A season of firsts at Nebraska continues as the basketball season is about to tip-off and just like in football Wisconsin will welcome the Huskers into the Big Ten. Doc Sadler's crew may be a better fit in their new home in terms of style, but it remains to be seen if style meets substance with this team. So, what does this version of Huskers basketball look like? Can it compete at a high level in it's first go around in the Big Ten?
Conference Record/Finish: 7-9 (tie for 7th in Big 12)
Postseason: NIT (Loss 49-76 to Wichita State in 1st round)
Head Coach: Doc Sadler - 89-71 in 5 seasons at Nebraska (257-128 in 11 years overall)
Returning Starters: 4
- Jorge Brian Diaz (Junior, Center); 10.5ppg, 4.4rpg, 53.8%FG shooting
- Toney McCray (Senior, G/F); 8.5ppg, 4.3rpg, 1.3apg, 40.7%3pt shooting
- Brandan Richardson (Senior, Guard); 6.4ppg, 2.1rpg, 1.8apg, 83.3%FT shooting
- Caleb Walker (Senior, Guard); 6ppg, 4.5rpg, 0.8apg
Newcomers: Josiah Moore - 6'5", 200lbs. (Fr., Guard); Corey Hillard, Jr. - 6'1" 175lbs. (Fr., Guard); David Rivers - 6'7" 175lbs. (Fr., G/F); Dylan Talley - 6'5" 215lbs. (Jr., Guard)
Nebraska hasn't seen the NCAA tournament since 1998 and has spent 3 of the past 4 seasons playing in the NIT. Last season hopes were high for an NCAA birth and things looked good until the Huskers collapsed down the stretch. The 2011-12 team looses the leading scorer from last year, PG Lance Jeter (11.7ppg), to graduation. Entering the start of a new era in Huskers basketball this year's team is looking to continue to play excellent defense, having given up only 60.5ppg last year (good for 1st in Big 12), and with 4 players returning that started 22 games or more last year some are hopeful of a very competitive first season in the Big Ten.
Last season things were really heavy on the play of the guards, and rightfully so with a PG like Lance Jeter on your roster, however this season the Huskers will need Center, Jorge Brian Diaz, to be a key piece to the puzzle. He's proven he can score inside, averaging 10.5ppg and shooting nearly 54% from the field last year. He'll be teaming up with Brandon Ubel, who at 6'10", will help form one of the tallest tandems in the Big Ten and could give teams without a low post presence some trouble. Ubel averaged 6.1ppg last year, playing 20 minutes a game and starting 13 games.
On the other side of things, the backcourt is really unsettled at this point. Transfer Bo Spencer is finally eligible after sitting out last season and could be the scoring threat out of the backcourt, having averaged 14.5ppg as a Junior at LSU in 2009. One of the biggest questions is who is going to handle the hole at PG left by Jeter's graduation? Well, it appears that it will be a combined duty of Spencer and the experienced Brandon Richardson. If the exhibition game is any indication the Huskers will play three guards, which were Spencer, Richardson and Caleb Walker. However, you also have to think that Toney McCray will be in the running once he's back to 100% after offseason foot surgery.
The other question entering the 2011-12 season is where is the talent level of the Huskers? Stats and numbers can be misleading at times and I think that Sadler has tried hard to upgrade some of the talent he has, especially since this team really has hurt in scoring from the outside in the past (31.4% last year). The exhibition game showed they still have a ton of work in that area, shooting only 26.7% from 3pt range as a team. However, the biggest guy to help that area out could well be Dylan Talley, a Juco transfer, who was a honorable mention NJCAA all-American last year. He was the #11 Juco recruit in the nation and stared in the exhibition game, tying for a team high 12 points off the bench. Another newcomer that could very well help in the backcourt could be Josiah Moore who was a 3 star recruit by Rivals and the #61 ranked SG in the country by ESPN. He had offers from the likes of Cincinnati, West Virginia, and Marquette. Overall in the backcourt the newcomers will play a key role in whether or not this team can pour it in from outside or not.
The early season for Nebraska will be all about figuring out rotations in the backcourt while making sure to pound the ball inside, playing to their strengths. So, what does the schedule hold for Nebraska's 1st year as a member of the Big Ten?
Non-Conference Schedule Highlights: 11/14 @ USC, 11/20 vs. Rhode Island, 11/23 vs. Oregon, 11/30 vs. Wake Forest (B1G/ACC Challenge), 12/4 @ Creighton
This is perhaps the most experienced team in the Big Ten heading into the year, returning 4 starters, but all that experience hasn't produced results. The early season tests against o.k. high major teams like USC, Rhode Island, and Oregon could help this team in gaining a bit of confidence that they can compete on a higher level than they have in the past or prove that they have issues that need to be figured out against the lower level opponents before heading into the conference slate. Far and away the toughest game on the non-conference schedule is the game against Creighton. The Blue Jays boast one of the most underrated, and best mid-major players in Doug McDermott and are a legit candidate to be a top 10 team nationally come the end of the season. So, if they can pull out that win in Omaha, it will be a huge upset in my mind and a huge boost of confidence as they start looking ahead to the Wisconsin game at the end of December.
Conference Schedule: Nebraska will get thrown to the fire in conference play, starting out with a schedule of vs. Wisconsin (12/27), vs. Michigan State (12/31), @ Ohio State (1/3), and @ Illinois (1/7). The key to any hope of a post season birth for the Huskers is a 5 game stretch in the middle of the schedule where they play @ Iowa (1/26), @ Northwestern (2/2), vs. Minnesota (2/5), vs. Michigan (2/8), @ Penn State (2/11).
I don't expect the Huskers to get off to a good start at all, in fact I'd be surprised if they were anything but 0-4 to start Big Ten Play. In their 1st season of conference play they will find out just how important it is to hold serve at home and the best example of that is the 5 game stretch where the home games are against middle of the road teams Minnesota and Michigan. I fully expect them to struggle and the final game in that mid- conference season schedule against Penn State may well determine the bottom of the Big Ten.
Overall I expect this to be a rough season for the transitioning Huskers. Sadler is a good coach who plays great defense, but frankly this is a totally inept offensive team and that may need a recruiting class or two to change. We as Badgers fans know just how important defense is, but we've also seen the value of being able to score as well, both on the good and bad side (see Big Ten tournament last year?). Look for us to unveil the record and conference finish tomorrow, so you'll just have to tune in to see exactly where I see Nebraska finishing up in their inaugural Big Ten campaign.