Tim Miles and the Huskers (3-1) will be spending their Thanksgiving holiday in Orlando, Florida, this year as Nebraska is set to take part in the Advocate Invitational.
This year’s field pits Nebraska against Central Florida, No. 23 West Virginia against Marist, St. John’s against Oregon State and Missouri against Long Beach State in the first round on Thursday.
“I’m excited for the challenge, I’m excited to learn more about our team, I’m excited for us to get better,” Miles said. “We have no choice but to either rise to the occasion and play at a high level or we’re going to fail, we’re going to lose.
“That’s why, when you look at Central Florida, when you look at West Virginia, Marist, whoever’s on the other side of the bracket — Missouri, all those guys, St. John’s, of course — you know there’s great quality in this tournament, great depth in this tournament with Wayne Tinkle’s son back, Tres, Oregon State’s a completely different team than they were a year ago. I think it’s going to be a great test for our guys.”
The Knights are 3-0 with wins over Mercer, Gardner-Webb and William & Mary this season but will be without their returning leading scorer in junior guard B.J. Taylor because of a broken bone in his foot suffered in the season opener. Michigan transfer Aubrey Dawkins will also miss the season with an injury.
Central Florida also features the tallest player in the country in 7-foot-6, 295-pound junior Tacko Fall. The native of Dakar, Senegal, put up 10.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game while shooting 71.5 percent from the field as a sophomore. Miles said he’s still trying to decide how to simulate Fall’s size in practice.
“I don’t like the broom, tennis racket trick,” Miles said. “I like a person on a box or something like that so you’re battling human arms up top. We’re going to elevate somebody somehow. I have not figured that out yet but it’s going to happen by tomorrow afternoon when we practice.”
Sunday’s 92-70 win against North Dakota at Pinnacle Bank Arena served as a much-needed confidence booster for a pair of struggling Huskers as Isaac Copeland and Anton Gill combined for 46 points while shooting 7-of-9 from 3.
“The first thing is whatever size that gorilla was on their backs falling off, you could hear it a mile away, so that was good just to have those guys relax a little bit and even Isaac said after the game, ‘Man, I needed that Coach.’ … These guys know what expectations are for them and they want to help, they want to follow through and be go-to guys and so to see Anton who hasn’t really played much live basketball be able to step in and knock down shots … We know what he can do defensively and how he can help us. I think it was really good for those two.”
The Huskers won’t get 30 points from Copeland every game, but getting offensive contributions from players other than Glynn Watson Jr. and James Palmer Jr. will be key if Nebraska wants to improve from last season.
“If we can do that consistently and take some of the pressure off Glynn and kind of live through some of James’ ups and downs he’s going to have, which we’ve talked about, obviously that can really help,” Miles said. “And then we’ve got to get Jordy [Tshimanga] going. If we can get some of that stuff going, you feel like you’ve got four, five viable guys that can go out and get you — Glynn you know can get you 30, Copeland already got 30, and then some of those other guys can get you 20; Palmer going right can get you 30. That’s a pretty high level of scoring in major college basketball to be able to go out there and do that … We need that, though. We need consistency.”
Speaking of Tshimanga, the 6-foot-11 sophomore has struggled mightily so far this season, scoring just 10 points on 12 shots in four games.
“I’m going to meet with him tomorrow, for sure,” Miles said. “I’ve talked to him this morning already just trying to encourage him. Confidence is earned. You come back and you’re coming from rehab and all of a sudden things are a little quicker. He’s a quiet kid and he’s always in a good mood, maybe you don’t realize until he’s out in a game that I don’t know where his confidence level is. Part of me says that confidence level isn’t where it should be. We’ve tried to go in there now a few nights in a row and it hasn’t gone well for us to start the game. We’re going to keep going in there to him.”
Freshman guard Thomas Allen is still day-to-day after a hard fall on his tailbone two games ago.
Tipoff in Orlando is set for 5 p.m. on Thursday. The game will be available on ESPN3.
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.