*This is part one of a six part series previewing each Big Ten team.
Part one, Monday: Nebraska, Penn State
Part two, Tuesday: Northwestern, Purdue
Part three, Wednesday: Iowa, Illinois
Part four, Thursday: Minnesota, Wisconsin
Part five, Friday: Michigan State, Michigan
Part six, Saturday: Ohio State, Indiana
The polls are out. With five ranked teams (Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana) and another receiving votes (Minnesota), the 2012-2013 college basketball season promises big things from the Big Ten. As coaches and players got together in Rosemont, Illinois for Big Ten Media Day on Thursday, it was apparent that each team recognized the tough road ahead within the conference…and embraced it. Even though Indiana was voted the No.1 team in the nation and is the early Big Ten favorite, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State won’t give up their reign over the Big Ten without a fight. With another eight teams chomping at the bit, it’s sure to be an exciting year in the Big Ten. Over the next four days I’ll take an in-depth look at each team in the conference. For the first part in my series, I’ll cover two teams that look to turn things around after finishing last in the Big Ten last season.
Newcomer Nebraska head coach Tim Miles began his coaching career at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Miles moved his way up the coaching carousel and eventually went on to coach Colorado State, who he led to its first NCAA tournament since 2003 this past season. When he took the podium at Big Ten Media Day that was the first many had heard of him. Miles made sure that once he left that stage, no one would forget him. After his press conference at Big Ten Media Day, Miles left a lasting impression after taking a panoramic picture of all of the media in attendance that he later posted to his Twitter handle. In a conference chock full of personalities and egos, Tim Miles might just stand above the rest.
After finishing tied last in the Big Ten last season with a 12-18 record overall and a 4-14 record in the conference, Miles certainly has some work on his hands. And he’s not afraid to admit it.
“I haven’t had my brains beat in yet, but I would like to thank the Big Ten for starting us at home against Michigan State, and the beginning of the schedule, thanks, Rick! Santa is going to give him some coal in his stocking.”
Nebraska has only one returning starter from last season’s team, and lost two of their top scorers in guards Bo Spencer (15.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and Toney McCray (9.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg). Miles only has nine players on scholarship and three seniors this season. It will certainly be a challenge, but for Miles, it’s why he’s coaching in the first place.
“I remember doing an interview and my mom asked me ‘Tim, what did you want to coach for?’ And I said ‘I want to turn Notre Dame into a real basketball school’,” Miles said. “I thought I would like a real challenge, so I took the Nebraska job. It’s a school with remarkable fan support, administrative support, and at the end of the day when you look at things, I don’t care peel back the onion.”
The Cornhuskers will need their senior leader Brandon Ubel to continue to take his game to the next level. The 6’10” 250 lb forward averaged a career-high in scoring (6.7 ppg) and rebounding (5.3).
The Cornhuskers top returning scorer, senior guard Dylan Talley, led the conference in bench scoring (8.9 ppg), but will make the jump to the starting lineup this season. For a team that lacks depth and elite talent, Ubel and Talley will burden the load. Miles acknowledges the team’s lack of talent will make his job even harder.
“You prefer as much talent as possible, I’m just going to tell it you that,” Miles said. “You would prefer the team to be in great shape. There is the acclimation part you go as far as your seniors will take you. If their buy in is good and their mental capacity for a learning curve is good, they’re going to pick up a new system and all the stuff that goes with that. You’re going to be further down the road. We could play as little as eight scholarship guys this year, up with or two of those guys couldn’t break into the rotation last year, so that’s why we’re picked where we are. I like this group, they’re hard working, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
It will be a long and hard rebuilding process for Nebraska, but the Cornhuskers will look to put their losing ways behind them and look forward to a bright future under the helm of Tim Miles.
11. Penn State
As the Penn State football team struggles after losing several of their players and recruits because of allegations against the university, the Penn State basketball team has had struggles of their own. Along with Nebraska, Penn State finished last in the Big Ten with a 12-20 record overall and 4-14 record in the Big Ten. Luckily for Penn State, they return three starters, including Preseason All-Big Ten selection point guard Tim Frazier. Senior Tim Frazier is Mr. Do It All, as he led the Nittany Lions in scoring (18.8 ppg), rebounding (4.7), assists (6.2), and steals (2.4) last season. In addition to these accolades, Frazier is the Big Ten’s highest returning scorer and passer. Amazingly enough, Frazier accomplished this without earning much national attention. Heading into a season where he is finally getting some of the recognition he deserves, Frazier doesn’t think anything is different.
“There’s no pressure at all. No pressure at all,” Frazier said. “I’m truly blessed and it’s great honor to be on that team. It’s a team honor, I don’t look at it as an individual, it’s a team honor and it’s a school honor as well, for our university but there’s pressure at all. I’m gonna go out and be the same person that I was last year. You know humble and hungry and just try to get better each day.”
Second year coach Patrick Chambers knows that even with Frazier’s stellar play, he still has aspects of the game that need improvement. But above all else, as a senior he has to lead by example.
“I think we all know he needs to work on his jump shot and he’s done that. In practice so far he’s shooting his three’s at a high clip, which is great for us, almost makes him un-guardable, but it’s off the floor, in that locker room, being the hardest worker on the team,” Chambers said. “It’s not getting caught up in the headlines or the blogs or Tweets or whatever you want to say. He has to remain humble and hungry and grounded, and trying to win as many games as we can. That’s got to be his focus, can’t be anything else.”
Joining Frazier in the backcourt this season is newcomer D.J. Newbill, who transferred from Southern Miss after his freshman season. Newbill may only be 6’4” but he has a real knack for grabbing boards. Newbill averaged 9.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and shot 53% from the field last season. Newbill will see playing time alongside Frazier and Jermaine Marshall, a junior guard who is the second highest returning scorer for Penn State (10.8 ppg) and also rebounds at high rate for a guard (4.1). With a talented backcourt, Penn State should run plenty of three-guard sets.
The real issue for Penn State lies in their front court. Last season big men Jon Graham and Sasa Borovnjak averaged 8.4 ppg and 6.8 rpg combined and only started 24 games between them. The Nittany Lions will need an increase in production from these two as they are thrust into starting roles.
In his second year as coach of Penn State, the only direction for Patrick Chambers to go is up. After single digit losses against Michigan and Indiana last season, the Nittany Lions will gun for a few upsets once again this season. Chambers knows what he’s going to get out of his star point guard, but he’ll need a few surprises from other players to finish in the top half of the Big Ten.