The 2018-’19 ‘BTPowerhouse Season Preview’ series will take an in-depth look at all 14 teams in the Big Ten heading into the upcoming 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.
Outside of the story lines surrounding Bloomington and Iowa City, the next most intriguing team in the Big Ten has to be the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Why Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska? Expectations, my friend. Indiana is hoping that Romeo Langford can get the Hoosers “back” to their blue chip ways a season early. Iowa is hoping that last season was nothing more than anomaly and not a glaring flaw in Fran McCaffery’s system.
And Nebraska’s goals are as lofty as they have ever been. Not only are they contenders to win the Big Ten, but they can actually get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 and, wait for it, win a game or two.
Sound weird? That’s because it is. Nebraska is a good basketball team who will compete with some of the best programs in the country on a nightly basis... and they’ll probably win a few of them. How did this happen?
It all starts with patience. Despite some rough seasons during the past six years (especially after that 12-win 2017 season), Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos’ trust in Tim Miles has paid off, as the head coach has finally built a Big Ten contender in Lincoln that will feature four prime time players in James Palmer, Glynn Watson, Isaac Copeland and Isaiah Roby and a sophomore campagin for former 4-star sharpshooter, Thomas Allen. What’s more is that those four players are all returning upperclassman starters from a team that finished 13-5 in the Big Ten last season (which was the most conference wins in school history).
If Nebraska can finally deliver on expectations, they’re going to be towards the top of the league. I’ll give you a second to soak all of that in.
1. 2017-’18 Season Performance
• Record: 22-11 (13-5)
• KenPom Team Rating: #55
• RPI Rating: #49
• Postseason Appearance: #5 seed NIT
By most measures, the 2017-’18 season was fine, maybe even good for Nebraska. They finished with 22-wins, 13 of which were in conference, good enough for a fourth place finish... in the Big Ten.
So why are Nerasketball fans a little hesitant about this team? Well, for starters, their non-conference schedule was so weak, that it ultimately didn’t do them any favors in the selection committees eyes despite the 13-win Big Ten season (which, remember, wasn’t as strong of a resume builder as seasons past).
While on paper all of that above looks great, it still only got the Huskers a #5 seed in the NIT.
Don’t get me wrong, this team was very good, especially down the stretch. They won eight of their last night games at Rutgers, Iowa, at Wisconsin, at Minnesota, Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana and Penn State (their only loss came at Illinois in a weird game where Leron Black just ripped the Huskers hearts out). Without that run, the selection committee for both the NIT, let alone the NCAA Tournament, probably doesn’t even give them a second glance.
It was the substance of those 22-wins that just didn’t impress anyone. Even when you really look at those final nine games, it’s not like that was a murderers row of Big Ten teams in regards to the 2017-’18 season. It also doesn’t help that they finished the season 4-9 on the road.
Like everything else in 2017, Nebrasketball was nice on paper, but it lacked any real bite.
2. Offseason Exits
The biggest loss that Nebraska had this season was the on again, off again Jordy Tshimanga. After questioning whether or not he should leave in the middle of last season, the Huskers big man stuck it out and became a defensive stopper in the middle of Miles’ defense, as the long 6’11” athlete was one of the best pure rim protectors in the Big Ten.
But that’s about the only place Tshimanga excelled after being replaced in the starting lineup by Roby in the middle of the season. It’s not the worst loss a team that is hoping to contend for a conference title could have and Miles should be able to replace his production offensively pretty easily.
Outside of Tshimanga, there were three other players that departed the program via graduation in Anton Gill, Evan Taylor and Duby Okeke. Gill probably presents the biggest loss of the three as he became a reliable three point shooter for Miles last season, hitting nearly 38% of his 143 total attempts.
3. New Additions
Just as one big transfers out, another transfers in. Dedoch Chan, a 6’8” forward who played one season with Mississippi Gulf Coast, will be bringing his 16.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game to the program who desperately needed some big man depth after Tshimanga’s transfer. In his freshman season, Chan finished with eight double-doubles and was selected as a first-team All-MACJC South player.
The other contributing member now that Karrington Davis is out for the season after suffering an Achilles injury, will be three-star combo guard, Amir Harris. After a full summer in the weight room — where Harris has added nearly 15-pounds — the incoming freshman that averaged averaged 13.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 7.2 assists, and 2.7 steals per game in his last season of high school ball should be able to crack Miles’ nine-to-ten man rotation as the perfect Gill substitute.
4. Points of Optimism
They won 22-games last year with an offense that was, average at best? While Nebraska won a majority of their games by playing stingy defense and getting lackluster efforts from their opponents, they still won 13 games in the conference and that’s not easy to do in the Big Ten whether its a down year or not. You can build on an effort like that and I trust that Miles will be able to make that happen.
The other point of optimism is the four returning players I mentioned in our opener: Palmer, Copeland, Watson, and Roby. Almost sounds like a law firm. These four guys could play at any of the Big Ten programs and I’m sure Tom Izzo or John Beilein or Matt Painter or, say Chris Collins and Richard Pitino would love the opportunity take them:
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said at Big Ten media day when Roby goes to the 5, he’s not sure how any team will guard him. Northwestern coach Chris Collins called Nebraska a matchup nightmare.
If Miles can coach these up again this season, the Huskers are going to be a tough beat each and every night they take the court.
5. Points of Concern
Offensively, Nebraska left a lot on the court last season. According to KenPom, they were 8th in the conference in offensive efficiency, 10th effective field goal percentage, 11th in 3-point percentage, 11th in 2-point percentage, 11th in assists on made field goals, 7th in scoring margin, and 13th in defensive rebounding.
You see what I mean when I say Nebraska seemed to catch opponents on their worst nights? They were below average, if not towards the bottom of the league offensively, but still only lost 5-games.
BUT, at least they are returning 79 percent of their scoring, 73 percent of their rebounds and 75 percent of their assists. Though, there is a very real chance that if Nebraska doesn’t make major changes offensively, things could go south.
6. Top Player
Of the four returners, the guy that has the post potential is a toss up in my eyes between James Palmer and Isaiah Roby. And honestly, I couldn’t choose. So, I did what any other inquisitive person would do, I asked a few Husker fans I know. I asked them who they thought was their best player and who they thought was the player with the highest ceiling.
They both said their best player was Palmer, but the player that could take his mantle is Roby.
They didn’t really help much, I know. Fandom is a weird thing.
So, I started flipping through some of the preseason hit pieces that have come out, and I was truly amazed at how many people are talking about Roby as if he’s a sure fire NBA first rounder in 2019. Dig around a little bit and you’ll see quotes from all over about Roby’s potential. About Roby’s athleticism. About how Roby could be one of the best players in the country if he can figure out a way in his junior campaign to put all of the pieces together:
“I think it’s a cool thing, I guess, if they see potential in me,” Roby said of pundits and fans on Twitter who often wonder if Roby knows he could be a first-round NBA draft pick or All-Big Ten player. “I see potential in myself, too.”
With a plethora of talent on the wings, Roby will get plenty of touches as the bonafide center on what will surely be a small, but athletic lineup that will utilize his offensive talents to space the floor. And all of that says nothing of his basketball IQ. There aren’t too many moments when you’re watching where he makes you scratch your head wondering what he was thinking.
If Roby can stay healthy for the entire season (he’s already battling some nagging injuries), he’s a highlight reel waiting to happen and a budding star.
7. 2018-’19 Schedule Breakdown
- 11/1 - Wayne State College (Exhibition)
- 11/6 - Mississippi Valley State
- 11/11 - Southeastern Louisiana
- 11/14 - Seton Hall
- 11/19 - Missouri State (Hall of Fame Classic)
- 11/20 - USC or Texas Tech (Hall of Fame Classic)
- 11/24 - Western Illinois
- 11/26 - at Clemson (ACC/Big Ten Challenge)
- 12/2 - Illinois
- 12/5 - at Minnesota
- 12/8 - Creighton
- 12/16 - Oklahoma State (Sioux Falls, SD)
- 12/22 - Cal State Fullerton
- 12/29 - Southwester Minnesota State
- 1/2 - at Maryland
- 1/6 - at Iowa
- 1/10 - Penn State
- 1/14 - at Indiana
- 1/17 - Michigan State
- 1/21 - at Rutgers
- 1/26 - Ohio State
- 1/29 - Wisconsin
- 2/2 - at Illinois
- 2/6 - Maryland
- 2/9 - at Purdue
- 2/13 - Minnesota
- 2/16 - Northwestern
- 2/19 - at Penn State
- 2/23 - Purdue
- 2/28 - at Michigan
- 3/5 - at Michigan State
- 3/10 - Iowa
Guess who didn’t want their schedule to keep them out of the NCAA Tournament this season?
Going from Kansas (#9 in KenPom), Creighton (#30), Boston College (#77), St. Johns (#74) and a bunch of cupcakes to Seton Hall (#54 in KenPom’s 2019 preseason rankings), Clemson (#14), Creighton (#33), Oklahoma State (#62), Cal State Fullerton (#137 but a tournament team in 20187) and either Texas Tech (#26) or USC (#61) should help Nebraska’s resume.
As should a 20 game Big Ten schedule in which Nebraska has to play Purdue, Maryland and Michigan State twice.
8. Projecting Starting Lineup
• PG: Glynn Watson
• SG: Thomas Allen
• G/F: James Palmer Jr.
• PF: Isaiah Roby
• C: Isaac Copeland
Even if you give Thomas Allen even the slightest of bumps in his sophomore season, it’s hard not to be optimistic about this starting and finishing lineup. It’s got everything you could possibly want from a college basketball team.
You have a ball handler that can get into the paint and create chaos either by attacking the basket or finding an open shooter on the perimeter (Watson). There’s the young sharp shooter looking to prove that he belongs with the starters (Allen). You have the candidate for Big Ten Player of the year that will surely be draft in the NBA (Palmer Jr.). The high ceiling athletic monster that can crush teams from every spot on the floor (Roby). And, of course, the consistent senior leader that does a little bit of everything very, very well (Copeland).
If you can find a hole in this starting unit, I implore you to let me know where it is.
9. Team Perspective From Patrick Gerhart of Corn Nation
“Nebraska brings back all the important parts from last years squad that went 22-11. This is an upper classmen heavy squad representing the Big Red. Forward James Palmer Jr., guard Glynn Watson Jr., and forward Isaiah Roby will be the top three names you will need to know this season as they will help carry this team. However, forward Issac Copeland and guard Thomas Allen should also see improvement in their game. The schedule is not as tough as last year but pre conference games against Seaton Hall, Clemson, and Oklahoma State should test the squad enough to prepare them for conference play.
This is coach Tim Miles 7th season at Nebraska and his best squad yet. If Nebraska doesn’t make a nice run in the conference and make the NCAA Tournament this year then I could see exit signs for the staff. However, man believe that this will be Mile’s breakthrough year not only in the conference but nationally too.” - Patrick Gerhart.
10. Overall Season Outlook
Don’t be shocked if Nebraska comes out this season ready to compete for both the Big Ten regular season title and the Big Ten Tournament. We know what wins in college basketball. It’s perimeter defense and having guards that can make tough shots in crunch time and when your team is in the middle of a drought. Nebraska has the former and, on paper, has the latter.
This will be Tim Miles most complete team to date and he was rewarded for that with a one year extension this summer. Can he capitalize the talent and lead them to Big Ten supremacy and the a win (or two) in the NCAA Tournament? It’s hard not to believe in him. There aren’t many teams in the country that will be exciting on a nightly basis as Nebraska should be this season (as weird as that is to type).
If it all comes together and the offensive output matches last years defensive intensity, Nebraska might just become a basketball school.
Big Ten Prediction: 5th Place
(Please note: Final Big Ten predictions come from Thomas Beindit.)