Nebraska failed its first true test of the season at St. John’s last week as the Red Storm ran away from the Huskers in the second half.
Year four for Fred Hoiberg will provide plenty of tests, however, and the next one comes this week as Nebraska (3-1) heads to Orlando to spend the Thanksgiving Holiday at the ESPN Events Invitational.
“We had had yesterday off, bounced back with a good solid day today,” Hoiberg said on Tuesday. “We had a long cleanup edit from our game the other day against Pine Bluff and started putting in the game plan for our game against Oklahoma on Thursday. This tournament is a great opportunity to learn a lot about ourselves right now and play three very good quality opponents.”
Nebraska will open tournament play against Oklahoma (3-1) on Thursday before playing either Seton Hall or Memphis in the second round. The other half of the bracket includes Florida State, Siena, Stanford and Ole Miss.
“I’ve always been a fan of [Oklahoma coach] Porter Moser, with what what he does on both sides of the ball, and it’ll be a great first test going up against that team with great length, great physicality,” Hoiberg said. “[Grant] Sherfield is a very good point guard, does a great job with the ball getting them into their offense, and a guy that can really score it from all three levels. So we’re looking forward to the challenge, and hopefully we’ll play well for three games.”
The Huskers have seen Sherfield once before as he played for Nevada in 2020-21 when the Wolfpack beat Nebraska in Lincoln during the Golden Window Classic. He transferred to Oklahoma before this season and is leading the Sooners with 15.5 points and 4.8 assists while shooting 41.2% from 3.
Oklahoma also starts a pair of transfers in their second year in the program in Tanner and Jacob Groves, who started their careers at Eastern Washington. Tanner (6-foot-10, 240 pounds) is averaging 10.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists while Jacob (6-foot-9, 216 pounds) is chipping in 6.8 points per game.
“The thing that stands out the most is their size,” Hoiberg said. “They’re 6-10, 6-10 at the four and five with the Groves brothers, and then 6-7, 6-8 at the three, and their guards have good size as well. So it’s going to be very important to go out and do a good job on the glass. They’re going to pose more of a St. John’s type from a length standpoint and a physicality standpoint, so we have to hit first when that ball goes up. Besides the St John’s game, we’ve done a pretty solid job for the most part, but we still at times are letting our opponent hit us first and make first contact, so it’s going to be very important in this game. We have to try to limit second-chance opportunities and just do a good job.
“They do a phenomenal job with their back-cutting; they’re a great cutting team. We have to try to take away the rim, take away the paint and force them into a half court game.”
Sherfield won’t be the only familiar face on the Nevada bench. Doc Sadler recently joined Moser’s staff as a special advisor to the head coach.
“I’m excited for him,” Hoiberg said. “Doc is a guy that I’ve been with for a long time going back to my days at Iowa State, and it’ll be good to catch up with him, and also with Clayton Custer, who’s on that staff as well. Clayton played for me at Iowa State for a couple years before he transferred to play for Porter at Loyola where he led that team to a Final Four. So I’m really happy for Clayton as well and it will be good to catch up with those guys.”
The Huskers played four games in two weeks to open the season. They’ll play three games in three days this week. However, Hoiberg said most of his players have experienced some kind of multi-team event, and Juwan Gary played in the same tournament while he was with Alabama.
“I think most of our guys have experienced some form of what we will experience this week, whether it is a multi-team event early in the year like this or playing in a conference tournament at the end of the year where you can play multiple games; Sam [Griesel] has a lot of experience with that playing in the championship game the last couple years at North Dakota State,” Hoiberg said. “But Juwan playing in this event, C.J. [Wilcher] has played in a multi-team event.
“We’ve got several guys that have done it, and it’s different, especially this time of the year as teams continue to work their way into top shape and get that conditioning level where it needs to be. You need a deep bench and we feel good about how a lot of guys have gotten experience for us early in the season. We feel good about our group going in playing a lot of games in a short amount of time.”
One player who hasn’t been part of that group that has seen the court this season is senior big man Derrick Walker, who Hoiberg offered an update on Tuesday. Blaise Keita and Wilhelm Breidenbach have played the majority of the minutes at the five in Walker’s absence and are both coming off double-digit scoring performances against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
“He continues to be day-to-day with his medical condition,” Hoiberg said. “He’s getting closer, and hopefully we’ll get him back before too long. But Blaise has done a great job filling the gap. Derrick does a lot of things for this team and I think we were most exposed in St. John’s where Derrick’s our pressure release and he can flash up and make a play for himself or for others. So we’ve missed that, but Blaise and Wilhelm have done a really good job of filling that void.”
Equipment manager Pat Norris did pack Walker’s jersey for the trip to Orlando according to an image he shared on Twitter.
Tipoff on Thursday is set for 4 p.m. CT on ESPN with Mark Neely and Randolph Childress on the call. If Nebraska wins, it will play on Friday at 7 p.m. If the Huskers lose, they’ll play at 4:30 instead.