Though he still didn’t have any updates regarding the Big Ten schedule, Coach Fred Hoiberg did provide some insight about the start of the 2020-21 season when he spoke with reporters on Monday afternoon.
“We’re relatively confident that we’re going to play our first game on the 25th,” Hoiberg said.
That game will be against McNeese State according to the Cowboys’ schedule the program released on Monday, though Hoiberg said he wasn’t able to speak about the specifics just yet. Illinois State has dropped out of the Golden Window Classic multi-team event and will open its season against Ohio State instead, opening the door for Nebraska to play a separate nonconference game on that first day of the season.
Hoiberg said he hopes the Huskers will be able to release their nonconference schedule in the next “24 to 48 hours.” Hoiberg did say he’s confident they’ll still be able to play two games in the MTE (they were originally scheduled to play three games in the Golden Window Classic). The only other nonconference game previously announced is the Huskers’ home game against Georgia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
The Big Ten is running out of time.
“Hopefully, obviously, we’ll learn soon,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to be playing — we have, basically, six practices left. We have to two days off right now per NCAA rules in the preseason. So we’ve got six practices left working up to that first game, like I said that will hopefully take place a week from Wednesday on the 25th.”
Despite all the uncertainty, Hoiberg said his team has continued to work heard and is focusing on themselves. Once they get clarification on their schedule, they’ll turn their attention to their first opponents starting next week.
“I think the biggest thing that we have talked to our players about is all we can do is worry about the things that we can control, and that’s coming in the gym and working hard every day, doing the right things to try to do everything we can to where COVID doesn’t go through our team,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve still only had the two positive cases, so our guys have done a great job with that, and now that we’re approaching the season and the rule of having to sit out an extended period if we do have it, our guys have bought into it. That’s all we can worry about right now is going out there and practicing hard, preparing as if we’re going to play a full season.”
Outside of Akol Arop, who will miss the 2020-21 season, Hoiberg said the team is healthy and ready to go. The Huskers have been working out in one form or another since June, and Hoiberg said he’s been pleased with what he’s seen. That needs to carry over into the season.
“Once we start playing games we don’t need to change,” Hoiberg said. “We need to continue to go out there and stress making simple plays. We don’t need to try to all of a sudden hit home runs because now the games count. It’s all about going out there and trusting each other. It’s playing with great pace, trying to withstand runs and play through adversity, which I think this group has done a really good job of to this point. How will that translate once we start playing for real obviously has yet to be seen. But for us, we’ve had a lot of time to get to this moment of starting to play games and we’re excited for that opportunity.
“Hopefully we do go out and continue to trust each other the way we have. We’ve built great chemistry. It’s a group of players I’ve absolutely loved coaching. They’re coachable, they play with great effort, they’re competitive. I’ve said this in the past: when you have group like that that loves to play and compete — we’ll have everybody back in the gym t some point today, we’ll have a bunch of guys coming back to PBA to get shots up tonight to try to get used to that background — but we really do have a group that loves to be in the gym, and when you have that, you have a chance.”
The start of the season is less than two weeks away, but many programs across the country have already run into COVID-19-related issues with many of them shutting down for a two-week period following positive tests. Some teams have already canceled games and pushed back their start date, and those issues won’t go away once the games tip off. If COVID-19 issues were to hit Nebraska, the Huskers do have a plan.
“Hopefully it doesn’t get to that, but in today’s climate, where things are going and obviously the numbers, where they’re trending, you have to have a plan if something does happen,” Hoiberg said. “We do have that. We feel great about our medical staff; they’ve done a really good job of educating us and educating our team. We are doing the daily testing; every morning we come in at 7:30 and test our entire team and the staff that is around on a daily basis. We’re just doing the best we can, and what that entails for our guys is doing the right things and making the right decisions to do everything we can to keep it at bay.
“Obviously what we saw last week, I’ve got a son that plays at Michigan State. Tom Izzo, it sounds like he was as careful as anybody and he still got it, so you just never know.”
We also still don’t know when the Big Ten plans to release its schedule, but for the time being Nebraska will continue to work towards the season-opener on Nov. 25 and will roll with whatever punches are thrown their way between now and then.