Originally posted on Just Cover Blog  |  Last updated 11/14/11

Jorge Brian Diaz is Very Tall

Nebraska’s 2010/2011 went much the same as it has during most of Coach Doc Sadler’s tenure – the Huskers were a mediocre team in the Big 12, finishing slightly below .500, and tenuously on the NCAA bubble, inevitably sentenced to an early NIT exit. Nebraska was by no means a bad team, but they weren’t terribly good – they could only beat the very worst teams on the road, and, a late-season win over Texas excepted, couldn’t been good teams at home. A non-conference slate that didn’t see a single pure road game granted the Huskers their best record in Sadler’s tenure.

The Huskers return nine players that averaged over ten minutes per game in more than 25 games last year, and add a four-player recruiting class that’s bereft of standouts, but includes JUCO transfer Dylan Talley, a JUCO All-American, and former America East Conference freshman of the year. Talley, a point guard, will likely get heavy minutes. This team, needless to say, figures to play a ton of bodies.

One they won’t be playing, however, is last year’s leading scorer and facilitator Lance Jeter. In addition to being the leading scorer and an efficient shooter, Jeter was the team’s most solid ball-handler, and the only guard on the roster whose assist rate exceeded his turnover rate. Talley, along with junior guards Toney McCray, Brandon Richardson, and Caleb Walker – all of whom started over 20 games last year – will try to make up for his absence, but McCray, a 40% three-point shooter, figures to shoulder most of the scoring load.

Scoring, however, is not what this team does well – per Ken Pomeroy, Nebraska would have been the worst offensive team in the Big Ten last year, with only Iowa remotely as bad. Nebraska’s strength lay on the defensive end – they were the 24th best tempo-free unit in the nation (this would have been fourth in the conference), and excelled at defensive rebounding (6th in the nation) and two-point defense (also 6th in the nation). This displays an interesting non-sequiter in this team: despite the fact that 7 of their 10 rotation players last year (and, likely, this year) were guards, they were actually fourth in the nation in effective height, thanks to 6’11” Jorge Diaz, 6’11” Andre Almeida, and 6’10” Brandon Ubel. Simply – the Huskers are just tough to shoot over, particularly inside. Of that group, Diaz is the most reliable scorer – leading returning players with 10.6 points per game.

Because of the huge rotation, nobody on the roster puts up huge numbers, but the key to the season will be McCray and Diaz, the two returning scorers. McCray is the only remaining outside shooter on the roster, and, by rate, is actually the most effective rebounder on the team. Diaz, while not on the level of other big men in the conference like Sullinger, Mbakwe, Besabe, or Hummel, is a solid player who manages to anchor the Husker defense in the paint.

Last year, Nebraska was an average team in an average major conference – exactly what the Big 10 figures to be this year. With most of their personnel back and a veteran roster (their rotation contains five juniors and four seniors), the Huskers look to take a step forward, and can entertain hopes of their first NCAA tournament since 1998. This is, likely, a middle-of-the-pack club that can beat bad teams on the road, and lose to good ones at home. Their fate, more likely than not, will be made by the conference’s performance in the pre-season, which will likely determine how deep the NCAA selection committee is willing to go in the Big Ten.

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