All things considered, last season was a pleasant surprise for Nebraska. Despite losing the offensive focal point in Terran Petteway and other key pieces, for the first time in the Tim Miles Era, Nebraska's offense did not look terrible. That's the good news.
The bad news is that it looks like we'll return to our regularly-scheduled programming this winter. Once again, Nebraska will have to overhaul its offense in light of departures. The graduation of Shavon Shields was of course expected; the late transfer of efficient sharpshooter Andrew White was not. White is headed to Syracuse, which just saw about 180 3-pointers leave the program via graduation, so you can't criticize the guy for seeing an opportunity (though there's some thought that White's decision was more about his pro prospects). Still, Miles was onto something in Lincoln. No team returns more freshman-to-sophomore minutes than the Huskers, which is usually an indication that improvement is coming.
But with Shields and White gone, Nebraska will be looking for those sophomores to not only improve, but take on starring roles in the process. Glynn Watson appears to be the most capable, all he needs to do is improve his outside shooting to become efficient at a high usage. His 77 percent accuracy at the free throw line indicates he's up to the task. Aside from Watson, the only other UNL player that shouldered a larger workload is senior Tai Webster, and I have a suspicion that we've seen the kind of player he's going to be.
There is some help on the way. Anton Gill transfers in from Louisville, which is a similar set of facts as White's entrance. But unlike White, we've seen Gill for two seasons at his old school, and it hasn't been pretty. Generally speaking, you want your outside shooters to manage a better free throw percentage than 36%. Miles also found a junior college transfer to take White's scholarship, but on paper Evan Taylor appears to be the kind of player one gets when there's just a month before school starts (he averaged 7 points per game at junior college, shooting 18 percent from 3).
In short, there's likely going to be a deficit of outside shooting in Lincoln, which is only going to make things more difficult for an undersized front line, The returning players max out at 6-8, and there's just one incoming (3-star) recruit that's taller—Jordy Tshimanga. I suspect if he has to play enough minutes such that I learn how to spell his name without looking it up by January, the season is either going really poorly or exceptionally well.
I don't mean to sound so bleak, but it's hard to see this season as anything but yet another rebuilding season for Nebraska. Short of one or more of the newcomers becoming instantly high-usage and efficient, this offense will struggle to eclipse a point per possession in conference play, and a defense that has exactly one player taller than 6-8 does not project to be good enough to overcome that.
Long term, what Miles needs is roster stability. The early exits of Petteway, Walter Pitchford, Tarin Smith, Andrew White, Deverell Biggs, and Jake Hammond have kept the team stuck in the mud ever since the surprising NCAA Tournament season of 2014. As the history of the program suggests, it's not easy to build a consistent winner in Lincoln, though Miles has a track record of turning programs around. Unfortunately, there are some indications that his seat is getting hot. The Huskers are probably a year—maybe two—from being ready for another run at the NCAA Tournament, and that's assuming Miles can put an end to the annual roster overhaul. The real question is whether Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst has a similar timeline in mind.