After a 20-day pause as COVID-19 ran through the program, Fred Hoiberg and the Huskers returned to the practice floor on Sunday and are ramping up for their return to play on Saturday.
Hoiberg said nine players, three coaches, a graduate assistant and a manager all tested positive in the last few weeks, and another played tested positive a couple of weeks earlier. In total, 15 of 30 Tier 1 personnel have tested positive for COVID-19.
They practiced for the first time on Sunday, but immediately ran into a couple more set-backs as Dalano Banton rolled his ankle and two others missed Monday with non-COVID-19 illnesses. With seven available players, they took Monday off as players went through individual skill work. The Huskers had 10 players available on Tuesday and were able to hold a full practice, but Banton was not one of them.
“He’s day-to-day moving forward,” Hoiberg said. “He’s still very tender with the ankle and can’t really explode off it. He did a couple things non-contact mostly on the side, getting some shots up, but he spent the majority of practice getting treatment on his ankle. We’ll continue to get him treatment. He’s generally responded well in the past. Hopefully we’ll get him back for a few more things tomorrow and can continue to test it out heading into the game on Saturday at Michigan State.”
Hoiberg said he still has two players working through the Bg Ten return to play protocols but hopes they’ll be cleared later in the week. He expects his team to be at full strength on Saturday.
Hoiberg said the practice on Sunday was pretty rough, but they took a step forward with Tuesday’s scrimmage, even with a few players sidelined.
“We were better than we were on Sunday, took much better care of the ball, but still conditioning, we are a long ways away from being where we need to be and rightfully so,” Hoiberg said. “With basically 20 days of inactivity, it’s going to take a while to get that back and every bit as important is the timing. It kind of reminds me when we used to have All-Star break when you’re playing in the NBA. Those first couple practices back were sloppy, it took a couple days to get the conditioning back and those first couple games weren’t very good as well.”
Through consultation with Chris Bach, the director for the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab, and other medical staff at Nebraska, Hoiberg put together a plan for this week to get the players as ready to compete as possible without wearing them out. They’ll hold a full scrimmage on Wednesday then ease back a bit with their Thursday and Friday practices as they head into Saturday’s game in East Lansing.
“Obviously it’s not ideal, but it hasn’t been ideal for a lot of people this year,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve just got to do the best job we can. As guys get tired we’re going to have to rotate them in and out very quickly, probably have to play a lot of guys.”
The Huskers were 0-5 in conference play and lost to Michigan State in Lincoln before the shutdown. As far as expectations moving forward, Hoiberg is very much focused on the processor results.
“I’m hoping to see steps in the right direction as we get back to competing,” Hoiberg said. “I’m a realist here, so I know we’re not going to go out and play our best game of the year on Saturday. It’s just not realistic to think that we can do that after the amount of time we’ve had off. But what I want to see is us continuing to grow and continuing to get better, even in these practices this week …
“We’re not going to have a lot of practice time after this week. It’s going to be short days, a lot of mental preparation because we’re going to have to have fresh minds and fresh bodies heading into these games. I just want to see us progressing in the right direction … If we go out there and play hard and compete, hopefully the wins will take care of themselves and we can get a few of these early to get ourselves some confidence.”
Hoiberg said their next four games — at Michigan State on Saturday, at Minnesota on Monday, versus Wisconsin next Thursday and at Penn State next Sunday — are set. Beyond that, everything is tentative.
“We’re trying to get all the games scheduled, which I believe would be 15 games in 32 or 33 days; I’ve never been very good at math,” Hoiberg said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get them all in. Hell, players don’t like to practice anyway. So to be able to play that amount of games in a short amount of time — it’s going to be very much like an NBA schedule. There are back-to-backs on the table. Again, nothing’s been finalized at this point with our schedule, but we have talked about that as an option. To get two games under our belt, potentially playing in the same arena and then not having the home game returned to help with travel and to help find a way to get all these games in. The Big Ten’s done a really good job of staying in contact with us, talking to us about our schedule and trying to get the remaining 15 games in.”
It starts on Saturday in East Lansing. Tipoff against the Spartans is set for 5:30 p.m. CT on BTN.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.