Big Ten Summer Check In: Nebraska CornhuskersPosted by jnowak on August 1st, 2012
Nebraska was expected to be a bottom-feeder in the tough Big Ten in its first year as a member and, quite frankly, the Huskers didn’t disappoint. Nebraska finished the year last in the conference, tied with Penn State, and enjoyed just 12 wins overall. But plenty has changed since March. The Huskers have made improvements to their facilities and, most importantly, have made a change at the top by bringing in former Colorado State coach Tim Miles. The biggest question is: How will Nebraska adapt after one year in the conference? Can they take what they learned in their freshman season and make the necessary adjustments and improvements for their sophomore campaign? Only time will tell, but it all starts in the summer.
- Evaluating Last Year: Nebraska was a weak team in a relatively weak conference before coming to the Big Ten, where it was an equally weak team in a much stronger conference. It didn’t help that the Big Ten was at its best last season, but that means it can only get easier for the Cornhuskers the rest of the way… right? Maybe. The Huskers played a decent non-conference schedule — with USC, Oregon, Wake Forest, Creighton and Central Michigan on the slate — but really hit a wall in Big Ten play. Their best win of the year, by far, was at home against Indiana on January 18, and the Huskers dropped nine of their last 10 contests. Basically, any season in which the head coach is fired afterward can’t be considered much of a success.
- State of the Program: The only place to go is up. And it seems that things are pointed in that direction, despite NU’s recent history. Doc Sadler was at the helm for six seasons (five of them in the Big 12) without leading the Huskers to the NCAA Tournament once, but Miles, who took Colorado State from 7-25 in his first season in 2007-08 to 20-12 last year, could be a difference-maker. He also has the benefit of the brand-new $18.7 million, 84,000-square foot Hendricks Training Center, which has new practice gyms, locker rooms and team rooms for the men’s and women’s basketball teams. It’s already helped to land some transfers, including Terran Petteway (Texas Tech) and Walter Pitchford (Florida), who will sit out this season but can practice with the club and should provide a lift down the road. Nebraska may not have performed well in recent years but there’s a clean slate in Lincoln and plenty for Miles to work with to attract potential recruits and fans.
- Players Not Returning: Miles will really be starting from scratch next year, after losing five five seniors (Toney McCray, Brandon Richardson, Bo Spencer, Caleb Walker), three more to other opportunities (Jorge Brian Diaz, Mike Fox and Josiah Moore), Christopher Niemann to chronic injuries and Corey Hilliard to dismissal. Spencer was really the heart and soul of the team, leading the Huskers in minutes (32.5 MPG), points (with 15.4 PPG, he was the only player on the team to average double-figures), assists (3.3 APG) and free throw shooting percentage (88%). Diaz’s departure also leaves a pretty sizable void — literally, he was 6’11″ — despite the fact that he was not a regular contributor last year. Diaz suffered through chronic foot problems, missing the final 14 games of the season. But he was second on the team in scoring as a sophomore and could really have been a force if healthy. In total, that’s a big sum for Miles to make up.
- Immediate Needs: How about everything? The Huskers are in need of a boost from everything from the backcourt to the frontcourt all the way up to the top with stability in coaching leadership. Expect Miles to grab the reins immediately, but it’s still going to be some time before Nebraska rounds into a competitive club. Without Diaz, there’s no true post presence, particularly since McCray was second on the team in rebounding (4.6 RPG) and points (9.9 PPG). Simply put, the Huskers need scoring. Badly. They were already dead last in the conference last year, scoring only 60.9 PPG and will lose five of their top six scorers (with only Dylan Talley remaining). That’s a whole lot of scoring to make up, and a lot of pressure is going to fall on young, inexperienced players and junior college transfer Deverel Biggs. The Nebraska native was an All-American at Seward County Community College last season, and will take over at point guard and be expected to be a primary scoring option.
- Key Player(s) to Step Up: From the looks of it, a lot of that pressure is going to fall on the shoulders of Talley. He averaged just over 27 minutes per game last season, appearing in all 30 games, but averaged only 8.9 PPG. He’ll probably be asked to play the majority of every game, and will need a double-digit average for the Huskers to have much of a chance. Beyond him, Brandon Ubel is the only other returning player to have averaged more than 10 minutes per game last season.
- Conclusion: Last year was bad and, despite all the appropriate measures that were taken by Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne, things are probably going to be worse next season in the first year of a rebuilding project. The new regime under Miles should get things heading in the right direction shortly, but the combination of the usual transfers that take place with a coaching change and the mass exodus of seniors last season, there will be a huge drop-off in personnel and experience. If Miles can quickly catch up with recruiting this summer, that will be a huge boost for the near future — but probably not near enough to salvage much of the 2012-13 season.