The Big Ten hasn’t had ten teams for years, and thanks to the addition of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, they’ll have 12 teams while the Big XII has X teams. No, conference consolidation has not made sense to anyone who can count or can read a map (seriously Big East, just change your name). Credit the Big Ten for at least maintaining the geographic integrity of the conference. Every school is in a state bordering another state with a school, and thanks to that every school has at least one natural rival, even if it will take a bit of work to create real rivalries. This season the Cornhuskers enter the world of Big Ten basketball. They were obviously brought in for their football prestige, and it will be challenge for the basketball program to gain much attention in their first season.
What they’ve done so far:
If this was football, Nebraska’s record would be a fireable offense (especially if it came by way of the forward pass). The Cornhuskers enter the conference season with an 8-3 record. The wins have been close calls, and are less respectable than their losses. One possession wins against Central Michigan, USC, and Florida Gulf Coast would cause alarm if anyone cared about Nebraska basketball, as should a home loss to Wake Forest. Their other losses to Oregon and Creighton aren’t as alarming.
Who to watch:
Bo Spencer and Jorge Brian-Diaz were supposed to be solid building blocks that were going to lead to a surprisingly successful Big Ten season. When I heard that the Cornhuskers had joined the Big Ten I assumed that they’d be a pushover until I started to read that they had a compelling transfer at the point and an underrated Big Man, and then I thought there was a possibility they could play themselves onto the bubble. So far, Spencer and Brian-Diaz haven’t done enough often enough for that to be a realistic possibility.
The main criticism of Spencer when he was at LSU was that he was very talent but very inefficient. He has improved his efficiency but still makes only 41% of his shots, which is huge improvement from 33%, but still not good enough to be the go to guy on a good team. So far this season, he has missed eight or more shots in six of Nebraska’s games.
Jorge Brian-Diaz was an efficient player heading into the season making greater than 50% of his field goal attempts in his career. His shooting has been poor, his minutes were dwindling, and now he is hasn’t played the last two games due to injuries. The Big Ten’s reputation as a rough and tumble conference can be a bit overstated, though it is more physical than the Big XII, and it remains to be seen if Brian-Diaz, even when healthy, can handle himself on the inside. He has averaged barely two free-throws per game throughout his career, and he’ll need to establish himself in the post for Nebraska to be successful.
What to watch:
The one thing Nebraska has, and really it is the only thing that Nebraska has going for itself, is experience. The Huskers are the 11th most experienced team in the country, with five seniors and five juniors. For comparison, the Gophers have one senior and one junior. They shouldn’t be intimidated by the transition to the Big Ten and should be able to play well together. This also may mean that the Cornhuskers don’t have a lot of room for growth, and they may already have reached their peak ability. How they handle that double-edged sword of experience will determine how their season goes.
How they’ll do:
They won’t be the worst in the Big Ten. They were competitive in their losses, and should manage to be competitive against the lower tier Big Ten teams, and nearly every Big Ten team will pick up an unexpected home win along the way. The season will be a slog though, and it will take a few minor miracles to make the NIT.