In the weeks leading up to the 2017-’18 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing its preview series breaking down each Big Ten team. These will come in a set of series previewing the overall team, the team’s backcourt, wings, and big men, and the team’s schedule. Each post will take a look at its top in-depth and give predictions on the upcoming season.
Today’s edition of the ‘BTPowerhouse Preview Series’ will focus on the backcourt for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers will need to replace do-it-all point guard Tai Webster, but have Glynn Watson Jr. back to shoulder the load.
'BTPowerhouse Preview' - Nebraska’s Backcourt:
- 2016-’17 All-Big Ten Qualifiers: Tai Webster (second-team media, third-team coaches)
- Departures: Tai Webster, Mohammad Elradi, Jason Shultis
- Additions: Thomas Allen, Nana Akenten, Justin Costello, James Palmer Jr., Thorir Thorbjarnarson, Johnny Trueblood
- Top Player: Glynn Watson Jr.
Nebraska has seen quite a bit of roster overhaul for a team that had just one senior on the roster last season. That one senior leaves a major hole in the backcourt. Tai Webster did everything for the Cornhuskers, averaging 17.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.4 steals per game on the way to earning All-Big Ten recognition.
The other two backcourt departures — Mohammad Elradi and Jason Shultis — won’t leave much of a mark, having appeared in just two games each last season. In there place is an influx of new talent, as junior transfer James Palmer Jr., sophomore Johnny Trueblood, and freshmen Thomas Allen, Nana Akenten, Justin Costello and Thorir Thorbjarnarson all enter a program that has some minutes there for the taking.
Of the returning guards, Glynn Watson Jr. will be a focal point for the Cornhuskers this season, while Evan Taylor played significant minutes last year, Anton Gill is recovering from a knee injury and Malcolm Laws has seen limited action.
Watson and Taylor are likely to start the year in the backcourt roles. The duo gained a lot of experience playing together last season, as the Cornhuskers were short on guards after the Gill injury.
Watson is going to take on a lead role after playing second fiddle to Webster last season. Watson was very productive last year, starting 29 games and averaging 13.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game. The 6-foot junior will have to adjust to an increased offensively, but he appears to have the tools to do so. He shot 41.7 percent from the field last season, including a team-leading 39.7 percent (48-121) from behind the three-point line.
Taylor started 21 of the 31 games he appeared in last year and will likely take on a larger role as a senior. A transfer from Samford, the 6-foot-5 Taylor averaged 5.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 24.4 minutes per game last season, his first with Nebraska. His touches should increase this year, and it’ll be on him to take over some of the scoring punch that Watson left behind.
Gill will eventually be in the rotation, but he’s still rounding back into shape after his junior season was cut short due to rupturing his patellar tendon on Christmas. The 6-foot-3 guard missed the rest of the year, appearing in just 12 games, including one start. That right knee is still healing, but Gill is getting back to practice and should be ready to go early in the season. Gill will look to regain the form that led him to start his college career at Louisville. He hasn’t truly found a role yet in college and averaged just 3.8 points and 1.9 rebounds in those 12 games last season. The Cornhuskers will need him to be a steady hand in a backcourt that is going to play some newcomers.
The Cornhuskers will get Palmer on the court after he sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Palmer has big-time collegiate experience, having appeared in 71 games for Miami as a freshman and sophomore. The 6-foot-6 guard averaged 3.5 points and 1.2 rebounds in 11.9 minutes per game for the Miami team that reached the 2016 Sweet 16. That experience will be huge for a Nebraska team that doesn’t boast a ton of it. A top-100 recruit coming out of high school, Palmer will also bring some scoring ability in what should be increased minutes at Nebraska.
It’s unclear who will be able to play right away, but some of the freshmen bring talent. Thomas Allen enters as a four-star recruit who can fill it up and chose Nebraska over programs like North Carolina State, Ohio State, Saint Louis and Cincinnati. The 6-foot-1 guard should provide outside shooting, connecting on 48 percent of his three-point attempts with Brewster Academy in New Hampshire last season.
Nana Akenten will also eventually play a role at Nebraska. The three-star recruit was also offered by Buffalo, Chicago State and UNLV, among others. The Cornhuskers also got a late addition in Thorbjarnarson, an Iceland native who committed to Nebraska in August. The 6-foot-6 19-year old has high-level experience, averaging 7.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game for Iceland in the 2017 FIBA Under-20 European Championship in Greece this July.
There’s a lot up in the air in the Nebraska backcourt. How will Watson adjust to the lead role? How will Gill look after a significant knee injury? Can Taylor and Palmer be more than role players? And will any of those freshmen be ready to provide early contributions?
It’s not going to all go well for the Cornhuskers, but if they can get positive answers to a few of those questions, the backcourt should be good enough to beat. The Big Ten boasts several strong backcourts this year, so the Cornhuskers will need to mesh quick before visiting conference favorite Michigan State on Dec. 3 for their Big Ten opener.