The NCAA Tournament is still in full swing, but the Nebrasketball season ended when the Huskers fell in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. With the 2016-17 season in the books, it is time to begin looking back at the positives and negatives from the year as we go player by player and break it down.
Tai Webster, Senior, Guard
2016-17 Stats: 17.0 PPG, 42.2% FG, 29.6% 3FG, 74.4% FT, 5.1 RPG, 4.0 APG, 3.2 TPG, 1.4 SPG, 34.7 MPG
After two years spent trying to figure out the college game and another as a sixth man, the New Zealand native stepped forward as Nebraska’s lone senior and took charge of the team. Webster led the Huskers in points, assists and minutes. He went over 20 points nine times and failed to reach double figures just once. He dished out five or more assists 13 times including a career-high nine against South Dakota.
Webster was at the center of everything Nebraska did and was the driving force for the team’s early success. He shouldered an incredible amount of responsibility for a team short on ball-handlers and playmakers. Webster always had a strong frame and the explosion to get to the basket, but this season he improved his ability to finish once he got there tremendously. Couple that with an improved jump shot and Webster looked like one of the most improved players in the Big Ten through half of the season.
In addition to his offensive responsibilities, Webster also gladly took on some of the most difficult defensive assignments game in and game out, spending a significant amount of court time guarding the opponent’s best perimeter player. He was not necessarily an all-conference defender by any means, but he was the best Nebraska had and he did not shy away from that role.
However, as the season went on, his play declined. His shooting percentages – both inside the arc and outside of it – dropped steadily every month of the season. After starting off 10-of-25 (40 percent) from 3-point range in November, Webster shot just 30-of-110 (27.3 percent) the rest of the season. Despite shooting worse, his attempts went up the rest of the way. It wasn’t just the perimeter jumper that failed him, however. After a 4-0 start in conference play, the Huskers closed the season 3-13, and Webster managed to shoot above 40 percent on 2-point shots just four times during that span.
Webster was the only player on the team that consistently looked to set up his teammates, but the assists came at a cost – he also led the team in turnovers, more than twice the number of anyone else on the roster. Some of those turnovers came at some pretty critical times as well.
To be fair, a lot of Webster’s struggles came down to the play of the players around him. To be quite frank, this Nebraska roster was a terrible fit for Webster to play his game at his highest level. Webster is a slasher and a distributor, and for that style to work he needs players who can spread the floor and create driving lanes. Nebraska was 307th in the country in 3-point percentage and did not have a single player shoot above 40 percent from the perimeter. Game after game, opponents packed the paint and made life incredibly difficult for Webster.
Tai Webster is a flawed basketball player, but he made the best of a difficult situation to produce a second-team All-Big Ten season. The progress he made from the day he set foot on campus to his final game as a Husker deserves respect and the amount of responsibility he willingly took on his shoulders was admirable.
Season Grade: B+
Webster’s time in Lincoln has come to an end, but his time on the basketball court has not. He will have plenty of opportunities to play professionally, most likely overseas.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.