Nebraska head basketball coach Tim Miles is a cool dude. He tweets an update on his team's performance at halftime. His Big Ten Media Day presser doubles as a stand up comedy routine. He's the affable face of the new Nebrasketball program, replete with shiny new facilities.
But Nebraska's season last year, and Miles' first as head coach, was woeful. The Huskers finished at 15-18 overall and 5-13 while lacking the spunk and personality pervasive of a Miles-coached team. As it turns out, that player was on the Husker roster last season but redshirting.
Terran Petteway, a 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore, is a Miles guy through and through. John Groce said in his preview teleconference that Petteway seems like a player that would be fun to coach and even likened him in some ways to Rayvonte Rice. Most of that comparison probably stems from Petteway's muscle-bound frame and "gettin' buckets" attitude.
Petteway scores 17.5 points a game and converts at all three levels of the offensive end: he shoots 37 percent from 3-point range, has a solid midrange game and plays bigger than his size around the basket. He'll chip away at you all game, but I'm not scared of him until the final minutes of a close game. All that swagger he exudes for the first 36 minutes solidifies into major stones down the stretch. He launched a deep 3-pointer against Northwestern on Saturday that extended the Husker lead to two possessions with roughly 20 seconds to go, essentially sealing the win for Nebraska. There was no doubt in his mind when he let it fly.
Like many of Miles' old teams at Colorado State, he has a roster of players possessing serious length that play amorphous positions. And they all crash the boards. Shavon Shields and Walter Pitchford are two other players that fit this amorphous mold. Shields, at 6-foot-7, floats between the perimeter and interior but hardly shoots 3-pointers. Pitchford, at 6-foot-10, is proficient in the paint but has stepped out to shoot 70 3-pointers on the year and hitting 39 percent of them.
It's a team that has improved over the course of the season and even hit its stride after dismissing starting point guard Deverell Biggs in late January. Two home wins against Minnesota and Indiana had the program carrying some deserved buzz, but Michigan shattered all of that with a wire-to-wire 30-point win last week.
I'd have to guess the Jon Ekey/Malcolm Hill combo will spend the majority of time on Shields while the Rice/Joe Bertand combo will log time defending Petteway. As much as I would like to stick an en fuego Kendrick Nunn on the other team's best scorer, Petteway has too much size and bulk for that matchup.
Expect another grinder of a game that we've come to know so well. Both teams trot out minus offenses and stingy defenses. Open shots won't be easy to come by, but Illinois would be wise to ease the halfcourt scoring load by creating transition baskets. Petteway coughs up the ball three times a game and some trapping on pick and rolls could coerce him into turning the ball over. The same logic should apply to the whole team with Nebraska's bad passers and utter lack of ball movement at times. For this Illinois team, easy baskets trump anything and a few transition points just might unlock another conference win for the Illini.