The road back to relevancy for college basketball programs can take many turns and twists with peaks and valleys. Being relevant can also mean different things to different programs but the ultimately relevancy is of course taking part in the NCAA Tournament. A couple of programs are hoping to take another step back into the consciousness of the college basketball landscape.
Nebraska and Utah both took big steps forward last season. The Cornhuskers made their first NCAA Tournament since 1998 last season and although they are still looking for Nebraska’s first tournament win coach Tim Miles has the squad that can accomplish that milestone this season.
The junior class will lead the team this season. Forwards Terran Petteway, Shavon Shields and Walter Pitchford and their 40.2 points and 15.3 rebounds per contest from last season all return. The Huskers surprised everyone by finishing in 4th place after being picked to finish last. Another thing that will help Nebraska this season will be the emergence of sophomore guard Tai Webster who hit a bit of a freshman wall last year.
Their non-conference slate should also get Nebraska off on the right foot as their toughest games road tilts with Rhode Island and Florida State and home gates with Creighton and Cincinnati.
Utah hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2009 and hasn’t won a game in the Big Dance since 2005. In fact last year’s 21-12 record and trip to the NIT where they lost in the first round to St. Mary’s is the first season the Utes were over .500 and saw post-season play since the 2009 season.
The Utes strength this season will be their depth. Coach Larry Krystowiak has six solid forwards/centers led by junior Jordan Loveridge who averaged 14.7 points and seven rebounds last season. Dallin Bachynski and Jeremy Olsen share time at center and freshmen Kyle Kuzma, Brekkott Chapman and junior college transfer Chris Reyes are all expected to contribute in the frontcourt.
In the backcourt the team is led by senior Delon Wright. Wright averaged 15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists last season. Juniors Dakari Tucker and Brandon Taylor join Wright in the backcourt while sophomore Kenneth Ogbe and freshman Isaiah Wright will add depth.
After eight losses by four points or less last season Krystowiak has set out to challenge his team in the non-conference portion of his schedule. They play at San Diego State, BYU and Kansas while hosting Wichita State and facing UNLV on a neutral floor in Las Vegas.
Both teams took big steps forward last year. This season will be the big test as neither Nebraska nor Utah will sneak up on teams in the Big Ten and Pac-12 respectively. The hope is that by March Lincoln and Salt Lake City will be on their way back to being relevant in the landscape of college hoops again.