Basketball season is rapidly approaching and Nebraska now has two contests — a charity exhibition against Mississippi State and a closed scrimmage against Iowa State — under its belt.
“It’s great going against Power Five [opponents] because you get a true look at who can do what, who’s where,” Coach Tim Miles said on Monday. “I think we’ve competed pretty well. If you believe in KenPom and the computer numbers, you’ve got Iowa State as a top-35 team and Mississippi State as a top-60, and we’re right around 100 to 110. To be able to go out and do well is promising yet there is a lot of work to be done. As I look at our team, specifically, our defense has to get better.”
The Huskers held Mississippi State to 32 points in the first half of the exhibition but allowed 40 points in the second half, and the Cyclones put up 84 points on 58.8 percent shooting including 53.3 percent from deep.
The preseason games give Miles a couple of extra chances to scout his own team against real competition so that he can identify where the team needs to improve the most. For that purpose, Miles said the games were successful.
“Here’s why they went well: because we screwed up a lot,” Miles said. “So there’s a lot to be taught on, you name it. Discipline, whether it be defensively or ball-handling or shot-selection, whether it be just team defense, little errors that cost us. Twice we had guys just over-help unnecessarily that cost us 3s. You’ll see Anton Gill and Evan Taylor stay with their man and not allow the shot but you’ll see Thomas Allen and Isaiah Roby over-help. It’s just a lack of experience and discipline so the quicker we can ratchet that up with those guys, I think, the better off we’ll be.”
The teaching moments were great, but Miles said the the positive outcomes had their own inherent value.
“It went well because there’s a lot of teaching to be done yet we came out with two good outcomes and you want to feel positive about that,” Miles said. “There are some programs that just have culture wins, that every year you know what you’re getting. But we’ve just had too much turnover, quite frankly, in the last two years. This team has to figure out how to win so now they can set the tone for the rest of us and we know that; that’s just the way it is.”
Miles highlighted the play of three juniors who have stood out to him thus far, all of whom had big games against the Cyclones.
“Jack McVeigh looks more comfortable shooting the ball and has shot it really well,” Miles said. “James Palmer has done some really good things and quite frankly has been highly, highly productive and his coach doesn’t play him that much; he might have to look at his minutes. But James just does enough to keep me on edge too; that’s what I love about him. Of course, Glynn Watson is, I think, an all-league type guard.”
Elsewhere on the roster, Miles said they’re still working the rust off of the players who are coming off injuries — Isaac Copeland, Anton Gill and Jordy Tshimanga. Those three combined for 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting against Iowa State. Miles is also looking for a big step forward from his underclassmen.
“Some of those younger guys just need to take the next step and figure things out,” Miles said. “Thomas Allen was much better yesterday than he had been previously. Isaiah Roby does so many different things. I hold him to such a high, exacting standard; it’s probably not fair, but I thought he did some good things yesterday too.”
One trait of this roster that Miles has mentioned repeatedly is its versatility, which showed itself against the small-ball Cyclones who don’t have a player taller than 6-foot-9 on their roster.
“I like the versatility of our team,” Miles said. “We can play really small. Yesterday we had a lineup — Isaiah Roby at the five, technically Evan Taylor at the four, Palmer at the three and then two guards with Glynn and Thomas Allen, and that group made a run to lengthen our lead. I wouldn’t have expected to play that group until I was mad enough just to put them in. We’d never practiced it or anything but I think that tells you a little bit about the versatility.”
Allen is going to play this season, but the roles for the other freshmen — Nana Akenten and Thorir Thorbjarnarson — have yet to be determined. Neither one of them played in either game.
“We’re already playing 10 or 11 and it’s just tough to get a 12th guy in there,” Miles said. “Nana is a guy that’s got loads of talent but just in terms of this niche right now probably has further to go than the rest of the guys in terms of team defense, acclimation, some ball-handling. He can shoot it and he’s as athletic as anybody. It’s just a matter of time for him.”
Miles said that he was planning to meet with his staff after his Monday press conference to discuss the potential for redshirting and who might be candidates.
“Of course, those two young freshmen being Thor and Nana would be guys you’d discuss it with,” Miles said. “Sometimes if you think they’re going to get a lot out of a redshirt, some guys need that idea that they’re going to play and some guys don’t do so well in the redshirting. So I think we just have to talk to them real honestly too about where their mind is and where their expectations are.”
Fans will get their first chance to see the 2017-18 Huskers in person on Thursday night as Nebraska will hold an open practice and scrimmage on Thursday. Doors at Pinnacle Bank Arena will open at 5:30 p.m. and the team will practice until 7:30 before wrapping up the night with a 30-minute scrimmage and an autograph session.
Nebraska’s official exhibition game is set for Nov. 7 against Northwood. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.
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.