Last year the Huskers exceeded every preseason prediction on their way to one of the best 14-16 seasons a team can have. The Huskers were picked to finish 11th or 12th in the Big XII and instead finished 8th. They flirted with an NIT berth at the end of the season, but fell just short. The team was led by Cary Cochran in scoring, but the core of talent on that team was young, which leads us to this year's team.
The backcourt begins with sophomore Jake Muhleisen, who had one of the best season's ever for a Nebraska freshman point guard. He had 105 assists last year, which is the second in freshman assists to Tyronn Lue's 140. He was second on the team in scoring behind graduating senior Cary Cochran, but did not shoot that well last year. Expect him to improve upon his 3-point percentage and continue to penetrate the lane with regularity. He has been named the captain this year and should be an excellent leader for this young team.
The other returning guard who played a ton of quality minutes is Brennon Clemmons. The senior struggled at points last season with turnovers and poor shooting, but showed flashes of brilliance with a couple of 20-point games. Amazingly, he was second on the team in rebounding! BC should see plenty of minutes and some starts throughout the season. He has the ability to penetrate like Muhleisen and can be a great, although streaky, shooter at times. He will be much more under control this year and will also provide some leadership.
The most exciting addition to this year's team is easily JUCO transfer Nate Johnson. He was the top JUCO Division II player last year and will be counted on to make up for the scoring lost with Cochran's graduation. He is not as big as his listed 6'2", but he can really jump and is extremely quick. He has a fast release on his shots, which allows him to get off some tough shots. He will rotate between the point and shooting guard spots and will probably the best all-around player on this year's squad. It's a good thing his fiancée plays for the women's team or he might have headed to Oklahoma State. According to his JUCO coach, he is the "next Allen Iverson." Anticipate great things from this talented player.
Sophomore Corey Simms will bolster what should be a very deep bench this year. He is an excellent defender and can score on occasion. He had a lot of problems last year with getting his shot blocked. Hopefully he has solved that problem and can be more than just a defender coming off the bench. He can be an emergency point guard if necessary, but he is a natural shooting guard.
Jason Dourisseau was a part of the very successful recruiting class that Barry Collier put together last year. He attended Omaha Burke high school and was an all-state selection. He may or may not redshirt this year, but he will surely impact this team in the future. He has size, speed, leaping ability, and great shooting range which all adds up to being a great player.
Junior Adam Bohac followed basketball operations manager Dave "Soupy" Campbell to Nebraska from Western Nebraska. He is a walk-on and will see extremely limited minutes.
The Forwards and Centers
Sophomore John Turek could be a force to be reckoned with this season. His shooting wrist is finally completely healthy and his ability to finish and shoot free throws should drastically improve. He led last year's team in rebounds and tied a freshman record for blocked shots. He added muscle over the summer and improved upon his low post moves. The show he put on at Kansas State last year (20 points, 8 rebounds) was a sampling of what he'll do this year and in the future. Turek may be the best dunker on the team as well, so watch for that.
The only other returning starter at forward is Brian Conklin. The junior is not really a forward even though his 6'11" frame would fool you into thinking that. His game is on the perimeter where he made 43% of his 3-point attempts and finished with 65 treys last year. His inability to defend the low post was almost comical the last couple of years, but the addition of some muscle to his body and a few big men to the roster should alleviate those problems this year. He can cause a lot of match-up problems for opposing teams with his ability to shoot and should be excellent at that again. He will probably come off of the bench, but will play key minutes for the Huskers.
The best addition to the big men is easily Andrew Drevo. The transfer from Morningside and Lincoln Christian product is a bigger and better version of Conklin. He has great shooting range and touch for a guy that is 6'8" and 270 pounds. He will be a good defender, but his impact will be felt mostly on the offensive end where he can post up inside, but also feels more than comfortable shooting the 3. Great to have Andrew on this team. He will be extremely valuable.
Wes Wilkinson is part of the incredible incoming class and will definitely see action this year. He is similar to Conklin and Drevo because he has great range and likes to shoot 3-pointers. He will be a valuable asset when the Big 12 schedule comes around and he has gained some game experience. He could be starting by midseason, but if not, he just adds to the great bench depth.
Wilson Thomas would be the only other senior with Brennon Clemmons, if he decides to play this year. He is a terrific low post defender, but is limited on the offensive end. His leadership would be missed if he decides to bypass this year and focus on the NFL draft.
Marques McCarty, Bronsen Schliep, Tony Wilbrand, Roy Enright, and Dan Heimos all fall under the same category: tall, but probably won't play much. Enright is a true freshman and will redshirt and could be joined by sophomore Heimos. Wilbrand is a big body, but not much else and Schliep and McCarty are just not as talented as the rest of the team.
This will be a very exciting season for Husker Hoops. The talent is vastly superior to last year's team and that team finished 8th in the Big 12. The game plan will be similar to last year with the team focusing on tough defense and ball-control offense with a limited number of turnovers. Hopefully the offense will involve more than just 3-point shooting, but the Huskers have enough perimeter shooters to do that again. This will obviously be a very young, but very talented team that could make some noise in the toughest conference in college basketball, the Big 12. Since the non-conference schedule is so weak, reaching 20 wins is possible for this team. My prediction is 20-9 going into the Big 12 tournament as the number 6 seed. That number of wins would put Nebraska on the bubble for the Big Dance, but the NIT would be a sure thing. If you can, buy tickets for this season and hang onto them for years to come because Nebrasketball is on the verge of something great. Nate Johnson and crew are, to borrow the line from last year's poster, "A Red Storm Rising!"