Undersized, young Huskers will count on celebrated recruits
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) The expectations for Nebraska are not nearly as lofty as a year ago, when the Cornhuskers went into the season off a surprise fourth-place Big Ten finish and NCAA Tournament appearance.
This season is about survival for an undersized team that has just two seniors and two juniors to lead a celebrated but untested recruiting class. As for momentum, there is none. The Cornhuskers lost nine straight to end a 13-18 season in which they were 12th in the Big Ten.
”Our standard is always the same,” fourth-year coach Tim Miles said. ”We always want to make the NCAA Tournament and win when we get there. That’s why I was hired, and that’s what I expect to do.”
The NCAA Tournament might be a bit ambitious for 2015-16 given that only five lettermen are back from a team that was 305th out of 345 Division I teams in scoring, 275th in shooting and 337th in 3-point shooting.
”Every team has to learn how that team can win,” Miles said. ”We never had that last year. We just were never OK.”
Miles knows he can count on three-year captain Shavon Shields, who will be the main scoring threat following the departure of Terran Petteway, and Benny Parker, who’s one of the best backcourt defenders in the Big Ten.
The season hinges on how the newcomers perform. The five-man recruiting class is ranked in the top 25 nationally and signed in large part because of the $200 million in basketball facility improvements the last five years.
Guard Glynn Watson Jr. and forward Ed Morrow Jr. are top-75 national recruits out of Illinois, forward Michael Jacobson is a top-200 recruit out of Iowa and Jack McVeigh has been a star on the Australian national team. Bakari Evelyn, a high-scoring guard in three years of high school in Detroit and as a senior at Hillcrest (Ariz.) Academy, can play either guard spot and will be in line for minutes.
Not included in that group is Kansas transfer Andrew White, who was a top-50 recruit and the Virginia high school player of the year in 2012.
”He was a role player at Kansas, had a year off and now is stepping into a role where he is going to play major minutes,” Miles said. ”There will be an adjustment period, but I am confident Andrew will adjust in a hurry.”
Here are other things to watch in Nebraska’s season:
CHALLENGING SCHEDULE: The nonconference schedule features games against Big East champion Villanova, Cincinnati and either George Washington or Tennessee in the Barclays Classic, NIT runner-up Miami and Atlantic 10 favorite Rhode Island. In addition, there’s the annual game against in-state rival Creighton, which has beaten the Huskers by double digits four straight years.
HOME COURT ADVANTAGE: Nebraska has set single-season attendance records each of the two years it’s played at Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Huskers ranked 10th nationally with 15,569 fans a game. They’re 25-7 at home over two seasons.
ALL THAT SIZE: The Huskers are going to be challenged by premium big men who are entering the conference. Asked how his team will deal with them, Miles cracked, ”Not very well, most likely.”
RULE CHANGES: Miles said he’s not sure how the game will be affected by the shot clock going from 35 to 30 seconds and the emphasis on allowing offenses ”freedom of movement.” The purpose is to increase scoring and speed up play. In response, Miles said he and other coaches might use more soft presses and matchup zones. Offensively, Miles expects no problems. ”Maybe it’ll help some,” he said. ”At the same time, we just play with the 24-second clock (in practice), so we’re able to have a whole package in of quick-hitting things no matter what.”