You could say it’s been an interesting week for Nebraska as it prepares to head to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for a Sunday showdown with Oklahoma State. Head coach Tim Miles and company had to navigate at least a few less-than-ideal circumstances before even thinking about Xs and Os for the Cowboys.
First and foremost, a bug ran through the locker room this week that caused three Huskers to miss time and prompted a thorough cleaning of the team area. Freshman guard Amir Harris will miss Sunday’s match (his second straight) with what the team now believes to be mono. Harris missed last Saturday’s Creighton win and after Miles said he was being tested for strep.
The other two guys, though, Miles didn’t want to name them.
“I’m not going to tell you,” he said. “I don’t have to do an injury report yet, do I?”
He wasn’t even ready to give out how many guys will travel with the team.
“Not everybody will go on the bus,” he started. “Amir will be out, I’ll give you that.”
Whether it was Miles in a jesting mood, gamesmanship for the Pokes and coach Mike Boynton or something else, that the Huskers were shorthanded throughout the week because of an illness is cause for concern. Miles’ squad isn’t as deep as he’d like it to be and if three guys can’t go, depending on who the three are, it could spell trouble.
Away from Pinnacle Bank Arena this season, only Nana Akenten is averaging more than 12 minutes a game off the bench. Brady Heiman is averaging 9.3, Tanner Borchardt is at 9.8 and Harris is at 7.3. Eighty-two percent of the Huskers’ scoring comes from the starting five, you hope none of them are in danger of missing time.
Problem No. 2 for Miles and his staff is simply finding ways to keep his team active.
Nebraska’s been off for finals week all week. They held two 20-minute scrimmages throughout the week — Heiman said there was good action in both — but it’s been a down week.
“We all kind of dread this dead time, players and coaches alike,” Miles said. “You try and balance keeping them ready and keeping them competitive.”
And more, over the course of three-and-a-half weeks beginning with the Creighton game, the Huskers will take the floor just three times — Sunday against OSU, Dec. 22 against Cal State Fullerton and Jan. 2 at Maryland.
That off time presents challenges of keeping everyone engaged.
“We’ve just got to try and keep them healthy and see what we can put together here,” Miles said.
And finally, Oklahoma State. Because despite what their record indicates, the Cowboys pose a problem.
“They’ve played excellent competition, they’ve beaten high-quality opponents, they were right there with Minnesota at the end,” Miles said of the Pokes. “Mike Boynton’s done an excellent job with those guys and he’s scheduled ambitiously, there’s no doubt about it.”
Six of Oklahoma State’s last seven games have all come against opponents who currently have a .700 winning percentage or better. They’re 4-5, having lost three straight, but only one loss this season has come by more than 10 points.
A common praise of Boynton is his ability to connect with his players and build a system guys want to be a part of. All the rage right now is spacing the floor and shooting 3s and the Cowboys shoot it as well as anyone.
OSU is 11th nationally in 3-point percentage, converting at a 41.6 percent clip. Four guys are taking at least four a game — junior wings Thomas Dziagwa and Lindy Waters, junior forward Cam McGriff and senior point Mike Cunningham — and all four of them are hitting at least 39 percent. Dziagwa (the man they call Dizzy) takes 6.4 a game and hits at 53.4 percent.
“It’ll be a good matchup, that team of his shoots the cover off the ball,” Miles said. “4-5 doesn’t do anything for me. I see their talent.”
Nebraska’s 3-point defense will be tested. Even after Creighton, a similarly hot-shooting team, the Huskers still rank fourth nationally in 3s yielded as a percentage of opponent looks and rank 29th in conversion rate.
Other News and Notes
>> A capacity crowd inside the Sanford Pentagon, Sunday’s venue, is around 3,250 people. That’s about a quarter of what Nebraska gets at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Every year, the Pentagon plays host to AAU tournaments for teams from everywhere. Heiman has played in it and said that no, it won’t be the same as PBA, but the noise will still carry.
Miles just likes the history associated with the arena.
“It’s got this historic kind of throwback element to it, I think they call it the Heritage Court,” he said. “I think it’ll be a lot of fun, I think it’ll be good for our guys.
“For a neutral base, hopefully there’s more Husker fans than Cowboy fans up there.”
Miles’ parents also live in the area, so they’ll come to the game Sunday evening. Asked if he’s going to need to censor himself with Mom and Dad in the house and fewer people around to cover up any unpleasantries, Miles said not at all.
“Nope, Mom can’t hear,” he said with a smile.
>> The temptation is there to try and play small and run Oklahoma State off the 3-point line with Nebraska’s length. Outside of perimeter shooting, there isn’t really another thing the Pokes are great at.
Until you factor in Oklahoma State’s freshman big, Yor Anei, that is.
The 6-foot-10 forward/center is averaging 6.3 blocks per 40 minutes on the court.
“Any time you go against a shot-blocker, especially for guys like James [Palmer Jr.] and guys who live at the rim there’s a battle,” Miles said. “It’s like two battering rams, something’s got to give. We have to be smart.”
That could mean going at the body and trying to get him into foul trouble. The blocks are great, but Anei is also getting called for 7.3 fouls per 40 minutes. That ain’t great.
“He is a freshman so hopefully a senior is smart enough to go in there and operate,” Miles said.
That could be a key thing to watch for.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.