Penn State and Samford) against lower rated KenPom teams.
It was the epitome of meh.
And really, that’s what was so weird about last year’s Nebraska team. It wasn’t good, but it also wasn’t terrible. It just kind of was last season. Over the course of the entire year, the only games that really varied from expectations at all were wins over Michigan State and Wisconsin and the loss to Samford.
In short, Nebraska was meh in 31 of 34 games last year.
Although that might sound like a rip on Nebraska, honestly, it’s not. I would love to offer some sort of hot take as to why Nebraska was underrated or overrated based on last year’s results, but it’s just not there. If there is something to take away, it’s that (unlike the 2014-’15 season) there weren’t any big surprises. Nebraska came in with low expectations and basically matched those during the season.
Here’s what I said in last year’s preview:
Nebraska might not have pulled off the upsets that I anticipated before last season and showed some consistency, but they undoubtedly lacked the substance to seriously contend within the Big Ten or nationally. Although it was a disappointment, it actually corresponded pretty well with preseason expectations, which isn’t a good thing.
Highlights of the season included non-conference wins over Rhode Island and Tennessee, an upset over Michigan State on the road, and a win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament. Only Michigan State and Wisconsin made the postseason of that group, but all four were solid teams. Low points of the season included a loss to Samford and conference losses to Northwestern and Penn State.
Individual statistical leaders were Michael Jacobson, Shavon Shields, Glynn Watson, Tai Webster, and Andrew White. Jacobson led the team in blocks. Shields led the team in usage. Watson led the team in assists. Webster led the team in steals. White led the team in minutes, points, and rebounds, and total win shares.
2. Offseason Exits
Since the start of last season, Nebraska has lost a total of seven players for a variety of reasons. These players were Tanner Borchardt, Bakari Evelyn, Jake Hammond, Benny Parker, Shavon Shields, Johnny Trueblood, and Andrew White. Two of these players graduated and the remaining five transferred. Of these seven departures, the most significant come from Parker, Shields, and White.
While Shields was never as flashy as fans had hoped and White left the program on a sour note last summer, there’s no denying that both are massive losses. Not only were these two of Nebraska’s top three in minutes, but White also led the team in scoring and rebounds and Shields had the highest usage rate on the team. Even if Nebraska didn’t have a great offense, those are massive statistical losses.
Along with those two players, Nebraska is also losing rotational players in Benny Parker and Jake Hammond. Not only did Parker finish fourth on the team in total minutes last season, but he was consistently in the starting lineup and near the top in overall contributions. Additionally, Hammond played a crucial role in several Nebraska wins, including the non-conference victory over Tennessee.
The final departures are Tanner Borchardt, Bakari Evelyn, and Johnny Trueblood. None of these players did anything significant on the court last season and were not expected to play major roles this year. The departures of these three will likely never be felt in any real capacity.
Generally speaking, offseason departures are often overrated. They’re overrated because you’re replacing a known with an unknown. People are naturally going to favor the former over the latter. However, Nebraska is likely losing the two best players on the team, another starter, and a rotational player. It’s a lot to lose for any team and especially for one that struggled last year like Nebraska. It’s hard not to look at these departures and do the old shirt collar tug.
Nebraska will certainly still have talent on the roster heading into next season. Nonetheless, these departures could very well operate as a quasi-bar to the team’s overall potential.
3. New Additions
This season, the Huskers will be adding three new recruits and three transfers. The recruits are Jeriah Horne, Isaiah Roby and Jordy Tshimanga. All three players are rated as three-star prospects by 247Sports. Roby is listed as a small forward, Horne is listed as a power forward, and Tshimanga is listed as a center.
The incoming recruit receiving the most attention is Tshimanga. Not only is he projected by many as a player who could make a impact at the next level and beyond, but he also comes at a major position of need. Although Nebraska got decent production out of Michael Jacobson last year, he was are from great and there’s little to no depth behind him. Tshimanga could make a huge difference there.
Horne and Roby are legitimate prospects as well, but the two will enter a much deeper and more talented position group on the wing. With Jack McVeigh and Ed Morrow back (among others), it’s hard to see either getting too many minutes next year. Nonetheless, both do project pretty well down the line.
Along with the recruiting additions, Nebraska will be adding three transfers in JUCO prospect Evan Taylor, Anton Gill from Louisville, and James Palmer from Miami (FL). Though Palmer will be ineligible this year due to NCAA transfer rules, both Taylor and Gill are expected to make real contributions. Gill is anticipated by many to fill in for some of Andrew White’s lost contributions and Taylor should add backcourt depth.
Taylor projects to be in a backup role this year, but between him and Gill, it’s easy to see both getting into the top end rotation and each playing some real minutes. In particular, Gill looks like he could make a major difference, especially considering that he could play at multiple positions in the backcourt and on the wing.
Nebraska might not have any elite prospects coming in this year (depending on your view of Gill), but this is a solid group that should build the team’s depth and could yield a starter or two down the line. However, if this group can make an early impact perhaps the Huskers can make some real noise in the Big Ten this year and beyond.
4. Team Strengths
Assessing Nebraska’s strengths as a team coming into this season is an especially hard task. This isn’t because the Huskers won’t have strengths (Nebraska will), but rather, because the team’s strengths last year were so tied to its departing players.
Last season, perhaps the biggest strengths for Nebraska were the team’s turnover rate (offensive and defensive) and its rebounding. Additionally, the team’s free throw shooting was efficient as well. However, these areas were immensely linked to the play of Shavon Shields of Andrew White and with both departing the roster, it’s hard to anticipate the potential dropoff in those areas.
The most realistic situation is that Nebraska will see some regression in its turnover rate and significant regression in its rebounding and free throw shooting. The return of Glynn Watson and Tai Webster should negate some of the team’s regression, but there’s simply too much leaving to think Nebraska’s numbers in these categories will remain the same.
As mentioned, one area that should still remain strong is in the team’s ball control. Watson has a great handle and should once again get a large share of the offensive duties. Additionally, with Webster back and the addition of JUCO transfer Evan Taylor, there’s enough talent in the backcourt to hold onto the ball. The team’s free throw shooting should also remain solid with these returners.
One other area that could take a step forward is the team’s interior scoring. While Nebraska still lacks a proven big man, both Michael Jacobson and Ed Morrow return after decent freshman campaigns and newcomer Jordy Tshimanga should bring some serious size to the group. Between those three, Nebraska could force defenses off the three-point line and toward the point.
5. Team Weaknesses
Although it might be difficult to assess Nebraska’s strengths for this season, accessing its weaknesses isn’t nearly as challenging. That’s because the Huskers project to be underwhelming in several different areas.
The biggest projected weaknesses will be in the team’s perimeter shooting and its frontcourt play. Both of these issues will be exacerbated by the team’s offseason departures and won’t be easily fixed this year.
Perhaps nothing frustrated Nebraska more last season than the team’s three-point shooting. Although the additions of Jack McVeigh, Glynn Watson, and Andrew White went a long way in fixing these issues, the team still ranked a putrid No. 234 in percentage of team points from three-point range.
Even if McVeigh (34.0 percent) and Watson (26.7 percent) can both improve a tad and some of the newcomers like Anton Gill can become quality shooters, Nebraska is losing approximately 52.3 percent of its three-point buckets between just Shavon Shields and White. That’s going to be very difficult to replace.
The frontcourt also remains a question mark for Nebraska. Although I opined in the strengths section that the team’s interior scoring efficiency could improve, Nebraska is still losing a lot upfront. Hammond, Shields, and White are all gone and each saw frontcourt minutes.
Considering these losses, Miles will look to underclassmen this year. That will be good in the long-term, but leaves a lot of uncertainty. The group has talent, but it could just as easily regress from last year’s play as it could show renewed consistency and efficiency. It’s an interesting dynamic.
6. Top Player
Heading into last season, the title of Nebraska's best player was a bit of a debate. Shavon Shields got the nod, but Andrew White and Glynn Watson were considered factors as well. However, with Shields and White departed from the program, the role of the team’s best player will be really open heading into this year.
Webster trailed pretty significantly behind Shields and White in the advanced stats last season, but he’s also pretty clearly the team’s top returner, at least in terms of overall contributions. That might not put a ton of confidence in some Husker fans, but it’s a reality of the result of losing so many major contributors this offseason.
The obvious contenders outside of Webster to compete for the spot as Nebraska’s best player are Anton Gill and Glynn Watson. Each came to Nebraska with a borderline elite recruiting pedigree and both project to play in major roles for the Huskers this season. If Gill can come in and make a similar impact to White or Watson can improve from his freshman campaign, both should be right in the running with Webster, if not in front of him.
It’s hard to project how exactly Gill will perform as a new addition to the team this season, but considering how he projects as a shooter on a team that desperately needs long range shooting, he’s probably the safest bet to be Nebraska’s best player this season.
7. 2015-16 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/7 - Chadron State
- 11/13 - Sacramento State
- 11/15 - University of Mary
- 11/19 - Louisiana Tech
- 11/24 - Dayton (Fullerton, California)
- 11/25 - Portland/UCLA (Fullerton, California)
- 11/27 - TBA
- 11/30 - at Clemson
- 12/3 - South Dakota
- 12/7 - Creighton
- 12/10 - at Kansas
- 12/18 - Gardner-Webb
- 12/20 - Southern
- 12/28 - at Indiana
- 1/1 - at Maryland
- 1/5 - Iowa
- 1/8 - Northwestern
- 1/14 - at Michigan
- 1/18 - Ohio State
- 1/21 - at Rutgers
- 1/26 - at Northwestern
- 1/29 - Purdue
- 2/2 - Michigan State
- 2/5 - at Iowa
- 2/9 - Wisconsin
- 2/14 - Penn State
- 2/18-19 - at Ohio State
- 2/23 - at Michigan State
- 2/26 - Illinois
- 3/2 - at Minnesota
- 3/5 - Michigan
Whew. Talk about a brutal schedule. Nebraska not only has one of the toughest slates in the Big Ten, but also has one of the toughest anywhere in the country. Of Nebraska’s 31 scheduled games, 16 (!!!) games will come against 2016 NCAA Tournament teams, 2016 top 50 KenPom teams, or on the road. Without even losing a game against an average or bad opponent, Nebraska could have 14 or 15 losses.
Of course, that also means there are a lot of opportunities.
While winning a bunch of games will be difficult, Nebraska will have the opportunity to get some resume wins early and often. The big non-conference games that pop out will be the road matchups with Clemson and Kansas, the neutral site game against Dayton, the home game against Creighton, and the potential showdown with UCLA in California. Barring a surprising showing by Nebraska this season, not a single one of those games should be considered a likely win. At best, they’re toss-ups.
Thanks to those five games, there’s going to be a ton of pressure on Nebraska to do two things: Steal a game and take care of business against bad competition. This is because (fair or not), Nebraska can’t lose five games in non-conference play and hope to have a big year.
For proof of this, look no further than Ohio State. Despite an 12-8 record against Big Ten opponents, Ohio State missed the NCAAs due to five non-conference losses. Nebraska and Ohio State’s losses would certainly differ, but the point is that it’s tough to claw out of that deficit.
Unfortunately, things might get even tougher in Big Ten play.
To put Nebraska’s Big Ten schedule into perspective, just look at the team’s six opening games. The Huskers start on the road against Indiana and Maryland, return with Iowa and Northwestern, head to Ann Arbor to face Michigan, and then finish with Ohio State at home. That’s four games against NCAA Tournament teams, one against an NIT team (OSU), and a matchup against a Northwestern team that was better than Nebraska last year and that is set to return a deeper and more talented roster than Nebraska.
Nebraska will certainly have winnable games in Big Ten play (looking at you, Rutgers), but it’s not unreasonable to think that the Huskers will be underdogs in as many as 15 or 16 games in Big Ten play. Even if some teams like Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Penn State disappoint, getting anywhere close to .500 looks like a stiff challenge with virtually every game either on the road or against a better team.
Plenty of teams will have challenging schedules this year, but not many will be able to show a tougher schedule than the one Nebraska gets this year. Perhaps Nebraska can overcome so many challenging games and make a run, but if Miles and staff aren’t careful, this season could get away in a hurry due to the competition.
8. Projected Startling Lineup
- PG: Glynn Watson (So.) - 85%
- SG: Tai Webster (Sr.) - 70%
- SF: Anton Gill (Rs. Jr.) - 80%
- PF: Ed Morrow (So.) - 60%
- C: Michael Jacobson (So.) - 55%
(Percentage likelihood of starting at season tip-off.)
Nebraska has some nice options in the backcourt this season. Glynn Watson and Tai Webster are both returning after playing major minutes last season and the team will also be adding transfers Anton Gill and Evan Taylor. All four are expected to get major minutes and project to be decent options.
However, the players that project as starters for this season are Gill, Watson, and Webster. Although it’s still unclear as to how those three will be featured in the lineup, it’s pretty easy to see that they will be some of Nebraska’s best players this season. As such, one has to figure that they will start at the one through three spots.
On the wing, the primary options project to be returners Jack McVeigh and Ed Morrow and incoming freshmen Jeriah Horne and Isaiah Roby. While Morrow looks like the safest bet to start, this is going to be a competition. Morrow should flashes of excellence last year, but he played just 30 percent of minutes on a 16-18 team last year, so assuming he locks down a spot probably isn’t a safe bet.
The frontcourt should be a rotation of Michael Jacobson and Jordy Tshimanga. Neither is a proven option, but each has his own benefits. Jacobson was a pretty efficient player and a nice offensive rebounder and Tshimanga is a physical player that should make an impact in the paint and on the boards. While the backcourt looks pretty loaded and the wing group has a few talented options, there are going to be serious questions upfront.
9. Team Perspective From Patrick Gerhart of Corn Nation
"Nebraska basketball’s expectations are pretty low this season. After the departures of Andrew White III and Shavon Shields, fans aren’t expecting much from this team. But Tim Miles has made some nice additions to this team as well. 6’11’’ true freshman center Jordy Tshimanga adds some nice height into the lineup. Size at center has been the biggest problem under Mile’s tenure at Nebraska. Louisville transfer Anton Gill is a nice piece as well. With Nebraska’s two leading scorers off the roster from last season, Gill will have to score a lot of points this season if Nebraska wants to be a successful team.
The schedule is a very tough one. Of course the Big Ten is always tough every single season. It is known as one of the best, if not the best, college basketball conferences in the country. But Tim Miles wanted to make a point as to having a tough non-conference schedule. If Nebraska were to somehow get onto the NCAA Tournament bubble this season, a tough non-conference schedule could play into their favor. These games include The Woodland Classic with Dayton and potentially UCLA. @Clemson in the B1G ACC Challenge. A in-state rivalry game against Creighton at home. And of course the toughest game @Kansas in Allen Field House.
The conference schedule is tough too. Home and home games against Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa and Northwestern are tough. Nebraska gets home games against Wisconsin, Penn State and Illinois. And road games against Indiana, Maryland, Rutgers and Minnesota. This schedule isn’t easy. Nebraska will need to find their strengths and use them early in the season if they want any chance at a postseason tournament bid.” - Adam Furley.
10. Overall Season Outlook
At one point, Tim Miles looked like he could be the Big Ten’s next great coach. He was young, flashy, and made Nebraska relevant for the first time in decades. Unfortunately, after two down years, fans are left to wonder whether that 2014 NCAA Tournament was just a fluke or a realistic goal for the Huskers.
There’s no debating that some of those struggles were due to bad luck, but with major offseason attrition, the pressure will be on Miles and his staff to find All-Big Ten talent on a roster that looks to be trending in the wrong direction.
However, even with these concerns, there are some reasons to remain optimistic about this year’s Nebraska team. To start, the backcourt looks loaded with Glynn Watson and Tai Webster back and the addition of Anton Gill could be huge. Additionally, if some of the young guys develop upfront, the lineup could actually be pretty solid.
Nebraska and Miles still have time to prove the haters wrong and make it back to the top of the Big Ten. Unfortunately, that clock begins clicking this year. If the Huskers are going to start making some noise, now’s the time.