Outside expectations are low as most outlets have the Huskers pegged near the bottom of the Big Ten. However, Nebraska has a deeper and more well-rounded roster than any year previously under Time Miles, and that includes the NCAA Tournament team from 2014. Will the Huskers be able to turn potential into wins?
“I think this is our deepest team,” Miles said. “You still need to stay healthy, though. We have not been able to stay healthy … That’s something that I think is important for us to put the same lineup on the floor as consistently as possible.”
We continue our Nebrasketball preview series with a look at the frontcourt featuring a mix of interior muscle and perimeter skill. Check part one for a breakdown of the backcourt.
Isaac Copeland (Redshirted last year)
Alongside James Palmer Jr., Nebraska’s other high-profile transfer is Isaac Copeland, a 6-foot-9 forward from Georgetown. Copland chose Nebraska after leaving Georgetown during the season, but after arguing that he played through a back injury when he shouldn’t have, Copeland received a waiver from the NCAA for immediate eligibility.
“Isaac Copeland can play multiple positions, a very strong, aggressive player, especially offensively,” Miles said. “He rebounds well. He and James are both involved in a lot of action … He’ll be a top one or two scorer for us, top three rebounder.”
As a sophomore, Copeland averaged 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists for the Hoyas and Miles is expecting a “better version” of what he was during his second season of college basketball.
“He’s going to learn though, it’s a different style for him,” Miles said. “There’s still a whole bunch of acclimation. We have to remember it wasn’t so long ago he was playing a completely different style at Georgetown. He’s an eager learner. He’s kind of a cool kid, so you don’t always know. But he’s been a great teammate and he’s been great to coach.”
Copeland has struggled during the preseason as he’s trying to work off the rust. With the tough nonconference schedule, Nebraska is going to need him to start hitting shots.
Isaiah Roby (3.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 0.7 APG, 39.4% FG, 20.0% 3FG, 76.2% FT)
One player who can significantly raise Nebraska’s ceiling with a big sophomore leap is 6-foot-8 swingman Isaiah Roby. The native of Dixon, Illinois, missed several months of activity prior to the season with a stress reaction in his pelvis suffered before he even arrived in Lincoln, and the missed time impacted his transition to the college level in a big way.
Roby, a 4-star recruit, averaged 3.1 points and 2.9 rebounds in 15.2 minutes per game as a freshman. He shot just 39.4 percent from the field overall including 4-of-20 from 3, but he also showed tremendous defensive potential because of his length, leading the team in block rate.
Roby spent a lot of time in the weight room and has added significant and noticeable muscle to his frame and his shot looks smoother as well. He played primarily as a small-ball power forward last season but with an improved skill level could see more time at small forward this year.
“The number one thing that’s been different so far is my high-post, low-post game,” Roby said. “Just being able to put my strength together is going to allow me to find mismatches. If I get smaller guys on me I’ll be able to mismatch, and bigger guys too. Just use my versatility. Last year I couldn’t do it as well because I wasn’t athletically there I don’t think strength-wise, but once I started gaining more of that, I’ve been doing more skill work.”
Jack McVeigh (7.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.6 APG, 37.2% FG, 33.8% 3FG, 78.0% FT)
The Huskers are a bit short on depth at the forward spots, but they do have experience at that spot in Australian junior Jack McVeigh who averaged 7.5 points and shot 33.8 percent from 3, second on the team.
“Jack McVeigh does what Jack McVeigh does, only he does it with a full beard now,” Miles said. “He makes shots.”
Jordy Tshimanga (5.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 0.3 APG, 44.9% FG, 62.5% FT)
In the middle, Nebraska has sophomore Jordy Tshimanga, a 6-foot-11 268-pound center who came on strong to close out the season in 2016-17. Tshimanga started nine of the final 12 games of the season and put up 7.3 points and 6.3 rebounds (2.7 offensive), upping his season averages of 5.0 points and 4.0 rebounds.
“I love Jordy,” senior graduate transfer Duby Okeke said. “He’s like a little brother to me. He reminds me of my younger self. He has a lot of potential. The way he’s built and his skill set is really amazing at a young age, so me just telling him a few things and us going at each other. For me, at my old school I never really had a big body like that to go against. With him and Tanner [Borachardt], it’s a great opportunity each practice.”
Tshimanga has to improve his conversion rate from both the field and the free-throw line as well as learn how to play without fouling; if he does that, the Huskers should get strong production from the pivot.
Duby Okeke (3.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.1 APG, 60.8% FG, 26.8% FT)
Behind Tshimanga is Okeke, who brings NCAA Tournament experience to the squad in his one season as a Husker.
“Duby Okeke, who we brought in as a grad transfer, is certainly a force to be reckoned with down low in terms of rim protection and some of the things that he can do,” Miles said. “He blocks shots, he offensive rebounds, he’s an elite athlete — he can stand still, look up in the air and touch 12 feet, he and Isaiah Roby both can, and that’s athleticism we just haven’t had.”
Okeke is a bit undersized for a center at 6-foot-8 and 247 pounds, but his explosive leaping ability and strong frame allows him to make up for his lack of height. Okeke has struggled from the free-throw line throughout his career, but he has showed a reliable hook shot in the post and is an easy lob target in the pick-and-roll.
Tanner Borchardt (Played 1 minute last year)
Tanner Borchardt, a walk-on from Gothenburg, Nebraska who rejoined the team midway through last season, has transformed his body and could be called upon for emergency minutes in case of injury or foul trouble at 6-foot-8 and 265 pounds. He has showed strong rebounding ability in his minutes during the preseason.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.