After Nebraska’s blowout loss to Michigan on Tuesday night, Coach Fred Hoiberg promised that he was going to “consider everything” in the following days before Nebraska’s trip to Atlanta to face No. 18 Auburn in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event on Saturday.
Unfortunately, a viral infection has hit the program hard and Hoiberg said they were only able to practice in a very limited fashion on Thursday.
“It has been affecting us going back a couple days before the Michigan game where multiple players were unable to practice, and similar today,” Hoiberg said. “We actually sent a couple players home this morning as well and a couple other players to go get tested. … Hopefully our guys will get through today and feel better in the morning and we’ll be able to get on the plane and and head down to Atlanta.”
Hoiberg said none of the players had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday afternoon, though at least two of them tested positive for influenza A and will not travel to Atlanta. Hoiberg said they’ll know who will make the trip after they make it through Thursday as the team is scheduled for an early flight out of town on Friday.
With the lack of available players and full practice time, whatever ideas Hoiberg came up with for scheme, style and rotation tweaks will have to wait until after the Auburn game.
“There were a lot of things we were going to do to make adjustments, but we weren’t able to get any of that done, and I doubt we’ll be able to get it done on a one-day prep,” Hoiberg said. “We have a practice scheduled in the Atlanta Hawks’ practice facility tomorrow and it’s really going to be all about putting in the game plan. So the things that we were going to change going into this one we’re going to have to put on hold. The good thing is we’re going to have a week of practice after this game with with finals the following week, and we’ll be able to do a lot of the things that I was thinking about as far as adding to our package and changing some things up.”
To add injury to illness, Hoiberg also said freshman Wilhelm Breidenbach, who left Tuesday’s game against Michigan with an apparent knee injury, will not travel with the team this weekend and will likely be out for “a while.” Hoiberg said the team had received scan results back for Breidenbach but the team doctor planned to meet with and evaluate him before the program issued any further statement on his status.
Hoiberg praised the energy that Breidenbach was bringing on both ends of the court, and his absence will leave the Huskers light in the frontcourt. Per Hoiberg on the Nebraska Men’s Basketball Radio Show on Tuesday’s Sports Nightly, Trevor Lakes is out after getting his surgically repaired shoulder touched up as well.
“We’re going to have to get creative, maybe play some big-big lineups, put Eduardo [Andre] and Derrick [Walker] out there on the floor together and have a little package ready for when those two guys are on the floor together,” Hoiberg said. “We haven’t done a lot of big-big lineups, but just based on where we are right now, we may have to throw that out there.”
Keon Edwards is another option at the four behind Lat Mayen, and the Huskers have turned to four-guard lineups at times as well with Bryce McGowens or C.J. Wilcher at the four, though that could prove difficult against a 7-1 Auburn team that features a likely lottery pick in 6-foot-11 freshman Jabari Smith.
“He’s been unbelievable lately,” Hoiberg said. “I think four of the last five he’s been over 20, shooting 44% from the 3 at 6-11. They’ll ISO him. It’s hard. We’ve had a switching one through four defense; can’t do that with him or he’ll punish you on the block. So he poses a lot of challenges, and then their whole team does. Their guards shoot it, they’ll shoot it everywhere. [Walker] Kessler obviously at the five at 7-1 can really shoot it and those guards will pull up from the logo. Those guys are all very capable, so it’s going to be a tough order with [Smith], but it’s a whole team effort with with Auburn and we’ve got to have ball security. They’re unbelievable, physical, they get into you and again, they force a lot of turnovers.”
Smith is leading the Tigers with 16.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting 43.9% from 3. Kessler, a transfer from North Carolina, is chipping in 7.9 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game.
Georgia transfer K.D. Johnson is eating the backcourt with 15.5 points per game while shooting 37.2% from deep. Wendell Green runs the show at 10.3 points and 4.4 assists per game.
According to KenPom.com, Auburn is third in the country in block rate and 15th in steal rate defensively while averaging 82.4 points per game.
“If we take some shots we did against Michigan on Saturday, it’s going to be worse,” Hoiberg said. “This team capitalizes, they’re unbelievably long, they’ll run as much as any team we’ll play all year, they turn you over and they crash the glass. So it’s going to be a tall order with where we are right now, but we are going to have to control the game better.”
Nebraska shot 31.9% from the field against he Wolverines including 14.3% from 3, the worst performance of the Hoiberg era in Lincoln. Citing the popular Apple TV show Ted Lasso, Hoiberg said the Huskers need to be goldfish: “Ten-second memory, get it past you, flush it down the toilet and move on.”
“I hope it’s an outlier,” Hoiberg continued. “It’s very disappointing that it happened, I talked about that. But again, seeing what’s going on with our team right now, it makes a little bit more sense with what happened in that game. Again, hopefully we can get over this soon. It happens, it’s one of those things. You can’t let it affect you or use it as an excuse. You’ve just got to have, if we don’t have guys that are able to play, that next man up mentality. You’ve got to be able to go in there and compete at the highest level, whoever is on the floor, and go out and execute.”
Nebraska and Auburn will tip off the four-game, all-day Holiday Hoopsgiving event at State Farm Arena with a 10:30 a.m. CT tipoff. Mike Couzens and Cory Alexander will be on the call for ESPN2. LSU-Georgia Tech, Western Kentucky-Ole Miss and Clemson-Drake will follow the rest of the day.
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.