Can Nebraska Handle the Hype?

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 27th, 2014

Nebraska essentially came out of nowhere last season, going from a 9-9 start to closing out the season on a 10-4 finish and making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Terran Petteway became a household name in the Big Ten and head coach Tim Miles put himself on the map as one of the brightest young coaches in the land. The team brings back most of its roster from last season and has started this year ranked #21 in the USA Today/Coaches Preseason Poll. Will the Cornhuskers drop back to mediocrity with these expectations or will they continue to take leap forward? Here are some arguments for and against each scenario.

Terran Petteway will once again lead a Nebraska team that won't sneak up on anybody this season. (AP)

Terran Petteway will once again lead a Nebraska team that won’t sneak up on anybody this season. (AP)

Why They Will Be Even Better

Nebraska’s non-conference schedule is more forgiving in some ways than it was last year, but it will give the Cornhuskers several chances to pick up quality wins against teams that could very well be in the NCAA Tournament. The Huskers have rematches against Cincinnati and Creighton at home, and both of those teams look to be down a bit meaning that the home team should have the advantage. Nebraska also plays two true road games against Rhode Island and Florida State. Rhode Island has a really good guard in EC Matthews and Florida State will test them inside with a trio of 7-footers. If they make it through their first nine games with a record of 8-1 or 9-0, they will get tested again in Honolulu’s Diamond Head Classic, where they could play Wichita State in the second round and potentially Colorado in the championship game.

The Cornhuskers could get to January at 11-1 or 10-2 with some nice wins that will help their resume, but they’ll also have had a chance to play teams with several different styles to get them ready for B1G play. Petteway and Shavon Shields form one of the best wing duos in all the league, and the Huskers pose a unique match-up problem with Walter Pitchford back as a stretch-five. What will teams like Purdue or Minnesota do when their big men get pulled away from the lane? It will allow Petteway and Shields to do what they do best, which is get to the rim. The Huskers didn’t have anyone in the conference top 20 in assist rate last season, but Tai Webster — coming off his run with the New Zealand national team in the World Cup of Basketball this summer — and freshman Tarin Smith will find a way to move the ball and produce easy baskets. Benny Parker and David Rivers are also back to ensure that this group doesn’t slip from elite defensive rating (25th nationally). Parker will be an absolute pest for opposing point guards, while Rivers will use his length to work as a shutdown wing defender.

Why They Will Take a Step Back

Last season’s group was the epitome of a team “sneaking up on people.” No team is really ever taken lightly in the Big Ten, but Nebraska started out 0-4 in league play. They avenged a 31-point loss at Ohio State by beating the Buckeyes in Lincoln, won a few games, lost to Michigan by 29, then won eight of their last nine to close out the regular season. This year Nebraska starts the season ranked in the Top 25, so everyone will be ready for them. There was an element of “I didn’t think this place could get so loud” from some teams when they played in Lincoln last year. This year they’ll also be more geared up for the visiting Huskers in their own gym. Petteway is also now a marked man. Defenses will be geared to stop him and this could lead him to force things as he had a tendency to do last year. When things were late in the shot clock, many possessions ended with a questionable long two or a contested three from him. Shields has shown flashes of being a second good scorer who can create his own shot, but can he be the 1A to Petteway’s 1? Elsewhere on the roster, they lost Ray Gallegos, who was the only pure shooter on the team. They lost Leslee Smith, who was an advance metrics megastar that did much of the dirty work, to an ACL tear. Moses Abraham was a bit player at Georgetown, so it’s unknown whether he can take on some of that role. Freshman BJ Day was an insurance policy in case anything happens to Petteway or Shields, but he too is out with an injury. The duo played over 79 percent of available minutes last season, so will they still be fresh in March?

The Verdict

This team has a chance to be really good, potentially second in the Big Ten kind of good. There are some things to be concerned about, though. The Cornhuskers’ depth and perimeter shooting might not get much better, meaning they will have to grind out wins on the defensive end and count on Petteway to bail them out in the clutch. Webster also really needs to improve and become one of the better point guards in the league. If he can get there and the team handles the pressure of being the hunted this season, Nebraska could end with a Sweet Sixteen run or better.

Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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