Practice has only just begun for Tim Miles, and Nebraska’s coach has a lot of work to do before the season opener against Sacramento State rolls around. With just six rotation players returning and five eligible newcomers, Miles has to find a starting lineup and regular rotation for a roster that includes only one player with an easily definable position.
After searching long and hard for a true center. Miles finally has his man in Jordy Tshimanga, the 6-foot-11, 275-pound freshman from Montreal, Quebec. Miles said Tshimanga is going to play as many minutes as he can handle from the start. How much he is able to play is still to be determined, but that’s at least one spot in the rotation that isn’t up in the air. The rest of the roster is much less straightforward.
Let’s start in the backcourt. A close second to Tshimanga in terms of positional lock is Glynn Watson, who appears to be the only natural point guard on the roster. However, Watson played much of last season alongside another point guard in Benny Parker and Miles isn’t opposed to playing Watson some at shooting guard again this year.
Another player who could play any spot in the backcourt is Tai Webster, the team’s only senior and only returning double-digit scorer. At 6-feet-4 and 195 pounds with long arms, Webster could play any spot on the perimeter.
“I’m not sure I’m not going to move Tai around – one, two and three,” Miles said. “I’m not sure I won’t move Glynn to some two. But also I think Glynn is one of our best playmakers. He can get by you without a ball screen, he can get by you with a ball screen, he can get by you in transition; he can get by you. He’s a kid that can score it. Tai’s a guy that can really initiate it, play some power guard. It might be advantageous to play them at one and two.”
Another player who will factor into the backcourt is junior college transfer Evan Taylor, a 6-foot-5 do-it-all guard.
“Evan Taylor I’m not so sure can’t play some point guard,” Miles said. “Evan has really shown to be a fast player with excellent defensive instincts and when we put him and Tai on the floor, it’s two long, strong, athletic kids. He and Glynn and Tai, those are three really fast guys.”
Of course, one can’t talk about the Nebraska backcourt without mentioning Anton Gill, the Louisville transfer and former top 50 recruit who sat out last season and is finally eligible to play for the Huskers. At 6-feet-3, Gill is a pure scorer who will have a lot of responsibility from day one.
For now, however, Gill and freshman wing Isaiah Roby are sitting out of practice, making it even more difficult for Miles to find out what he has and to settle into a rotation.
“I think I like our guard options, although they are thin and they’re especially thin since Roby can play the wing and Anton can play two, and we’re out there in practice and I’m ready to bring [former Northern Iowa guard and Director of Player Relations and Development Ali] Farokhmanesh back,” Miles said.
Nebraska could very well open the season with three guards – Watson, Gill, Webster – in the starting lineup. However, that leaves just Taylor coming off the bench in the backcourt.
Even if Tshimanga can adjust to the college game quickly – far from a given – there will still be plenty of minutes behind him at center and the Huskers could take a by-committee approach again like they did last year. Sophomores Michael Jacobson (6-feet-9, 239 pounds) and Ed Morrow (6-feet-7, 235 pounds) are both in the picture.
Jacobson has been working hard in the weight room over the offseason to help him handle whatever role Miles asks him to play. Jacobson is the second biggest player on the team, but he’s more of a face-up big than an inside presence offensively.
“Just in confidence, his ability to add 19 pounds of muscle – not just 19 pounds, he really added power, strength, and I think when you look at that it tells you a lot about his work ethic and what he wants to do,” Miles said. “He knew he wasn’t going to play as much center yet he still went to work in the weight room.”
As for Morrow, he is certainly undersized at the center position, but he has a strong frame, he’s a relentless rebounder and he is most effective offensively close to the basket.
“Ed Morrow might be our most powerful guy on the floor,” Miles said. “When you see him, he’ll power through Jordy on a regular basis, and that’s no easy task … We stat every workout and every practice, and his numbers are the best numbers on the team. He finishes a lot of plays, he rebounds well, he’s on the offensive glass; he is the toughest guy in the gym, he really is. Last year I started telling him ‘just be the toughest guy on the floor,’ and he really made a nice surge as he got healthier. I think that you’ll see him build on that.”
Jacobson also will be given a chance to start at the power forward position, and he might be the frontrunner at this point. However, if Miles elects to go with more of a small-ball lineup like he did last season with Shavon Shields playing the four, it opens the door for others to crack the lineup.
“Michael’s going to get a crack at the starting four; he and [Jack] McVeigh both, Isaiah Roby if he ever gets out there will have a chance, Jack – all that mix of guys I really like. Michael will certainly have the chance to play four, but you know you can only play what you can guard, you can only play what you can be effective to, and so Michael’s got some work ahead of him that way, but there’s nobody that knows that more than Mike and there’s nobody more excited about the challenge more than Mike.”
That leaves us with just the wing. As mentioned above, the early front-runner is probably Webster in a three-guard lineup. However, Nebraska has a few other options to explore as well to match up with bigger teams.
Small forward is probably Roby’s most natural position, and he could challenge for a starting spot at some point this season, but having to sit out a few months to recover from a stress reaction in his pelvis has set the freshman back and could make it difficult to secure significant playing time out of the gates.
Offensively, both McVeigh and freshman Jeriah Horne belong at the three offensively, but they have to prove that they can move their feet well enough to guard wings before Miles can trust them out there.
“I know what I’m going to get out of Tai Webster … I don’t know what Isaiah Roby’s going to do or Jeriah Horne. I’m not sure,” Mile said. “I’ve got a pretty good idea of what our sophomores are going to do, but for instance, can Jack McVeigh play the wing or not play the wing? Do I make him just a pick-and-pop four-man and just slide him in only that role, or do I line us with more length and can he guard a three, can he do all the things that it takes? I think I’ve got to give that a look, and I certainly will in practice and most likely some games too.”In review, this is a rough draft of what the
Nebraska roster looks like for 2016-17:
- PG: Glynn Watson, Tai Webster, Evan Taylor
- SG: Anton Gill, Tai Webster, Glynn Watson, Evan Taylor
- SF: Tai Webster, Isaiah Roby, Jack McVeigh, Jeriah Horne
- PF: Michael Jacobson, Jack McVeigh, Isaiah Roby, Ed Morrow, Nick Fuller
- C: Jordy Tshimanga, Michael Jacobson, Ed Morrow
Basketball at all levels is moving towards a more positionless game, and this Nebraska roster certainly fits with that. However, it is still important to define roles for players and Tim Miles has a lot to learn about his team before he can start doing that.