Nebraska Basketball Begins Year With Most Promise in Decades
November 20, 2018
This is the year it needs happen, if it does not, it might never happen. This is the best chance the Nebraska Men’s Basketball Program has had this millennium to finally take their names of that dreadful list. The list of Power Five programs to have never won a game in the NCAA Tournament. Currently there is only one name on the list: Nebraska. This season’s purpose needs to have one concrete goal: Reach the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament.
Nebraska began the 2018-2019 campaign last week, and last night faced their first real test of the season against Seton Hall. The Huskers return their four leading scorers from last year’s team that went 22-10 overall and 13-5 in the Big Ten. Three of those players are seniors; James Palmer Jr., Isaac Copeland Jr., Glynn Watson Jr., and one is a junior, Isiah Roby. It truly is now or never for this group. A group that is by far the most talented Nebraska team head coach Tim Miles has ever in his 7 years in Lincoln.
The only reason Nebraska did not make the NCAA Tournament last year was because the Huskers did not have enough marquee wins, their schedule was weak, and the Big Ten, as a whole, was apparently not good. Nebraska played two Final Four teams in the regular season and beat them by a combined 19 points. The Big Ten had a team the National Championship Game and won the NIT. In that conference, the Huskers finished fourth in the league standings and earned a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
This year, the Big Ten is evidently supposed to be better. The league also plays a 20-game conference schedule for the first time this season, instead of the 18-game schedule that was last year. It should help the league as a whole have a better strength of schedule.
Nebraska’s schedule has plenty of tough opponents, starting with last night’s game against Seton Hall. On Tuesday, the Huskers will play either USC or Texas Tech in the Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. The following week, Nebraska heads to Clemson, SC to play Clemson, a Sweet Sixteen team last year, in the ACC/ Big Ten Challenge. After that, it is two early December conference games before playing Oklahoma State in Sioux Falls. In between those two conference games and Oklahoma State, Creighton comes to Lincoln. Tim Miles has never beat Greg McDermott, and the Huskers have not defeated their instate rival since 2010. This is going to be the best chance for both to happen since these streaks began.
After Oklahoma State, its two non-conference opponents before league play continues. Nebraska has to again, do what they did last year, and not lose a “buy-game”, unlike 2014-15, 2015-16, and 2016-17. In the Big Ten, Nebraska plays, Iowa, Minnesota, Maryland, Illinois, Purdue, Michigan State, and Penn State twice. They also get Ohio State in Lincoln. That means there will be ample opportunities for good wins.
It is, of course, up to the players to achieve their goals. The offense will be centered around Watson, and Palmer, with Watson playing the point, and Palmer being Nebraska’s go-to guy. Palmer finished as the Big Ten’s fifth leading scorer last year with 17.3 points per game. If opponents double Palmer, Nebraska can look to go inside and get Copeland and Roby involved. Both can also be a threat from beyond the arc. On the other end of the floor, the defense will be centered around Watson and Roby. Watson finished seventh in the Big Ten last year in steals, averaging 1.38 steals per game. Roby finished fourth in the league in blocks, rejecting 2.0 blocks per game.
There are expectations for this season that are almost never this high for the Huskers. Most media outlets are projecting Nebraska to make the NCAA Tournament, and some say Nebraska is a Sweet Sixteen caliber team. Most are predicting that Nebraska will earn a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament again. The Huskers should have a legit shot to win that tournament. Individually, Palmer should contend for Big Ten player of the Year, and he will look to make back to back first team All-Big Ten teams, after he made the coaches All-League team last year.
Maybe, Nebraska will get lucky for once with injuries, and win a game in the NCAA Tournament. Either way, the most important Nebraska basketball season this millennium should be fascinating to watch.