CHICAGO – If there was a bingo card for media day storylines, a coach saying “I really like my team” would certainly be on it. That being said, it really does seem like Tim Miles feels that way about his squad this season and the four guys he brought with him to Chicago for Big Ten Media Day have a lot to do with that.
“I like this group because I really think that all of these guys are getting better,” Miles said during his time at the podium on Thursday. “So we have four guys I think anybody in the league would take. That's not always been the case. We might have one guy here or a guy there. We really have guys that I think have a lot of talent, can carry a team. I just like the direction of their work ethic, of their leadership. That's why I feel so strongly about them.”
Those for guys are senior guard James Palmer Jr., senior forward Isaac Copeland, senior point guard Glynn Watson Jr. and junior forward Isaiah Roby, Nebraska’s top four scorers from last season’s 22-11 team.
Because of that returning core four, expectations are sky-high for Nebraska heading into 2018-19. However, that was also true of the 2015-16 team. The Huskers began the season at No. 21 in the AP Poll after making the NCAA Tournament with a 19-13 record the season before. The Huskers team finished 13-18.
“Well, the last group was a good group,” Miles said. “We had some things go monumentally wrong during the season, whether it be injury or illness, whatever it might be. So I think it's hard to compare the two. [Assistant coach] Jim Molinari always told me, comparison is the thief of joy, so maybe you should pay attention here.”
That team was led by Terran Petteway, Nebraska’s last preseason all-conference pick prior to Palmer earning that distinction on Thursday. Petteway put up over 18 points per game that season but shot under 40 percent from the field. Shavon Shields had a spectacular junior year at over 15 points per game but Walter Pitchford, who played a big role the year prior as a stretch-five, barely cracked seven points per game and shut under 29 percent from deep. Nobody else on the team even cracked five points per game.
Miles sees a little more balance on this year’s team.
“At the same time I feel like we're just better equipped [this year],” Miles continued. “This is a good group, a group that has I think a high ceiling. When you look at James Palmer Jr., Isaac Copeland playing better than I have ever seen. Glynn Watson, I think he realizes where he fits in with this group, after having to carry a big load for a couple years as a younger player, then fitting in later in life. Isaiah Roby is getting better and better, too.”
The keys to living up to or exceeding expectations for the Huskers will be finding a fifth starter, establishing some depth and staying healthy. It’s all going to start with Palmer, the 6-foot-6 wing from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, by way of Miami.
“James has been very impressive,” Miles said. “As he came from Miami, he's gotten a lot stronger, his ball skills have improved, his jump shot has improved, which I think is important; his 3-point shooting has to be better this year.
“I think it's just his everyday habits are really, really good. I think that's what's going to be a lot of fun working with him. One of the smartest players on the floor that I've coached in a long, long time. He knows everything that's going on, knows where everybody is supposed to be. You can tell him something on a counter and in a quick, small amount of time, he picks it up, executes it just like you've been practicing it all week.”
Palmer averaged nearly 19 points per game during conference play but his perimeter shot abandoned him down the stretch as he made just six of his 32 3-point attempts in February and March. Both Palmer and Watson (who shot 29.2 percent from 3 last season) will have to rediscover their perimeter touch if Nebraska hopes to avoid the disappointment of the 2015-16 season.
Stay tuned to Hail Varsity for more from Miles and the Huskers as Big Ten Media Day continues.
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.