Nebraska’s Tim Miles is as fond of talking as any coach you’ll find, but even he’s sick of the chatter at this point. It’s finally game week for the 2018-19 Huskers.
“We’re excited for the week, just kind of tired of talking about it,” Miles said on Monday. “So let’s go, let’s go compete, let’s go play.”
The Huskers will take the court at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday night to open the season against Mississippi Valley State. The Delta Devils dropped both of their exhibition games including one to NAIA Tougaloo College. There are a few things Miles is hoping to focus on in Tuesday’s game.
“The three things in my mind are defensive rebounding, making 3-pointers on offense and then just a firm rotation — who can play where, how much, with what group?” Miles said.
All 12 eligible players got into the game including 10 in the first half for the Huskers during their exhibition against Division II Wayne State last Wednesday. Miles played several different lineups and subbed fairly liberally. Tuesday will be more about hammering down that rotation beyond the starting five.
“I don’t have a set rotation yet,” Miles said. “I don’t have that figured out. Like, I want to get Brady Heiman on the floor, I’ve just got to determine at what position and what group I should probably play him with where we can be the most competitive.”
Sophomore wing Nana Akenten is one of those players trying to earn minutes in that second unit and Miles said he’s been impressed by Akenten’s eagerness to review tape and try to learn more about what he needs to do.
“I think his role will be that he can get on the floor as an athletic rebounder and he can make 3s, he can play the small forward or big forward the way we play,” Miles said. “What I’ve seen is his consistency’s better, he’s just been better every day in all the ways. I think that’s important. Last year I think was kind of, like I say, one of those peaks and valleys type of EKG seasons for him, just even in practice and everywhere you go with that. I’ve been impressed with the way he’s gotten better. He lives with Isaac Copeland; I think Cope’s been a very good influence on him that way and I think that’s helped him too.”
Nebraska has its core four back including Copeland, the senior forward who transferred from Georgetown two years ago, and Thomas Allen Jr. has emerged as the team’s fifth starter, but the role-player openings left by the departures of seniors Evan Taylor, Anton Gill and Duby Okeke are up for grabs for the rest of the team’s young supporting cast. That’s what this week is about.
“I think we have a lot of guys with potential, but they haven’t been tested yet,” Copeland said. “That comes through more reputations in the games.”
Besides sorting out a rotation, the team’s perimeter shooting has been a big issue for the Huskers through their preseason games. Between their closed scrimmage with Iowa State and their exhibition with Wayne State, the Huskers have shot a combined 13-of-52 (25 percent).
“My level of concern is high,” Miles said. “I’m worried about it. It’s something that’s critical to our success. I think the types of 3s we take is important and then who’s taking them. As coaches, we have to identify, ‘all right, if a certain guy is better here or better there, why aren’t we getting him more shots here or there?’ We’re working on that with our entire staff — we just had a long meeting and it’s something I feel we have to improve and we’ve not produced yet. It’s something that’s certainly on our to-do list.”
However, working through the team’s struggles from the perimeter doesn’t necessarily entail taking fewer of them. Miles is focused on the process over results this early in the year.
“If it’s a good 3 or a shot at the rim or a free throw, I’m fine all day,” Miles said. “The dribble 2s drive me bananas; some of those guys, that’s what they’re best at so I understand getting a rhythm or getting in from there, but anybody that has a chance to take a 3 should take it. It’s part of the deal.”
On the other end of the floor, Miles knows what to expect from his top four, five, six seven guys, but beyond that it gets little dicey as he inserts more and more youth into the lineup.
“There are probably, honestly, six guys that I’m confident know what they’re doing and then there’s the rest of them,” Miles said. “We just seem to have enough guys out there to keep me worried every time somebody was on the floor. And we subbed freely and stuff like that and we’re going to get those younger guys up to speed and those guys that don’t have the experience up to speed. They need reps, they need the experience and there’s nothing like being out there in a game form, a game competition, at game speed and make a mistake. You can replicate it in practice and you get a lot of reps, but we just need to see it over and over and over. I’ve been pleased at how many guys have asked me to watch tape and those sorts of things.”
Tipoff on Tuesday against the Delta Devils 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.