Friday, October 31, 2014

Maryland Season Preview

You’ll have to excuse me, as I’ve had Big Ten tunnel vision for the past 5 years or so, but is Mark Turgeon a bad guy? And I mean that not in the “does he fail to re-rack the weights at the gym,” or in the “he voted for Joe Arpaio” kind of way, or even in the “does he know how to attack a zone” kind of way, but rather in the “he makes everyone around him feel bad about themselves” kind of way.

I ask because five players—many of whom were seeing plenty of court time—transferred out of Turgeon’s program this past offseason. While it’s very likely that at least one or two of these guys would have left for their own personal reasons that had little to do with the coach, it’s hard to dismiss the departure of five players. Transfers are nothing new to the Turgeon era, either (Ashton Pankey, Mychal Parker, and Pe’Shon Howard have previously exited the program in recent seasons). Oh, and he’s also lost a couple of the assistants he brought with him originally. To his credit, Turgeon seems to acknowledge this might be his fault. Of course, that’s all secondary if the team doesn’t start winning again. Since his arrival, the Terps gone 23-29 in ACC play, and have yet to make the NCAA Tournament. As he enters his fourth season, it’s fair to wonder whether he’s on the hot seat.

Turgeon came to Maryland after stops at Wichita State and Texas A&M. He turned around the former program, which had not enjoyed much success prior to his arrival, and led the team to an NCAA Tournament berth. At Texas A&M, he maintained the lofty performance of his predecessor, Billy Gillespie (though you can’t really claim he improved on it).

Turgeon’s teams have traditionally been better on defense than on offense. The past two seasons, the Terrapins have had a top-40 adjusted defensive efficiency, but an offensive efficiency that ranks around 100. You really have to go back to the Wichita State days to find a pattern of Turgeon offenses outperforming Turgeon defenses. The defensive calling card is typically rebounding, though his defenses at Maryland have also been awfully foul-prove, which is especially troubling because Turgeon’s teams do not take a lot of gambles trying to cause turnovers.

Offensively, Maryland has not had much of a consistent identity since Turgeon arrived in College Park. The team initially shot a lot of free throws (which is consistent with his Texas A&M offenses), but did not do much of that last season. Last year’s team was also an aberration in that it shot a lot of three-pointers, which is a rarity under Turgeon (hello, Evan Smotrycz!). So it’s anyone’s guess as to what the offense will look like this year, although it’s fairly likely that Dez Wells will be the focal point. Wells is something like a rich man’s Rayvonte Rice, in that they are both guard/forward hybrids with suspect outside shots. Wells’ offensive game is better than Rice’s, though Rice is the better defender.

Smotrycz is the likely second fiddle, and you may remember him from his two seasons at Michigan. Frankly, that transfer never made sense to me. Smotrycz seemed perfect in Beilein’s offense—his 58.9 eFG suggested he was thriving in it—and while he’s not the world’s best defender (mostly because he fouls a lot and doesn’t alter shots), he at least rebounds. That’s a lot better than most stretch 4s you’ll find. Why Smotrycz decided to move from a 3-pointer happy offense to a guy that generally shied away from that, I can’t say. Also 6-8 forward Jake Layman, who has a similar offensive game as Smotrycz, figures to be a primary contributor as well.

Maryland also welcomes a nice incoming class, which includes 4 top-100 players. The centerpiece is top-50 combo guard Melo Trimble. The scouting report says he can score, though I have to take that at its word as Trimble’s AAU affiliation did not post stats that summer (FYI, Nike has been doing this for a couple seasons, Under Armour does now, and oh hey here’s Adidas). Fellow classmate Dion Wiley was impressive in his AAU season, leading his team in scoring and showing a lot of confidence (59% 3PA%) and accuracy (48% 3P%) in his outside shot. Those two are likely to see a lot of early action.

Still, despite their lofty rankings, Trimble would greatly exceed expectations were he able to simply replace the departed Seth Allen. And although Nick Faust was not a perfect player (an eager three-point shooter than made just 30 percent of such attempts), his 101 offensive rating is easily better than the average freshman ranked in Wiley’s range (RSCI #53). And then there’s the matter of replacing Charles Mitchell’s rebounding—for all his free throw line adventures, Mitchell is one of the best rebounders in all of Division I.

As for sophomores, the highest-rated freshman from last season (Roddy Peters) is gone, so it’s hard to project a lot of leaps there. Overall, unless Slovakian center Michal Cekovsky is an immediate impact player, this team seems like one that takes a step back from last season, and that means missing the NCAA Tournament again. Ultimately, it’s hard to rebuild if half the bricks are removed from the structure.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wisconsin Season Preview

For years, our annual Wisconsin preview has been a source of particular excitement for me. I say this mostly because the team is perennially underrated by the national media, and also because Bo Ryan’s laser-like focus on tailoring his team’s strengths such that they provide large marginal advantages on a point per possession basis is great word fodder.

But this year? I’m finally bored with the Badgers. Well, not so much bored as that I’m not sure I have much to say that everyone else isn’t already saying. Wisconsin will be good, its offense should be great. While you still see lazy takedowns using those same tired clichés, I think about 80 percent of that is Grantland, and boiling teams down to tired clichés is essential to Grantland’s signature absurd comparison pieces.

That said, for years we at BTG have been telling anyone who would listen that the Badgers were—despite their deliberate pace—a generally stellar offensive team. And while there has been a creeping acceptance of tempo free analysis such that I heard a couple of Pomeroy mentions during March Madness last season, this is still a sport dominated by “per game” numbers.

So what changed last year? How did Wisconsin’s offense switch into overdrive? Well, for that, let’s take a look at Bo Ryan’s tenure. Over his 13 seasons at Wisconsin, the two basic tenants of Bo Ball that have remain unchanged are:

  • never turn the ball over, and
  • crash the defensive glass.

While there have been many tendencies over the years, those two staples are about as reliable as the sun rising in the east. But despite that consistency, there’s been a number of tweaks offensively and defensively elsewhere. For instance, beginning in the 2008-09 season, Ryan became obsessed with three-pointers at both ends of the floor:

Starting with the 2008-09 season, we see Wisconsin attempting lots of three-pointers on offense, and selling out to limit opponent three-pointers on the other end. Unlike Beilein Ball, however, Wisconsin’s offense is not built around emptying the paint area to create a lot of high quality shots at the rim (Michigan routinely converts over 70 percent of its chances at the rim, per Rather, it’s mostly built on player versatility, with all five players possessing the ability to post up as well as hit three-pointers (I’m certain that Nigel Hayes’ sudden interest in
outside shooting came as an offseason assignment from his coaches).

But that kind of versatility is usually theoretical, not practical. A great passing big man like Joe Krabbenhoft is not a highly skilled outside shooter. A great shooting big man in Keaton Nankivil had trouble reaching the free throw line. Great defenders like Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren didn’t provide enough offensive punch.

But Ryan’s most recent crop of big men not only can shoot, but can also draw fouls and finish on the interior. It’s how last year’s team was not only an excellent outside shooting team, but it also finished on the interior (3rd in the Big Ten in 2P percentage) and got to the free throw line at an impressive clip (2nd in the Big Ten in free throw rate). And this was all accomplished without turning the ball over (for the 6th year in a row, Ryan’s team ranked in the top-5 nationally in lowest turnover rate).

As Nigel Hayes moves into the starting lineup, this year’s frontline should be the best in the Big Ten, and frankly, the offense should be the best in the conference as well. If you’re a Wisconsin opponent, you know how to account for defending not one, not two, but three players standing 6-8 or taller, each of whom are comfortable shooting three-pointers. How many coaches in the Big Ten have three players at their disposal that can defend that? Michigan State doesn’t even have three players that are 6-8 or taller.

The defense will probably be better, too, as Hayes replaces Ben Brust in the starting lineup (no offense to Brust—a fantastic rebounder for his size—but a sophomore Hayes figures to improve on that).

This kind of endorsement is typical when you’re reading about a Final Four team that returns 80 percent of the minutes, which includes two promising freshmen making the leap to sophomores. Like I said, boring.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Northwestern Season Preview

Chris Collins’ arrival in Evanston was met with fanfare—that’s one of the benefits of hiring a Duke assistant—but otherwise this was a typical Northwestern season that was a predictable as a Judd Apatow movie: Some Dude in arrested development is going to grow up, and for some reason smoking weed (usually with Seth Rogen) is going to help him on his journey.

At least, that’s how Northwestern’s 14-19 season appeared on the surface. But while Bill Carmody almost always failed on the defensive end, Collins was able to put together the 14th-most efficient defense in the country last year. Carmody partially made up for his defensive shortcomings with an above-average offense, but NU’s offense last season was epically bad.

How bad? The gap between the Wildcats and the next-worst team (Illinois) on a per possession basis was roughly the same as the gap between Illinois and the 6th-best team (Ohio State).

It was legitimately the worst Big Ten offense in the Kenpom Era (dating to the 01-02 season), and that includes some terrible Big Ten teams. Frankly, that’s the good news. It’s hard enough to be that bad once, doing it twice is unfathomable. Or is it? As John Gasaway examines, the gap between Illinois and Northwestern can be almost wholly explained by NU’s aversion to offensive rebounds.  And the clear takeaway is that this aversion wasn’t about balancing priorities, offensive schemes, or even talent. It was just a team that decided, as a matter of principle, that there are no second acts in offensive possessions.

It’s a fascinating theory, and I have to agree that to a certain extent, it’s true. But it’s worth investigating just how much Gasaway’s theory is Northwestern running away from their own missed shots, and how much of it is the team deciding to deny—for once—other teams the luxury of collecting their own misses. After all, the primary metric Gasaway uses is offensive rebounds over defensive rebounds, which is compelling because the two actions seem very similar, other than the events immediately preceding. And while I can’t vouch for that here, let’s take that as true for now.

But what changed more last year—Northwestern’s lack of offensive rebounds, or its sudden interest in defensive boards?

Yes, the offensive rebounding took a sudden dip last season, but it’s dwarfed by the meteoric rise in defensive rebounding. Further, you don’t have to look too far into days of Carmody past to see that offensive rebounding has been a perennial weakness for the Wildcats (“Division I Average” would be well above the top-level of the chart).

I think Gasaway made a solid case that Offensive Rebounding Aversion Syndrome is real and problematic for coaches afflicted with the disease. What I don’t know yet is whether Chris Collins has contracted the disease. Another season of rebounding indifference would go a long way in confirming the diagnosis, which would be very bad news for the Wildcats, as this disease has killed off several other coaching tenures in the past.

On to happier news—defense. In the Carmody years, the primary culprit behind poor efficiency numbers was devastatingly-bad interior defense. Almost always, Northwestern was terrible at ending possessions by rebounding misses. And that part was still pretty bad last season (10th in the Big Ten in defensive rebounding percentage).

But the other aspect that NU usually struggles with, two-point defense, was markedly improved. The Cats ranked 4th in the Big Ten in opponent two-point percentage—they never ranked higher than 6th under Carmody.

So the question this season is whether Northwestern can hold onto the gains on defense while shoring up the offense. The first part of that seems promising. The biggest offseason departure is Drew Crawford who, for all his offensive talents, was not a particularly great defender (though he did grab rebounds). But then again, his likely replacement in the rotation, Nate Taphorn, was even worse.

Then there’s the fact that Collins will likely play the incoming freshman class quite a bit. While I realize this class in particular is more talented than what NU usually brings in, there still aren’t any instant impact players in the group. Likely, as a group the freshmen will struggle.

The freshmen are the key piece in this, however. Collins’ first class appears to be—on paper, at least—an uncharacteristically good one for the program. And I expect this class’ successes and failures will, in large part, come to define Collins as a coach. So really, the more interesting question this season will be whether these freshmen appear to be cut out to be the centerpiece of an NCAA Tournament team in 2-3 years.

Because the team will be so young, I don’t see a lot of success this winter. That’s not so bad, considering how young the rotation will be . But beyond evaluating the talent level of the freshmen, the key issue for this season will be whether Collins can learn to love offensive rebounds.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ohio State Preview

As much uncertainty as there is in the Big Ten this year (anytime Michigan State is not near or at the top of the preseason standings, things feel uneasy), there seems to be a strange consensus to put Ohio State second. I suspect that’s largely because a quick look at the roster reveals a lot of 4 and 5-star talents, and hey, those guys tend to work out. Frankly, that’s not such a bad way to approach this. Sure, Buckeyes second, let’s wrap this up.

But if you wanted to read about what to expect from Ohio State, I’ll ramble some more. First, I think you have to start setting a baseline for Thad Matta. The guy just doesn’t lose all that much. Last year, the team won 25 games and it’s legitimately the worst season for Ohio State in 5 years. In his 14 year head coaching career, he’s only had a worse winning percentage three times. He’s never won fewer than 20 games, and since his first season at Ohio State, he’s never gone worse than 10-8 in the Big Ten.

So with Thad Matta, you really have to start the process by asking whether there are good enough reasons to expect an aberration. Is the rest of the Big Ten that much better, and/or are the Buckeyes that much worse? And I can’t come up with enough good reasons to satisfy either of those conditions.

That isn’t to say that Ohio State is loaded this year. The only team that loses more conference minutes from last season is Michigan, and it’s a razor-thin margin. The offense is a question mark after LaQuinton Ross left school early. The defense will have a new identity as well after Aaron Craft’s graduation. But just look at all this talent:

RSCI Ranking
D’Angelo Russell
Keita Bates-Diop
Shannon Scott
Sam Thompson
Amir Williams
Jae’Sean Tate
Marc Loving
Kam Williams

Add to that Temple transfer Anthony Lee (106.9 ORtg, 23.0 usage), and you have a pretty great collection of on-paper talent to work with.

Scott, Thompson, Williams, Loving, and Lee are mostly known commodities. Scott is pretty much a clone of Aaron Craft on offense and defense, with similar strengths (generating turnovers) and weaknesses (generating turnovers). It really is uncanny, down to the fact that both players had the exact same three-point percentage last season (30.2).

Thompson is a very useful utility player that can make shots from the perimeter and jump out of the gym, but he’s a limited ballhandler that struggles to create off the bounce. That in turn restricts him to a role player. Williams can be a defensive beast but fouls too much and he’s sloppy with the ball on offense. So I guess that makes him the defensive version of Mo Walker, who is the offensive version of AJ Hammons, who is the patron saint of Big Man With Unfulfilled Potential. The addition of Lee will push Williams, though he mostly serves as an alternative to the outmatched Trey McDonald, whose hobbies include fouling and missing free throws.

Loving has obvious upside—as a freshman, he displayed a ton of confidence in his outside shot (half of his shots came from distance) even though he only shot them at 26 percent accuracy. His attempt rate, combined with his solid 77 free throw percentage, indicates we should expect big gains in his outside shooting this year. He’s one of the more obvious breakout candidates in the country.

As for the freshmen, Russell is a popular pick for conference Freshman of the Year, but he’s not mine. In his final AAU season, Russell averaged just under 14 points a game shooting 48 percent from 2 and 28 percent from 3. He also excelled at the free throw line (81 percent), and displayed above-average ballhandling (3.5 assists per game) while rebounding (5.2 per game). Those are solid numbers all around, and they speak to a very diverse skillset. But it’s not quite dominant. I expect Russell to be effective and an instant starter, but I like another freshman (or two, even) more.

Keita Bates-Diop (or KBD) is a stretch four from central Illinois. He figures to see a lot of action early. Jae’Sean Tate will be interesting, because everything I read about him suggests that he’s a 6-5 power forward. Usually that combination does not result in a top-100 ranking. But these unusual players are the most fun to watch.

Kam Williams is a sophomore that sat out last season with mononucleosis...this, this is my guy. In AAU play, Williams led his team in scoring with 20.6 points per game. He made 50 percent of his 3s (40.2 3PA percentage), and 85 percent of his free throws. He was a mediocre distributor, but hey, if I were his coach I wouldn’t let him pass, either. The only reason I won’t pick Williams as my Freshman of the Year is because Ohio State has a lot of mouths to feed. On a per possession basis, however, he’s going to be as good as anyone.

All in all, this is a very talent-rich roster. Sure, there are bound to be a couple duds in this group, at least for this season. But a lot would have to go wrong for these Buckeyes to fall below the Thad Matta baseline. Don’t count on it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Minnesota Season Preview

I’m sure there are many interesting things one could write about the University of Minnesota basketball team. But to me, by far the most interesting thing is senior Deandre Mathieu. Simply put, he makes no sense.

Mathieu was a junior college transfer, which basically means no one knew what to expect. Last season, he functioned as a primary ballhandler in what ended up being a pretty capable Minnesota backcourt. But despite standing just 5-9, Mathieu had the game of someone standing almost a foot taller. Consider that last season, 86 percent of Mathieu’s field goal attempts were 2s. That’s a highly unusual shot distribution for someone his size. Even odder, Mathieu made his 2s, to the tune of 51.3 percent.

OK, so that’s strange, but it’s still possible that Mathieu is attempting a whole lot of 18-foot jumpers, right? Well, that wasn’t the case, either. Per, 56 percent of Mathieu’s 2s came at the rim. Alright, what about the possibility that Mathieu was just very good at shooting jumpers, which overcame his presumably lackluster finishing ability?

Well, that theory doesn’t hold any water, either, as Mathieu made just 36.7 percent of his midrange shots. That’s really not much better than average.

No, this was simply a case of a 5-9 Big Ten player attacking the rim and making 64 percent of his attempts there. No big whoop. Sure, some of that can be explained by his quickness:

Ankles, bro
But stuff like this?

No, I’m calling shenanigans. Time for a proclamation:

Deandre Mathieu will shoot under 48 percent from 2 this season.

Given that he was at 51 percent last season, this isn’t the boldest proclamation, but it’s a safe one. Frankly, I think the more likely range is somewhere around 46 percent, if he’s shooting 2s at the same rate this season.

Of course, one might be tempted to look at Mathieu’s outside shooting ability as a potential way to get some of those points back. After all, he did shoot 50 percent on 3s last year, surely he can maintain solid accuracy as he increases his three-point attempt percentage above last year’s 14 percent, right?

Well, with apologies to From the Barn, I’m not convinced Mathieu can shoot. Yes, he made half his 3s last year, and yes, his free throw percentage was a respectable 74 percent. But it’s well past time we started treating 3PA% not as a mere indicator of a player’s preferences, but rather as a data point in a player’s shooting accuracy. The fact that Mathieu only took 14 percent of his field goal attempts from 3 tells us that either he or Richard Pitino (or both) wanted him to focus on the very wide open or very necessary three-pointers. Did he make a lot of those? Sure. But that doesn’t change the information that’s conveyed through that low attempt percentage.

If you’re looking for precedents on this, you don’t have to look far. In 2010, former Gopher Paul Carter converted 41 percent of his 3s, which he attempted on 19 percent of his field goal attempts. After transferring to UIC, he made just 30 percent of his outside attempts. And he doesn’t stand alone:

Prior Season 3P%
Prior Season 3PA%
Next Season 3P%
Roy Devyn Marble
Lewis Jackson
Shavon Shields
Tim Frazier
Tim Frazier

(Note the two-season slide for Tim Frazier). This isn’t an exhaustive list, and I should mention there’s a reason I’m focusing a lot on guards—a big man that dabbles in outside shooting early in his career, and turns it into a bona fide weapon (Adreian Payne being an example) should be treated differently. For these guys, getting a three-point attempt is part confidence, but also part schematic. For all of his talents, Adreian Payne was not someone you wanted dribbling off a pick and roll. He’s also not someone you want standing in the corner waiting for his chance to shoot. In that sense, getting a big man an open three-point look requires much more effort from the offense as a whole. I also suspect that the requisite confidence for a head coach to allow his big men to shoot 3s is more than for guards, but that’s pure speculation on my part.

This isn’t to say there haven’t been counterexamples (D.J. Newbill comes to mind, though he also had a stretch that went the other way if you count his season at Southern Miss), but the takeaway here is that it’s highly unlikely that Mathieu is secretly a sharpshooter who, for reasons illogical and unknown, preferred to make 50 percent of his 2s rather than 50 percent of his 3s. If he hits a 35 percent mark on his threes while devoting 25 percent or more of his FGAs to long range, I’ll be surprised (it’s also worth noting that he made just 29 percent of his 3s—again as a very selective outside shooter—at his junior college).

Now that I’ve devoted some 800-plus words to taking down Deandre Mathieu (what did he ever do to me?), I suppose I should say something about the rest of the Gophers. The team returns about 75 percent of last year’s conference minutes, with Austin Hollins being the biggest loss. Andre Hollins again figures to be an underappreciated all-conference performer, but I worry whether the team has enough outside shooting—after Hollins, Joey King (who leaves much to be desired on the defensive end) is the only other real outside threat (assuming what I do about Mathieu).

Coming in is a very diverse class, drawing from Kansas, Spain (though he’s not with the team yet because of an academic issue), and even that crazy country Florida. I don’t know very much about the class outside Nate Mason, who I actually like a lot. He played on the same AAU team as 5-star forward Theo Pinson, and Mason arguably put up better numbers (of course, Pinson is 6-6 and Mason is 6-1—which counts for a lot, and I’ve seen Mason listed as 5-11 in some places). Mason is listed as a shooting guard, but his high assist numbers indicate he could play some point guard as well.

Overall though, as big as the class is, I’m not sure I see substantial reloading for this season. And with few sophomores on the roster, it’s hard to see a lot of improvement coming internally (the one exception I’ll make is for Mo Walker, who is half all-league player, half-freshman big man. He just needs to stop fouling and turning the ball he’s basically a toned-down A.J. Hammons on all fronts).

Overall, I think Minnesota runs in place this season, with another NIT run a distinct possibility.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Nebraska Season Preview

When you look at his coaching record, you can’t help but wonder where Tim Miles would be if he had the charmed career of Roy Williams instead. Williams attended UNC, where he was a part of the freshman team, volunteered for Dean Smith, and sat in on practices of the varsity team. After college, Williams took a high school coaching job, a position he held for 5 years. He wasn’t very good at it—the team was 21 games under .500 in his tenure—but Smith nonetheless hired him as an assistant in 1978. Williams remained on UNC’s bench for another decade, and after that he received his first head coaching position at Kansas University in 1988, where he just happened to have a senior named Danny Manning on his roster. The rest is history. 

Compare that to Tim Miles: out of college, he was an assistant at an NAIA school for six seasons. He then took a head job at another NAIA school and guided a floundering program to two conference championships. Then he turned around a Division II school. Then he took a team transitioning to Division I (which usually means you’re cannon fodder) and compiled a .582 winning percentage over six years. Then it was off to Colorado State, in a conference dominated by the likes of UNLV, BYU, and San Diego State. The Rams won 7 games in Miles’ first season, and 20 in his last. And finally, Miles took a job at one of the least-respected basketball programs in the Big Ten, and got it to the NCAA Tournament in his second season—the school’s first in almost 20 years. 

Basically, no one can accuse Miles of being born on third base—the guy hit a solid triple. That said, at only one of these stops has Miles won more than 20 games as a head coach (at Southwest Minnesota State). Everywhere else, Miles gets the ship righted, the program enjoys some success, and Miles is scooped up by the next athletic director looking to inject some life into the basketball team. Well, Miles has already gotten things turned around in Lincoln, but he’s still there. Can he build on it? 

With roughly three-quarters of the minutes returning, including Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Terran Petteway, it would certainly seem like they have a good chance. But a couple of caveats are needed here. The first is that the team’s best post player, Leslie Smith, tore his ACL in the FIBA World Championships (coaches, take note). I haven’t seen anything rule him out for the season, but even if he comes back, one would think we’re looking at a January return at the soonest. By that point, it might take too long for Smith to get back into game shape to justify burning a redshirt. 

Smith’s absence is big on a couple of fronts. First, he made shots, which is something the rest of the team struggled with. Second is the fact that he’s the team’s best rebounder. On defense, I suspect this won’t matter all that much—Miles’ teams are almost always competent at cleaning up misses. But Smith was the only offensive rebounding threat, and for a team that could once again struggle to make shots, that’s not a minor loss. The team welcomes the Biblically-named fifth year transfer Moses Abraham, who is a solid defensive rebounder but otherwise is a liability on the floor. 

The second issue Nebraska faces coming into the season is shoring up the point guard position. This is actually all gravy, as that position was pretty much a black hole all of last year. Freshman Tai Webster was one of the worst players in high major basketball that received regular minutes (30 percent shooting combined with a turnover problem does not an effective player make), and the patchwork job of Benny Parker, the since-dismissed Deverell Biggs, and the since-graduated Ray Gallegos was only marginally effective. 

This overwhelming ineffectiveness at the 1 would normally be a good thing—anything approaching “average” would be a huge marginal improvement—but stories like these worry me a bit. Yes, it would be great if freshman Tarin Smith came in an immediately grabbed the starting point guard position and performed capably in that role. But it would also be unlikely, as Smith was not a top-100 recruit. The good news about Smith could easily be a way to deliver bad news about Webster under the October fluff-only rules of college basketball journalism. We’ll have to wait to find out which it is (it could also be both), though Webster’s performance at the FIBA World Championships did not inspire confidence. 

So what’s the bottom line on the Huskers? It’s easy to see that they have a strong 3-man core in Petteway, Shavon Shields, and Walter Pitchford. That trio could be the best in the Big Ten if Pitchford and Shields’ perimeter shot accuracy starts lining up with their free throw touch. But after that? A lot of questions, frankly. Nebraska should be good enough to repeat its .500 level Big Ten performance (despite the 11-7 record, the Huskers played the conference to a draw on a points basis), but unless Smith unexpectedly surprises, I can’t see much more than that.