Better late than never, it's time for the award-winning Big Ten basketball previews! Rather than alphabetical order like last year, these will instead be in order of projected finish in conference play, from worst to first. That way, the entire internet will be on the edge of their seat for weeks waiting for all the dramatic reveals, and I can win another award.
10th place: Nebraska Cornhuskers
What did they do last year? In their Big 12 swan song, Nebraska finished 19-13 overall and 7-9 in conference play. They got onto the NCAA bubble in mid-February after upsetting Texas, but lost four of their last five and ended up in the NIT, where they were blown in the first round by eventual champion Wichita State.
Who'd they lose from last year? As far as I can tell, the only loss of any significance is point guard Lance Jeter, who led the team in minutes played, scoring, assists, steals, calm eyes, clutch hits, sexing Hollywood starlets, and intangibles (I'm sorry, I couldn't resist.) Jokes aside, Jeter was their best offensive player last season and probably a lock-down defender based on his 2.4 steals per game, so he'll clearly be missed.
Tell me more about Nebraska basketball in general: This is the part where I admit I've barely seen Nebraska play, so unlike the rest of the Big Ten where I know their rosters inside and out, I'm basically making educated guesses here based on their KenPom page. However, that won't stop me from pretending to be an expert. A few facts:
- Nebraska hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 1998, and they've never won an NCAA tournament game in their history. They have made the NIT six times in the past thirteen seasons.
- Their coach is Doc Sadler, who's entering his sixth season. Coaching defense appears to be his strong suit, as Nebraska has been in the top 25 nationally in defensive efficiency three times in the last four years. Unfortunately, they've struggled on offense under Sadler, never finishing higher than 78th nationally and falling to as low as 142nd. They've consistently played at a slow place and been among the worst teams nationally in offensive rebounding, indicating that Sadler has them to retreat after missed shots to prevent fast breaks for the opponent.
I've heard a lot of people say that Nebraska will fit right into the Big Ten with their slow paced defensive style, but I think that works against them since Big Ten teams are so used to playing against that style. A fast paced pressing team like Missouri would probably have a lot of success early as teams adjusted to something they hadn't seen much before.
- Sadler likes to go deep into his bench, as he played 10 guys more than 10 minutes per game last year and only Jeter averaged more than thirty. He's also gone heavy on the transfers, JUCOs, and foreigners, as such players account for seven of the seventeen guys on the roster.
So who will replace Jeter as the leading scorer? I see two possibilities. One is big man Jorge Brian Diaz, their leading returning scorer (10.5 points per game). He went by Brian Diaz as a freshman but apparently added the Jorge his sophomore year, so he's got that going for him. He's not a great rebounder (4,4 per game, same as the much smaller Jeter), but is a decent shot blocker at 1.3 per game.
The other potential leading scorer is LSU transfer Bo Spencer, who put up one of the most chuckeriffic shooting lines I've ever seen as a junior at LSU in 2009-10: 38% on twos, 28% on threes, and absurd 27,5% of available shots. He also had more turnovers than assists: pass the rock, son. In fairness to Spencer, that LSU team was terrible and he may have been forced to shoot more than he preferred, and he did hit 40% of his threes the year before shooting at a more reasonable volume, so if he can harness his game he could be a dangerous scorer. According to Nebraska's website though, he's the front-runner to start at point guard, which can't be a good thing.
Who else do they have? A whole bunch of role players. Senior guards Toney McCray and Caleb Walker are three point threats, while senior Brandon Richardson was the backup point guard last year. Brandon Ubel and Andre Almeida provide depth in the post; Ubel appears to be the kind of big man who minces about on the perimeter, while Almeida claims the title of fattest player in the Big Ten, checking in at 6'11", 315 pounds. Despite having large man-boobs, Almeida led Nebraska in rebounds per minute last season and averaged 3.5 blocks per 40 minutes, but couldn't stay on the floor due to his 6 fouls per minutes. There are a few more guys I could talk about, but I'm losing interest rapidly, here's their roster if you're interested.
When does Northwestern play them? Just once, in Evanston in early February. Have to give the edge to Northwestern at home in that one.
Overall record prediction? Their non-conference schedule is pretty weak: the toughest game is a trip to Valley favorite Creighton. 9-2 seems reasonable. In the Big Ten, I think this team continues their offensive struggles, but I could be completely wrong since I know very little about this team. Really, I think 7th to 10th in the Big Ten is wide open between four likely NIT teams and you could slot them in any order, and the random number generator in my brain settled on Nebraska in 10th. We'll give them 6-12 in the league for a 15-14 overall record.