For all the talk about the Big Ten powers who are suffering significant talent drain—Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State are chief among them—plenty of potential contenders will return strong veteran presences next season. It may seem bizarre to use the phrases "Nebraska" and "Big Ten contender" in the same sentence, but here they are.
The Cornhuskers finished a surprising fourth in the conference in coach Tim Miles' second season, and nearly everyone will return for his third. Perimeter gunner Ray Gallegos is the only significant departure.
In addition to Gallegos, Miles' usual starting lineup consisted of three sophomores and a freshman. Forward Terran Petteway (pictured) returns for his junior season after leading the Big Ten in scoring at 18.1 PPG. Florida transfer Walter Pitchford played 23.2 minutes per game, shooting 41 percent from long range in his first significant college action.
The lineup's third sophomore, 6'7" swingman Shavon Shields, finished second on the team in scoring (12.8 PPG) and led in rebounding (5.8 RPG). He played 32.5 minutes per game, up from 28.7 as a freshman.
Rookie point guard Tai Webster started all but two games, but his minutes fluctuated wildly. By season's end, he was ceding significant playing time to sophomore Benny Parker. Webster scored only 13 points over the Huskers' final 11 games, and eight of those came on free throws in the Feb. 20 win over Penn State.
Rising senior David Rivers has played 22.9 minutes per game over his past two seasons, starting 31 games in that span. Burly forward Leslee Smith returns for his senior year after averaging 16.8 minutes per game last season. He also played 15 minutes per night as a part-time starter at SMU in 2011-12.
If it's true that a team can "learn how to win," Nebraska certainly did it in 2013-14. Another NCAA tournament bid should surprise nobody next year.