2014-2015 ITH season preview: Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • 10/01/2014 9:26 am in

With the start of college basketball season on the horizon, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next month. Today, we continue our look at the Big Ten with the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

There was no team in the Big Ten last season that surprised more than Nebraska. In year two under the energetic Tim Miles, the Cornhuskers saw the emergence of several stars, the opening of their new arena and an NCAA tournament appearance, all after a 5-13 Big Ten mark just one season prior.

Under Miles, the 2013-14 Big Ten Coach of the Year, the Cornhuskers have taken off as one of the hottest programs in the Big Ten. Last season, the team only lost once in the new Pinnacle Bank Arena — beating the likes of Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin at home — and pulled off a significant road win at Michigan State, one that clinched the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1998.

Nebraska also saw the emergence of former Texas Tech transfer Terran Petteway, who was playing his first season in Lincoln. Petteway went on to average 18.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, earning first team all-Big Ten honors. Petteway used 31.7 of Nebraska’s possessions as a sophomore, the highest of any Big Ten player last season.

Other standouts from last season’s team, guard Shavon Shields, forward Walter Pitchford, guard Tai Webster, forward David Rivers and guard Benny Parker, are all back, as well. Shields is one of the Big Ten’s best in terms of getting to the foul line (60.5 free throw rate) and Pitchford was the least mistake prone player in the conference last season with a turnover percentage of just 6.8.

The Huskers suffered a blow to their frontcourt depth over the summer as Leslee Smith, the team’s best rebounder, suffered a torn ACL and could miss the entire season. Smith’s absence could thrust Georgetown graduate transfer Moses Ayegba and freshman center Jake Hammond into more prominent roles.

As the program enters year three under Miles, it should have a better understanding of what the former Colorado State coach is trying to build in Lincoln. With several returning pieces, and a team that has won plenty of gritty games over the past two seasons, the Cornhuskers already are ahead of many Big Ten squads. This sets the Cornhuskers up, potentially, for another successful season under Miles. The team is ranked in the top 25 in multiple preseason rankings and is projected to finish in the top half of the Big Ten.

And with another seemingly favorable schedule ahead, Miles could lead the Cornhuskers to their first back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances since 1994.

Bottom Line: No team surprised more in the Big Ten last season than Nebraska did, with Miles proving himself to be one of the top coaches in the league in just his second season at the helm in Lincoln. Though he did not have highly-rated recruits — and still doesn’t for this season’s squad — he built a hard-nosed team that proved it was capable of competing with the Big Ten’s best. And with plenty of returning pieces — most of the major contributors from last season’s team — the Cornhuskers could have the same look this season.

Quotable: “Making the tournament and people having seen Pinnacle Bank Arena and the atmosphere are the consistent things I hear from other college coaches, AAU coaches and high school coaches and from prospects and their families. There is a very favorable reaction to Husker basketball right now across the country.” — Miles to Omaha.com in July

Previously: Rutgers, Penn State, Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State

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  • HannerTime Hoosier

    Hats off to Miles, he was an amazing coaching success, given his talent pool! The sky is the limit in Lincoln for Husker Hoops. Cheers!

  • INUnivHoosier

    Miles seems like a really nice guy, and I can’t help but hope he is able to have some success at Nebraska, except when they play Indiana.

  • TomJameson

    I wonder if they weren’t taken for granted some last year, maybe leading to a couple wins they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Not sure of that, but they definitely won’t be overlooked this year! LOL

  • And One

    They haven’t been in the conference long enough for me to resent them, and so I don’t begrudge them their well-deserved success. Get back to me a couple years from now, though. Tough way to open the conference schedule for our boys. A win in Lincoln on New Year’s Eve day would be a huge statement.

  • calbert40

    I think they were severely underrated last season, but I think they are being overrated this year. This team is good, no doubt about it, but I don’t believe they will challenge for a B1G title. I don’t think they finish in the Top 4 either. They should still make the NCAA and give a lot of people trouble, but I’m not ready to call them a “favorite” until they show they can win in back to back years.

  • Gregory Spera

    Nebraska, yes… NEBRASKA, has a brand new $180M basketball arena, one of the best young coaches in the game and an NCAA tournament quality basketball team that dismantled Indiana twice last season. What the hell…

  • ForeverIU

    Boo. Nobody husks corn better than we do, LOL!

  • Alford Bailey

    Shows what can happen when you make the investment and have leadership willing to do what it takes to be successful.

  • CreamandCrimson

    I think you make a really good point. It’s one thing to have a breakthrough season and be the “feel good” story of the B1G. It’s another thing to come into the season with a lot of expectations and to enter games as a ranked team with a target on your back. I’d put their first 3 or 4 guys ahead of nearly everyone else in the league but I think their depth is pretty iffy. The preview says that Nebraska has a “seemingly favorable schedule”…I don’t see it that way. They play Rutgers, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue only once a piece (not getting comparably easy shots at road wins at Rutgers or Northwestern and not getting to host Penn State or Purdue). That means they don’t play any of the expected “bottom tier” teams twice and in what could be a really crowded conference race, that could be a big deal.

    All that being said, I think Petteway is a really tough matchup because of his multi-faceted offensive game and ability to get to the line seemingly at will, Pitchford is a really hard stretch 4 to matchup with and Shavon Shields is a really good complimentary piece in the backcourt. Plus, Tai Webster will almost surely be improved after being mostly underwhelming. I’m looking forward to seeing how they adjust to life in the spotlight.

  • CreanFaithful

    Tim is 48. Same age as Crean. He’s not what most would refer to as a “young coach.” He also had loosing records in both the Mountain West (28-50) and North Central Conference (22-26) before landing the NEB gig. That being said, he turned some heads last year. He has some veteran players coming back. Let’s see what he is able to do with it. The B1G is always rough, even in a “down year.”

  • Gregory Spera

    I had no idea. Wow. He looks a good ten years younger.

  • Alford Bailey

    I’m not sold on this current group either but as I said above Nebraska has made the investment and I think long term whether Miles is at the helm or another coach they will no longer be one of the bottom dwellers in the conference.

  • CreanFaithful

    Facilities are important. Remember when Minny promised Tubby new facilities when they hired him? They fired without ever breaking ground. Thought he got the short end of the stick there.

  • Alford Bailey

    Espn Insider has Nebraska picked the lowest I’ve seen so far at 6th and Indiana at 10th.

  • calbert40

    Agreed. I think they are probably out of the cellar at least for awhile now. Building a program is hard work, but building a program that has continued success is much harder.

    Look at our situation as a perfect example. Crean basically took over a brand new program, built it up until it had success, and now has taken a couple steps back. If it is hard to build continued success at IU, it will be harder at Nebraska.

  • Ole Man

    Besides Wisc., who is bringing back more from a successful squad? And they learned they could win this year. I’d say anywhere from 2 – 5, so I have to disagree with them being over rated.

  • Alford Bailey

    True. Tubby is a good coach IMO. Maybe not top 5 but very good. As much as I love the old venues, Minny will just be average with those facilities and those miserable winters. I believe state of the art facilities will become even more important over the coming years in attracting good coaches and players. Which is why I was such a big proponent for a new building in Bloomington.

  • calbert40

    Just because last year’s team was successful doesn’t mean this year’s team will be. They have a really solid 1-2 punch, and then Pitchford and Webster are good, but I’m not impressed with anyone else. Their depth is going to be tested, especially if they happen to have any injuries or suspensions during the season.

    Still, I think last year’s team just got hot at the right time moreso than they were really good. They started the B1G 0-4 and then won 11 of their next 14.

    Last year, their incredibly successful squad finished, 272nd in the nation in ppg, 251st in rebounds, 342nd in assists, and 251st in FG percentage. Basically, if you look at their team from a statistical standpoint, it is hard to quantify how they were so successful.

    I’m not saying I think they will stink or that they aren’t even one of the better teams in the B1G. I just think they are the perfect example of an overrated team. Lots of bounces went their way last year. What if some of them don’t this year? You may be right about them, but I’m not buying it.

  • Ole Man

    All good points. Just a hunch on my part.