Then and Now Preview: Nebraska

WNUR’s Michael Stern (@MichaelJStern23) previews each of Northwestern’s opponents by looking at how each team did for the first few years under their current head coach. Today: Nebraska, Tim Miles and Doc Sadler.

The then and now preview series continues with the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who enter Welsh-Ryan Arena for Saturday afternoon’s game against Northwestern at 3-6 in Big Ten play. Northwestern, on the other hand, will be looking for its third straight Big Ten win and is coming off an impressive week of wins at Wisconsin and Minnesota. It’s been a tough men’s basketball existence for the ‘Huskers, who haven’t made the NCAA tournament since the 1997-1998 season and have never won an NCAA tournament game. This preview will take a look at Nebraska’s first few seasons in the Big Ten conference under Doc Sadler and Tim Miles.

Then: Former UTEP head coach Sadler led Nebraska into the Big Ten conference for the 2011-2012 season, and expectations were high. Sadler had accomplished a winning record in four of his first five seasons in Lincoln, and Husker fans were hoping the element of surprise could lead to some surprising Big Ten wins and an NCAA tournament berth in the team’s first year in the conference. Unfortunately, that was not the case, as Nebraska limped to a 12-18 overall record (4-14 in the Big Ten), and lost 84-74 to Northwestern in the schools’ first meeting on the hardwood as conference foes. Nebraska fired Sadler after the season due to both the team’s disappointing finish and the season’s disappointing recruiting class (six ‘Husker freshmen combined to average 4.3 points per game in 2011-2012). Former Colorado State coach Tim Miles replaced Sadler before the 2012-2013 season, and Miles’ first group of Huskers finished 5-13 in the Big Ten, one game better than the 2011-2012 Nebraska team. While Nebraska got strong performances from some holdovers from the Sadler era last season, Miles laid the groundwork for this season by recruiting several transfers to Lincoln.

Tim Miles came to Lincoln after coaching at Colorado State. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

Tim Miles came to Lincoln after coaching at Colorado State. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images North America)

Now: It remains to be seen if Nebraska will show improvement in Sadler’s second season, and for now the Huskers are treading water around .500. The team is currently 11-10 overall, and 3-6 in conference play. Miles relied on unconventional methods to assemble this year’s team, as four of the seven Huskers who play half the game or more are transfers. Terran Petteway, a transfer from Texas Tech, is the team’s leading scorer at 17.5 points per game. Petteway put up 35 against Minnesota earlier this year (the entire Northwestern team managed 55 against the Gophers), and dropped 30 on a talented UMass team. Sophomore Shavon Shields also averages in double figures for Nebraska at 11.1 points a game. Shields’ father, Will, was a standout offensive lineman for the Huskers in the early 90s who went on to play 14 seasons for the Kansas City Chiefs and was named an All-Pro eight times. Florida transfer Walter Pitchford contributes 8.4 points per game, while New Zealand-born freshman Taj Webster runs the point but averages only 2.3 assists a contest. Senior Ray Gallegos is the team’s premier three-point threat. Gallegos takes more than 5 three-pointers a game and shoots 38% from beyond the arc. Community college transfers Deverell Biggs and Leslee Smith add depth, as Biggs averages 9.9 points a game and Smith leads the team with 5.7 rebounds per game. While not terrific on paper, this Nebraska team is tough, as its three Big Ten wins are against talented Ohio State, Minnesota, and Indiana squads. Northwestern needs to be ready to play Saturday afternoon to fend off this pesky bunch of ‘Huskers.

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