With the season-opener two weeks away, Fred Hoiberg and the Huskers will get two opportunities to take the court against other teams and learn about themselves before the games start to count for real.
The Huskers will face NAIA Peru State on Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Colorado on Sunday at 11 a.m. in a pair of exhibitions. Hoiberg opted to play a second exhibition, which will raise money for charity, instead of a closed scrimmage in large part because it will give the Huskers another chance to play in front of fans after a season of mostly empty arenas.
“I’m really glad we are playing two exhibitions as opposed to one closed-door,” Hoiberg said. “You can get a lot accomplished in those, but I think it was more important for us this year to get out in front of the fans, having not been able to do that a year ago, hopefully get some of the butterflies and the jitters out of the way before we take the floor for real. We’ve got a really good nonconference schedule, so it’s going to be fun to get out there. I know our guys are looking forward to it and I think our fans are looking forward to it as well.”
The theme of every press conference Hoiberg has held throughout the offseason has been making simple plays, and that’s what he wants to see on Wednesday against the Bobcats.
“The biggest thing we’re looking for is to go out and carry over all the things that we’ve been working on for the past couple months,” Hoiberg said. “We don’t need to go out there and reinvent the wheel and try to go out there and do things that we haven’t been working on. I just want us to go out and play solid basketball, make the right plays, give great effort defensively and hopefully go out there and play well.
“I know there’s going to be probably a lot of butterflies for our guys, being the first time playing in front of fans in a long time, so there’s an excitement in the air, there’s no doubt about that. Our guys are sick of going up against each other every day and we’re looking forward to playing a good quality opponent on Wednesday night.”
The 18-player varsity roster for Peru State features 10 in-state players plus a Council Bluffs native. Lincoln Parkview product Henry Tanksley, a 6-foot-4 guard, led the team in scoring last season at 17.5 pints and 5.0 rebounds per game. Omaha South grad Ty Griggs was second in scoring at 10.8 points per game and shot 38.9%. Griggs’ high school teammate, Skyler Wilson, led the team with 3.8 assists per game while adding 10.7 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Among the newcomers for Peru State are Omaha native and Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln graduate Troy Houghton, who began his career at the Division II level at Sioux Falls, and Lincoln Southeast alumnus Ajantae Hogan. Dedoch Chan, who spent a couple of months at Nebraska in 2018 before leaving the program prior to the start of that season, is also on the roster.
Hoiberg said he still hasn’t settled on a starting five for Wednesday and will make that decision after Tuesday’s practice. Hoiberg said sorting out the rotation and whittling it down to nine or 10 players will be among his biggest challenges this season.
“We’re looking at the overall body of work that we’ve had since we started all the way back in the summer,” Hoiberg said. “We stat everything of all the live practices that we do and just try to make the best decision off of everything that we have shown in practice in live game-like situations. I still don’t know exactly if the rotation Wednesday is going to be the same as what it is on opening night on November 9.
“But the good thing is we had an intrasquad scrimmage last week. You obviously put a little bit more stock into those and we get two opportunities this week with exhibitions … and then we’ll have a week to really solidify exactly what we’re going to do as far as our rotation is concerned. But a lot of things can still play out before that opening game on November 9.”
Hoiberg said the Huskers will go a little harder than normal the day before a gam and will hold a practice on Wednesday morning as well. As for the game itself, he’s planning to script out lineups and rotations to give himself a chance to see how different units work together.
“We’re going to have an idea going into it, probably a little more set than we normally would going into a game where there are more variables, there’s almost more substitution by feel, where this one we’re gonna be pretty scripted with guys and what their minutes are,” Hoiberg said. “Again I’m just looking for guys go out there and hopefully play well, shake off some of the rust, get out in front of the fans for the first time, which will be important.
“I remember a couple years ago, in our first exhibition I don’t think we made a basket until about six minutes through the game. Everybody was just so hyped up. So it’s just going out there and again, doing what we’ve been stressing in practice and hopefully get off on the right foot, being able to carry some of that over, and if we don’t, we’re going to have a lot of things to learn from.”
Wednesday’s exhibition will be streamed on Big Ten Network+, as will Sunday’s game against the Buffaloes.
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.