For most people, Thanksgiving is a day for family, food and football. However, this year, Huskers fans are going to have to carve out some time for a little basketball as well as Nebraska kicks off its run in the Wooden Legacy at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The Huskers (3-0) drew Dayton (2-1) for their first round match-up. The Flyers are a perennial power in the A-10 an always a threat to make the NCAA Tournament under Coach Archie Miller. However, Dayton suffered a serious blow when they lost their best big man, Josh Cunningham, to an ankle injury in their second game that will keep him out indefinitely. Even so, Dayton fields a talented and veteran backcourt with point guard Scoochie Smith and shooting guard Charles Cooke.
“We’re excited to go out to Anaheim and certainly play a team as worthy as Dayton,” Coach Tim Miles said. “Unfortunately they’ve got at least one injury that’s going to hurt them with Josh Cunningham. Always feel bad about that. I’ve known Josh since he was 14 when he visited campus here with Jahlil Okafor and that group, and Kyle Davis is on that team too. We recruited Kendall Pollard and Kyle Davis while I was at Colorado State so I’m very familiar with the Dayton guys. Their coaches Archie [Miller] and Tom Ostrom are really good guys. I think it will be a great test because they have a high, high quality program, a NCAA type of program and those are the types of teams we signed up for this year. It will be a good test for us.”
After a soft start to the season, Tuesday starts a tough four-game stretch away from home. Depending on how the rest of the bracket shakes out in Anaheim, the Huskers could potentially see the likes of UCLA, Virginia Tech, New Mexico and Texas A&M in later rounds. After the tournament, the Huskers will head to the opposite side of the country to take on the Tigers of Clemson.
“I think it will elevate our play no matter what,” Miles said. “Certainly if you go out there and lay an egg win and loss-wise, everybody’s going to be down. But quite frankly, it comes at you so fast sometimes you don’t even realize what your record is. I’m not worried about being deflated or anything after this stretch. We start out on the road [in Big Ten play] at Maryland and at Indiana, which won’t be an easy task. Quite frankly, we come home and play South Dakota, and they’ll know us as well as anyone I would guess if that man still has a brain and I think he does. I just think it will be a good experience for us.”
The Huskers passed their first true test of the season with a 65-54 win over Louisiana Tech at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday. Nebraska got the win, but it wasn’t necessarily pretty.
“I think in general, if you saw our team you saw what we are most like, I would believe, on Saturday night,” Miles said. “I thought that we had trouble scoring because we were impatient and showed some youthfulness maybe that way but solid defensively and tough-minded, with some tough-minded basketball. I think that’s probably a better snapshot of what we’re about than anything.”
For the first time this season, sophomore point guard Glynn Watson Jr. really struggled as he finished with two points on 1-of-9 shooting and three turnovers in 32 minutes.
“Let me tell you about Glynn Watson,” Miles said. “At 10 o’clock on Sunday morning, I’m in church and my pocket buzzes and it’s ‘when can we watch tape this morning.’ There’s a kid – a lot of college kids aren’t up at that time on a Sunday morning. I just think that he’s a willing and eager learner. He wanted to see the tape and get my perspective so he and I went out – as a team we watched the whole game, but he and I watched all his offensive possessions and just talked about some different things. He’s just not doing a few things and I think he’s got a clearer understanding of when we run our five-out attack, when I want him to attack.
“You have to be careful of what you tell him because he’ll listen, which isn’t always the case – not with Glynn but in general. He’ll do what you want him to do to a fault. I’ll go say ‘the roll guy’s wide open’ and he’ll look for the roll guy the whole time because he wants to please and he wants to do it right. But we need him to attack, we can’t go out and have him get two points or four points or whatever it is.”
So far this season, the starting five of senior Tai Webster and four sophomores has carried the Huskers. But the bench has been inconsistent at best and contributed just eight points against Louisiana Tech. Nebraska will need more from its second unit to win in Anaheim.
“I really like our starting five,” Miles said. “Beyond that, we’ve just found enough guys to help us out. We need more. I would like to get Anton Gill on track but he’s going to have to do it against high, high-quality competition and I now he can. Isaiah Roby I thought played a little better, although his on-ball defense he wasn’t as good. They were so small I just didn’t feel like I could play Jordy [Tshimanga] and another big, and it’s hard to sub three bigs in. We’re going to need all these guys in this stretch here. I’m getting a feel for a guy like Jeriah Horne; I like where he’s at.”
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.