Big Ten Previews: Nebraska Cornhuskers


Mar 9, 2014; Lincoln, NE, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Tim Miles talks to guard Benny Parker (3) during the game against the Wisconsin Badgers in the first half at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

2013-14 Result: 19-13 (11-7)

Postseason: NCAA Tournament Second Round (lost to Baylor 74-60)

Head Coach Prospectus: Tim Miles, 34-32 (16-20)

Tim Miles enters his third season at Nebraska, coming off a surprisingly successful season and taking the Cornhuskers to their first NCAA tournament since 1998. With key returning players, Miles will be looked upon to build off of last year’s success and lead Nebraska to the top of the Big Ten. Miles helped turn around Colorado State in five seasons. In his first year in Fort Collins, Colorado State went just 7-25 overall, but by his fifth season, Miles led the team to a 20-12 record and into the second round of the NCAA tournament, where they fell to sixth-seeded Murray State. Miles is accustomed to success, so it should be no surprise that Nebraska has turned things around in a big way. In the amount of time he did it, however, is certainly impressive.

Key Additions:

The Huskers added two power forwards in BJ Day and Jake Hammond, while adding point guard Tarin Smith as well. The Cornhuskers freshman class suffered a minor blow when walk-on BJ Day tore his ACL back in October and was announced that he would miss the entire 2014-15 season. Nonetheless, Hammond is a physical, lanky 6’10’ power forward that loves to bang bodies down low. Hammond has a good touch around the rim and a tenacity that puts him in good position for rebounds, especially on the offensive side of the ball. What impresses me most is his mid-range game for a 6’10” forward. Even though he can do damage around the rim, his ability to hit shots outside the paint will allow Nebraska to stretch the floor a bit.

Point guard Tarin Smith is a good ball-handler that uses a combination of his dribbling and speed to give himself just enough separation between he and his defender to score. A good outside shooter as well, Smith can provide scoring off the bench for Nebraska. At 6’2″, he doesn’t shy away from driving in the lane and embraces contact. His ability to do so forces defenses to pay more attention to him, which is when Smith uses his strength to make the open pass to find his teammates.

Frontcourt Outlook:

Nebraska added fifth-year transfer Moses Abraham from Georgetown this year. At 6’9″, Abraham uses his 7’4″ wingspan to give Nebraska the interior defense and rim protection that they need. His inexperience and reliance to play larger chunks in a game may hinder his success as he averaged 13.1 minutes-per-game last season for the Hoyas. Nonetheless, in a limited role with the team, Abraham averaged 2.8 rebounds per game. In a fourty-minute game, that translates to 8.5 rebounds per game, which would help Nebraska’s deficiencies on the glass last season as the team ranked 251st in the nation.

Forward Walter Pitchford is a 6’10” big that has the athleticism and the tendencies of a wing. While he can score, you can see that he hasn’t put it all together yet, but that’s not saying he can’t. Pitchford, a former Florida commit, does the majority of his damage closer to the hoop and uses his ability to make plays outside to his advantage. Pitchford shot a team-high 41 percent last year from three-point range. In just 22.3 minutes-per-game last season, the junior averaged 4.7 rebounds-per-game and 0.6 blocks-per-game.

Backcourt Outlook:

Junior guard Terran Petteway leads an impressive backcourt. Petteway was one of the top players in the Big Ten last season after averaging 18.1 points-per-game on 42.6 percent shooting. He’s a natural scorer that finds a way to get points, whether it’s a mid-range shot, three-pointer, or driving inside the lane. As the season progressed, Petteway continued to impress and built on his success from the previous game. He did average 2.8 turnovers a game and accounted for just over 25 percent of the team’s turnovers, which is a concern for this year. Petteway will need to tighten his ball-handling skills in order for Nebraska and Petteway to impress even more than last year.

Junior wing Shavon Shields is the forgotten man for those unfamiliar with the Cornhuskers. After averaging 12.8 points per game last season, Shields has developed his game and improved his scoring. In Nebraska’s exhibition game against SW Minnesota State, Shields put up 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting. He’s a natural scorer and the combination of him and Petteway makes for a downright scary backcourt.. Just like Petteway, Shields can shoot well as he averaged a 44.3 percent shooting percentage last season. Shields’ nose for the ball puts him in position to make plays off the glass as he led the team in rebounds last season with 5.8 per game. Look for him to become a household name for the Cornhuskers and the Big Ten this season.

Sophomore point guard Tai Webster is the team’s assist man as he averaged two assists-per-game in 22.8 minutes-per-game last season. While that might not seem like a lot, Webster’s role is to facilitate the offense and get others involved. Webster’s offensive game is limited due to the fact that he is not a great shooter. He also averaged 1.8 turnovers a game, which is not ideal for a point guard. If Webster doesn’t improve this year, look for freshman Tarin Smith to take Webster’s job by the time Big Ten play rolls around.

Prediction: 3rd-6th

Nebraska returns a bulk of their rotation from last year and added a defensive enforcer in Moses Abraham. With Petteway and Shields ability to score, the Cornhuskers are a scary team moving forward. They’re ranked 11th in the nation in the preseason AP poll and it’s easy to see why. Nebraska defends well, but in a deep conference, they will need to do so on a consistent basis and win the games they should. Last year, the team fell to Illinois, Penn State and Purdue. This year, if Nebraska wants to win the Big Ten, a bigger commitment to rebounding and avoiding turnovers will need to be made.