After an extended offseason full of uncertainty, the Huskers are one testing session away from tipping off the 2020-21 season.
Coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters on Tuesday that the team will undergo one more COVID-19 test at 7 p.m. ahead of Wednesday’s season-opener against McNeese State, scheduled for 11 a.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“Our guys are really excited about going out and playing against another opponent,” Hoiberg said. “They’re sick of beating on each other going all the way back to June when we started with this when the NCAA gave clearance to start individual workouts. It will be great to get out there and compete against another opponent, and we’ve got three really good tests coming up here starting with tomorrow afternoon’s game against McNeese.”
For some of the players, the wait has been even longer than that. Dalano Banton, Derrick Walker and Shamiel Stevenson all redshirted last season, and Stevenson hasn’t played in a game since Dec. 15, 2018 when he was still at Pittsburgh.
“Everybody’s just hyped and happy,” said Western Nebraska Community College transfer Teddy Allen, who hasn’t played in a Division I game since March 23, 2018. “Energy. It’s been a long time coming with everything going on this year and also with some of the guys, it’s been a long time since they were able to play on this stage. We’re definitely ready.”
With more programs shutting down all over the country every day, the Huskers have still only had two members of the team test positive since everyone returned to campus in June. Junior Trey McGowens said the players have been sticking together; if they leave the house it’s to go to the gym or to get food.
“The biggest focus for us is just making sure we’re not one of the teams that has to cancel,” McGowens said. “This team this year, we’ve got big goals and dreams we hope to accomplish. We don’t want the coronavirus to affect what we’re trying to do.”
Hoiberg’s keeping his fingers crossed, and the program has a plan if it has to adjust at any point. For the time being, the Huskers are focusing on what they can control.
“I give our guys a lot of credit for really doing a great job to this point of keeping this thing at a distance,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously numbers are going up. You see teams shutting down all over the country right now. We just have to continue to stress making the right decisions, and you can make all the right decisions and still get it. It’s just one of those things where hopefully it doesn’t go through our team.”
Nebraska hasn’t had to shut down its program at any point recently, but plenty of others have and Nebraska has felt the ripples. The Golden Window Classic, the multi-team event taking place in Lincoln this week, has undergone so many changes because of withdrawals and additions that it was difficult to keep track of who was in and out throughout the last week.
“We’ve had three scouting reports done that it turned out we’re not going to play those opponents,” Hoiberg said. “Coaches, we put in a lot of work behind the scenes to put a game plan together to get prepared for what our schedule is going to look like, and obviously that’s changed.”
The Huskers are now scheduled to play Nevada on Thursday and North Dakota State on Saturday in the MTE. But first, the nonconference game against McNeese State awaits.
“They’re a very, very talented team that has a lot of weapons,” Hoiberg said. “They’ve got the best shooter in the country that we’re going to have to know where he is at all times, an all-conference guard in [A.J.] Lawson as well. They’ve got really good guard play. We’re going to have to be on our toes and hopefully get off to a great start with this game and obviously starting off strong with our season.”
The shooter Hoiberg referred to is Scottsbluff alumnus Dru Kuxhausen, who is no stranger to performing on the big stage at Pinnacle Bank Arena after making multiple state tournament runs with the Bearcats. He led the country in 3-pointers made last season while connecting on 45.8% of his attempts and averaging 14.8 points.
Lawson is a 6-foot-5, 215-pound senior guard who was second on the team in scoring at 14.9 points per game last season, and he also dished out a team-high 4.2 assists per game.
Hoiberg wasn’t quite ready to announce a starting five on Tuesday, but he did say he has narrowed it down to six candidates: senior Thorir Thorbjarnarson; juniors Teddy Allen, Lat Mayen and Trey McGowens; and sophomores Dalano Banton and Yvan Ouedraogo.
Wednesday’s season-opener will be televised on BTN, which will be the case for all of Nebraska’s nonconference games this season.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.