Miles Ahead: Season Overview, Eastern Illinois and North Texas

Yes. Just yes. The team I can count on to take the court every game and compete with the best of ‘em is back. The team with an offensive scheme so unparalleled it’s mind boggling when it fails to put points on the board. The team led by a head coach who is always thinking ahead and putting players in the right position. Oh crap, volleyball season started three months ago.

In all seriousness, there aren’t many teams I care about more than the Nebraska basketball team. It probably comes from my “meh” attitude towards Creighton and ties to UNL, but I have always found more joy cheering for the team in scarlet and cream than blue and white. What better way for me to establish myself as an individual then to go against the grain of all the Bluejay fans I grew up surrounded by? Golf clap.

In college, I went to every game I could. I loved being right there on the court and being a part of the game. I loved the atmosphere for a big matchup. I love this team and I love basketball.

Overview:

Nebraska and basketball aren’t two words you often see together that will evoke a positive response. If they inflict any sort of reaction, it’s mainly to scoff at the fact that we actually do have a basketball team in Lincoln.

That’s why we combined them to form Nebrasketball.

Numbers and history don’t lie and they aren’t particularly kind to the Husker hoopers. The Cornhuskers are coming off last season with a 12-19 (6-12 Big Ten, 12th place) record while losing four key players to graduation and transfers. Tim Miles returns for his sixth season (75-86, .466) in what could make or break his time at Nebraska after five straight losses to cap the fourth losing season in five years.

Per usual, there should be little reason to expect this team to be anything other than below average. The media agrees, as most outlets predict Nebraska to finish 11th or lower. However, I believe the pieces are there to make some noise if Tim Miles plays his cards right.

There are rim protectors and rebounders with Jordy Tshimanga, Duby Okeke, and Isaiah Roby. There are new scoring options with Isaac Copeland and James Palmer Jr. There are new faces who can help contribute with Thomas Allen and Nana Akenten. There are seasoned veterans with Glynn Watson Jr., Evan Taylor, and Jack McVeigh.

This group has the ingredients to be a solid team…..on paper.

Tennesee-Martin v Nebraska

Which brings me to my three keys to the season:

Run an offense with a design and structure: Nebraska’s offense relies heavily on the ball handler’s ability–mainly Glynn Watson Jr.– to get to the lane and create scoring opportunities. This is usually instigated by an on-ball screen from a big so the ball-handler has a roll option when driving. If the lane is clogged, the ball-handler will do a dribble hand-off to the player on the wing and the process basically starts over. If it fails again it usually ends with Nebraska forcing up a shot or the shot clock expiring. It’s some form of dribble-drive, but when this is run every offensive possession it becomes predictable and easy to defend. The reason this offense had some success during the magical 2013-14 tournament run is because Terran Petteway had size and could make difficult shots. Walter Pitchford would set these screens and pop out for a three-point option as a threat other than Petteway. It’s iso ball with little movement or creativity that results in at least one scoring drought each game. 

Any offense with a design or flow could do a lot of good for this team. Watson, Taylor, and Roby driving to the rim creates open three-point looks for Copeland, Palmer, and McVeigh. Hitting those shots opens up the driving lane and forces help off Tshimanga and Okeke down low for easy layups and dunks. Simple basketball. I’m not saying a particular offense is right or wrong, but I would rather see anything other than bumbling around for 20 seconds until someone decides to put their head down and make a move.

And please for the love of God, Jack McVeigh, hit some shots this year. You. Have. One. Job.

Perimeter defense: Nebraska’s opponents last season shot 39.9% from three-point range per Huskers.com. That would rank in the top-12 nationally as a team for the 2016-2017 season. Yikes. Tshimanga and Roby are solid rim protectors, and the addition of Duby Okeke helps immensely. Nebraska should be able to apply pressure and take more risks on defense knowing these guys are behind them. I expect steals to increase from 6.8/game last year.

Free throws: In order for Nebraska to win some big games this year, they must take advantage of free throws. Last season, the Huskers shot 70.7% percent from the stripe which ranked 160th nationally per TeamRankings.com. Not ideal for a team that already struggles on offense. Last season, the most blaring example was against Iowa at home. Evan Taylor is at the line for two shots with 1.3 seconds left and the game tied. All he has to do is make one. Just one. He misses both and the game goes to double overtime. Nebraska ended up winning that game, but the victory could easily have been sealed in regulation. Free throws are just that, FREE. The Huskers can’t let free points slip away like they did a season ago.

Game recaps:

Eastern Illinois (11/11) W, 72-68:

Nebraska opened the season with a closer one than most expected; defeating Eastern Illinois 72-68. The offense again depended on players creating on their own rather than designing plays for open looks. Luckily, this is the first game of the season and there is time to improve on that. The rotation seems to be eight-deep with McVeigh, Allen, and Roby being the main contributors off the bench. This could change to nine once Okeke gets more comfortable. Nebraska shot 59% from the foul line at home.

Isaiah Roby showcased his offseason work by recording a double-double off the bench with 11 points and 13 rebounds while adding 6 blocks. Glynn Watson was the high scorer with 21 points, going 6-14 from the field and 8-10 from the line.

I loved the way Roby played in this game. He could be a huge part of the team this season and played more physical after putting on 20 pounds this offseason.

North Texas (11/13) W, 86-67:

The Huskers started hot hitting 8 of their first 10 shots. The first half included an 18-0 run that led to a 22-point cushion going into halftime. Nebraska cooled off in the second half, but held on for an 86-67 win. Five players scored in double figures including Taylor with 12, Palmer with 18, Watson with 15, Roby with 11, and McVeigh with 10. 14 of 16 players on the roster saw action save freshman Justin Costello and the injured Anton Gill. The team shot 73.3% from the free throw line.

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Check out these one-on-one interviews conducted by HuskerOnline reporter Robin Washut. I enjoy the personalities of these guys. Looks like there’s genuine camaraderie among the team.

Quote from an Omaha World Herald article on March 8 concerning Tim Miles’ contract: “I want coach Miles to be our coach,” sophomore forward Michael Jacobson said. “He’s the one who recruited me. I think we’re doing the right things, I really do. It didn’t work out this year like we had it planned. But I’m excited to be back.”

Jacobson announced he was transferring a month later. Oops.

Next up:

  • Thursday Nov. 16 – At St. John’s in New York City. Tip-off at 5:30pm as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Watch on FS1.
  • Sunday Nov. 19 – North Dakota at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Tip-off at 1pm. Watch on BTN.

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