“Do you all just want to go home? I have better ways to spend my Saturday morning.”
To say that my Freshman basketball coach had lost his mind during this halftime speech was probably an understatement. However, in his defense, we had just allowed somewhere around 50 points in the first half and had not quite gotten to double digits. This was - for all intents and purpose - a done deal. Sure, we were not as talented as the other team - who, for no good reason I might add, were playing two varsity starters who happened to be Freshmen - but the effort seemed to be lacking.
None of us knew what to say. Honestly? I think we actually did all want to go home. This wasn’t fun. This wasn’t what we signed up for. This... well, this was maybe what our fate was. Nonetheless, we were suddenly motivated to not look quite as awful in the second half. Gameplans were constructed, short-term goals were planned, and we went out for the second half shoot-around ready.
We were not ready.
The game ended almost as awful as it started, and I learned an important sports lesson that day. Sometimes you just aren’t very good.
The 2017-2018 Nebraska basketball journey seems to be following the same arc as it has since that fateful year in 2014 where Nebraska did - in fact - make the NCAA tournament. Despite being bounced by the Baylor Bears, things were looking up. Four years later, and we have as many questions as answers. Why did four players with eligibility transfer out? Why has Nebraska seemingly taken a step back in every aspect of the game? Why, despite mounting evidence that there is talent, is this team finishing at or near the bottom of the Big Ten each year? Why did Tim Miles get another year?
At the end of the 2016-2017 season, you could see it in the faces of the players. You know that they try and block out distractions, but losing is awful, and Nebraska was just not very good. With a somewhat rejuvenated core of players, can the Cornhuskers pull some voodoo magic out of the hat and finish in the top half? Maybe. Let’s look at the pieces that are coming back, the pieces that are new, and the pieces we don’t know much about yet.
The Star and the Big Man
Part of a heralded 2014 class, Junior PG Glynn Watson, Jr. is now the remaining gem after both Ed Morrow, Jr., and Michael Jacobson transferred out in the offseason. While Watson was not a statistical beauty - 13/3/3 - you could always see flashes of stardom when the ball was in his hands. In a win against Indiana early in the season, he put up 26 points, pulled down 2 rebounds, dished out 4 assists, and had 5 steals.
Unfortunately, the usage monster got him. Glynn Watson never did get to the height of his talent, and the team started to go down with him. As Graduating Senior Tai Webster took the mantle of “Tim Miles’ go-to isolation offense guy”, you saw Watson start to shrink further and further into the background. With even Webster gone, Watson will be the motor behind the Nebraska team.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that despite his friends and classmates all leaving for seemingly greener pastures, Watson felt he had something to prove here. He’ll be doing that this year, and hopefully a big part of that is Jordy Tshimanga. Jordy may not know how to defend people without falling on them, but at the end of last year, he was figuring out how to score some baskets.
Hailing from Canada via the Republic of Congo, Tshimanga will be an important part of anchoring the frontcourt attack for Miles and company. Only a Sophomore, it’s hard to know what he will bring to the table, but Nebraska needs him to be a 10/10 type guy with pretty much no returning depth whatsoever.
Just a bunch of pieces trying to come together
Nebraska also returns RS Sr. Evan Taylor, Jr. Jack McVeigh, RS Sr. Anton Gill, and So. Isaiah Roby. Each one of those players will probably play a role in getting Nebraska out to a reasonable start to the season as they have game experience and some talent. However, it is probably fair to say that this group will play according to how the next group plays. That is, there are some really interesting pieces on the horizon.
Specifically, Nebraska has two former Top 50 recruits in Isaac Copeland - transferring in from Georgetown - and James Palmer, Jr. - transfer from Miami. I’d expect both of these guys to be playing early and often. With incoming Freshmen Thomas Allen - a late addition after the fallout at NC State - and fellow 4* Nana Akenten, you can see why Tim Miles got a bit of a reprieve. There is definitely some talent.
So what’s the goal here?
Reasonably speaking, Nebraska needs to see progress. The Cornhuskers finished second to last in the Big Ten, barely beating out a historically bad Rutgers basketball team for not-last. Tim Miles has a new boss, Nebraskans are now waiting on their chance to celebrate a NCAA win - thanks to Northwestern leaving them at the party, and if we’re being super honest, it’s time to put up or show up.
I admit that I don’t know a lot about how this season will play out up and down the conference, but I do know Nebraska - picked 13th - is probably not a great pick for anything but awful. Still, it feels like this team has a chance. The transfers out seemed to have driven this group together, and goals can bring a team to greater heights. I’d say this is a lot like 2014, but I’m wondering if we’re not at the cusp of something better.
Of course, it’s like my story at the beginning. Sometimes the other teams are just better. The 2017-2018 season will be interesting to say the least. If I have to give a prediction, I’m saying 10th in the league with 7 conference wins. I’ll defer to the public to figure out how wrong I am.