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Husker Basketball: 2010-11 Season Preview

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2009-10: 15-18 (2-14)

Worst conference season in decades, and last place in the Big 12. Ouch.

Injuries and transfers in 2009 hurt our chances of competing at all in conference, which is always a huge task in itself considering the competition year in and year out in the Big 12. I'll admit, games were tough to watch last year so we appreciate any and all of you who stuck around for game threads, as dificult as it was to stay supportive. The ladies had a hell of a run though, and the March Madness pool was fun- even without a team involved.

Enter 2010.

So far, Nebraska is getting no love this year. Surprised? Yeah, me neither. When I read around the blogs and such, it's a rather dismal experience. Sadly, I don't think many bloggers even bothered to watch the Huskers last season, hence every single write-up reading as an afterthought. Do I expect that NU will rank amongst the leagues top six teams? No. But we will be better, how much so remains to be seen. The Big 12 coaches voted Nebraska into the # 9 slot in the preseason conference polls, which is right about where I would put them as well.

The Huskers will open exhibition play this Wednesday with a fan appreciation night against Peru State, so if you're in the neighborhood..check it out. The Puerto Rico Tip-off tournament will follow a few weeks later, and based on the potential competition in San Juan, we should see a little bit of what Nebraska can do versus D1 opponents. I've been called overly optimistic about Husker sports before, but I think there are some very good, and real reasons why we shoud expect a better season this year on the hardwood. The Cornhuskers are poised to make a vast improvement over last years 2-14 league record, and after the jump we'll be outlining some of the reasons as to why. (Because how can you not improve on 2-14? Well, yeah...but I think it gets broader than that)

We'll break it down into thirds:

Segment 1 | Spring and Summer recap

Segment 2 | New faces and returning players

Segment 3 | Season outlook

Take the jump and spend some time to getting to know a little bit about this season's Nebraska basketball team!

Segment 1 - Off season Recap

To catch people up on what's been going on since March, here's the chronological skinny version:

-Coach Doc lost three players to transfer, which really didn't hurt us much in my opinion - with the exception of Ray Gallegos. Doc's luck changed quickly however, when Gallegos had a change of heart and re-committed to Nebraska Basketball a few days later. Turns out it was just the freshman-homesick blues, which is perfectly understandable. The other two, Myles Holley and Quincy Hankins-Cole made it permanent, and bolted in the quest for more playing time someplace else. Like I said, this didn't hurt us much considering the personalities involved. Talented players these two were, but not such a good fit for Nebraska under Doc Sadler. (More on this later)

- Lincon-ites vote to approve the construction of a new 16,000 seat arena in the West Haymarket section of downtown Lincoln. The new arena is scheduled to be completed in 2013, and the project will offer more than just a new venue for the round-ballers. The venture also includes a new ice center, 200 room hotel, 100k feet of retail space, another 100k of office space, 100 residential units, and over 2,300 extra parking stalls. This is more than a shot in the arm to the Lincoln economy, it's a reason to believe that Husker basketball will make a good impression upon it's entrance into the Big Integer, improve upon recruiting, and really provide a great place to watch Husker hoops moving forward.

- August saw the Huskers travel to the tropics for a little Summer action versus a few semi-pro teams in Nassau. The Big Red won all four games in the four day span, and were only tested a few times during any of the games. Wins over teams with names like the Cyborts and Y-Care Wreckers aren't sexy, but when you add in some scuba-diving and beach roaming in the Bahamas...you gotta like what it does for the players' moral heading into fall practice. The main thing was too see what the new team dynamic is like after all of the changes, and Nebraska got it's first competitive look at some new guys as well as those injured for all of last season.

-The Huskers saw their roster swell to 20 members over the summer, which means a lot of new and exciting names in addition to the ones we got production from last year. Andre Almeida and Kamryn Brown weren't available in Nassau for the Bahama exhibition tournament, but we did see action out of Caleb Walker, and former UNK Loper Drake Beranek. We have some real experience returning, so to me this simply means that we will have a much deeper bench than last year. Something that hurt us late in games. Side note: Former LSU starting point guard Bo Spencer announced he is transferring to NU for his senior season. The guy put up 25 points against Tennessee and Kentucky last year....back to back. He'll sit out this season, but man..what a nice grab going into Big Ten play!

-New Jersey. As in - a slightly different look for the Big Red when they hit the floor in November. The new threads, which are modeled after the new NBA style jerseys, are made with 60% recycled materials, and are 30% lighter - keeping the players drier and cooler during game play. Umm...I'm all for style and going green, but talk to me when they craft a jersey that makes the ball go in more often when Nebraska shoots. Actually, they do look a bit more sleek...I like 'em.

 

Segment 2 | New faces and returning players

With the addition of six new players that will get immediate playing time this season to the Husker roster, one has to be optimistic of our chances to win a fair amount of games. The best part? These guys aren't incoming freshman, and two of them were likely going to be regular starters last season before exiting due to injuries. A far less detailed look by fellow bloggers are quick to note that Nebraska hasn't had the caliber of new recruits that say - a Texas has had. What they are failing to see is the fact that while we do have incoming recruits on the roster, NU has no immediate need for incoming impact freshman this year considering how much we had to call upon them last year. The result? We have a good sized stock of sophomores and juniors who can claim major playing time from 2009.

Here are the guys we should see often, and that you'll maybe need introductions for:


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Christopher Niemann, the 6-11 RSo. from Germany, will provide a large presence in the paint, and has been noted for his court awareness and good hands.(Those crafty europeans!) Last season, poor Diaz was our only real "big" down low, and with his bony frame, was at a disadvantage from the jump. This season, Niemann should compliment a bulked up Diaz, and a third 6-11 big man in transfer Andre Almeida. A much needed boost in size for what was the shortest team in the conference last year. If he can just avoid blowing out his ACL for the third time in two seasons, we should see a nice contribution from the other half of our German contingent in 2010-11. (Chris played with fellow Husker Christian Standhardinger while in Germany on the Urspringshule team)

Toney McCray, who barely played  last season before opting for surgery, looks to be one of Nebraska's strongest backcourt scoring threats. McCray played in 3 games last year, before making the decision to have surgery on his left UCL (elbow). Toney's 2008-09 campaign alone, should serve as proof positive that he can indeed be the impact player needed at his position. His long and wirey frame adds a potent blocking threat to his already evident scoring ability. Last season the Huskers lacked a second pure scoring threat next to Ryan Anderson, and games tended to hinge on one player carrying the team on his back. This season, look for McCray to add balance and depth to the Husker backcourt in both the scoring and defensive departments.

Kamryn Brown, a transfer player who was originally courted by Nebraska, and eventually choose Oregon, will burn his last 2 years of eligibility in Lincoln. After sitting out the 2009-10 season while attending a California community college, Kamryn signed with the Huskers in April and will be ready to play this fall. I'm excited about this addition, mainly because of what he can contribute, when senior Lance Jeter takes a breather. We will need a proven court director, and Brown can step into that role after leading the Oregon Ducks in assists during his freshman and sophomore seasons, and starting 13 games over that  same span.

Caleb Walker torched the nets last season at the junior college level, and led Butler Community College to a 29-7 record. Walker will have 2 years of eligibility to offer the Cornhuskers, and adds another straight-forward scoring threat to the floor. Walker is also Doc Sadler's second JUCO All-American signee in his career, joining former Husker Steve Harley. If we can get something near Caleb's JUCO statistical performance (16.4 ppg and over 53% fgp), then the Big red backcourt will have yet another option off the bench, depth that was much needed last season.

Andre Almeida adds more international flavor to the Husker ranks, hailing from Brazil and playing for Arizona Western College last season. Almeida appears to be a huge (and I mean HUGE) defensive force down low, and he makes up the last third of the 6-11 centers for Nebraska. (Neimann and Diaz) My guess is that Almeida will be our biggest asset when defense in the paint is needed. At 310 lbs, I'd be suprised if anyone in the Big 12 can push him around. Unlike Niemann, McCray, Beranek, and Walker, Andre did not make the trip to the Bahamas - which is unfortunate in that we didn't get to see how big he plays.

Drake Beranek left UNK to walk on at Nebraska for his final season of eligibility. Beranek was flying high at UNK, and was a 3-time all-conference selection as a Loper. His decision to take a risk paid off on the heels of the trip to Nassau, as Coach Sadler awarded Drake with a scholarship after his impressive efforts on the court. Beranek will likely be utilized as a shooting guard or small forward at 6-4, and should add depth, as well as provide the Huskers with solid defense and outside shooting when needed.

Returning players (with measurable minutes last season)


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Lance Jeter - Our sole returning senior with any substantial playing time. Jeter started filling the point guard role more and more as the season went on, when it became clear that consistency wasn't Sek Henry's bag. Jeter, the former football player, used his strength and quickness to compete with the rest of the Big 12 backcourt in a way Henry could not. He was one of only two Huskers to start all 33 games last year, and averaged 7.5 ppg  while leading the team with 4.1 assists. There have been rumblings of Jeter standing out as one the premier backcourt players in the Big 12 this year. We'll see if that holds up.

Brandon Richardson - The junior from Los Angeles started 15 games last season, and chipped in an impressive 8.9 ppg. More of an immediate scoring threat with the ability to handle the ball, Richardson should see a large increase in playing time this season, as a natural replacement for Ryan Anderson. Richardson shot 85 three pointers last year, which was 4th most on the team, yet only hit on 32% of them. Richardson worked hard on his game during the off-season, which was apparent during the Bahamas exhibition tournament in August, where his inspired defensive play and key point production helped the Huskers to a 4-0 record on their trip.

Christian Standhardinger - Last year, Christian was hot and cold. Clearly a talented player, we saw some games where he really took it to the opposition, and some where he fell flat and made mistakes. Affectionately dubbed "Bratwurst" on CN due to his recruitment out of Germany, the sophomore averaged an impressive 8.1 ppg with almost 4 rebounds per game. Standhardinger showed a lot pf promise for a freshman coming out of the "Fatherland", and gave the Huskers a bigger presence on the interior while at the same time posing as a shooting threat from the perimeter. Christian is built of the same mold as former OU star and current NBA player Edward Najera, with good hands and a nice shooting touch to compliment his solid 6-9 frame.

Ray Gallegos - Ray came in last season as a clear bomb-threat when the Huskers simply needed points from outside. Started just 3 games last year, but that's 3 games more than a lot of freshman did last year. Gallegos is another who worked hard on his game over the spring months. During the Bahamas tourney, Gallegos led all scorers in the first game with 18 points. Suffice it to say, I think the majority of Ray's off-season work probably came with regard to his jump-shot. The downside is that Ray will be competing for clock. The upside is that Doc wants depth, so clock he should see.

Eshaunte "Bear" Jones - "Bear" emerged as a potent 3-point shooter last year, shooting 92 triples despite averaging just 16 minutes per game. Out of those 92, Jones made 40 which gave him the best 3-point percentage on the team among those with at least 25 attempts. Jones was second in made 3-pointers after Ryan Anderson, so look for him to fill the "go to guy" role when the Big Red need the outside shots to start dropping. Only a sophomore, Jones adds even more depth to the Husker bench at the guard position.

Brandon Ubel - The Overland Park, KS native started 16 games during his freshman year, and averaged 4.4 ppg with 2 boards per game. Ubel seems to be one of Doc's favorites, and reportedly has a work ethic second to none. I'd expect with the influx of new talent, Ubel won't see much more playing time than last season, but who knows. Ubel had the highest 3-point percentage of any player on the team with at least 10 attempts, which is surprising for a guy at 6-10.

Jorge Brian-Diaz - Another impressive effort during his freshman season, Diaz was thrust into the limelight after the injury to Chris Neimann, and started a whopping 26 games. As Nebraska's only true center last year, Diaz performed about as well as anyone could have expected given the circumstances. Diaz measures in at almost 7ft tall, but his biggest defieciency last year was a lack of width. The kid tipped the scales at a scant 230 lbs during the 09-10 campaign. No worries, Jorge added 15 lbs of muscle to his 6-11 frame thanks to that good ol' Nebraska beef. Jorge led the team in blocks with 41, as well as in fg percentage at 52%. Diaz figures to be a force this year in the Big 12 while getting help down low from new addtion Andre Almeida and a healthy Chris Neimann.

 

 

Segment 3 | 2010-11 Season outlook

If you take the time to read thorugh all of this, I'd bet you'll notice the same trend that I have. LOTS of young guys who have LOTS of playing time under their belt. This excites me, and is one of the reasons that I think Nebraska will not be occupying the Big 12's basement this year.

The circumstances surrounding the start of the season last year forced Doc Sadler to make a decision. Start your most experienced guys, and hope for the best....or scrap the season (more or less) and get as many guys playing time in order to be better off next year. I got the feeling last season that Doc was opting for the later of the two options, as evidenced by the game of "musical starters" we saw outside of regulars Ryan Anderson and Sek Henry. I think this will pay off, as the Huskers can boast at least 7 players on this year's roster who averaged 13 minutes or more per game last year, and that doesn't include the transfer guys.

Our biggest problems last season were scoring, or lack thereof, and stupid turnovers. The Huskers struggled at times with transition defense, but appeared to work some of that out as the year went on. The fact that we gave the ball away, and couldn't score enough to come from behind were plenty enough to spell doom for the Huskers. The depth of our bench was also an issue, as it seemed that we rotated the same inexperienced freshman and sophomores to try and help out Jeter, Andeson, and Henry.

On the perimeter, we can expect a big boost from the bench thanks to the addition of Beranek, Brown, and Walker. The immediate impact of these new players, combined with the experience of Jeter, Richardson, Jones and Gallegos should give us enough scoring options to keep the opposing defense honest and prevent them from collapsing to help the "bigs" down low. Conversely, you can expect more open shots for the deadly shooters if Diaz and Co. can be a force in the paint. Hence, the inside-out game that we sorely missed last year. Jeter's leadership will be huge with this group. The more he expects out of the young guys, and the more he holds them accountable, the better off Nebraska will be. Our backcourt could very well be top-five in the conference, despite what the haters might say, as long as they stay healthy and play their game. (This is where I think losing Holley and Hankins-Cole was an okay thing. Talented players were they, but rather immature and possibly a bit too selfish for Doc's system and style of play.)

The others, "Bratwurst" and Ubel, may turn out to be the wildcard this year depending on what we are up against. Games against the smaller, quick teams will require a lineup with personel such as Richardson and Gallegos, but a larger physical matchup against the likes of a Kansas, may call for more size with Ubel and Standhardinger. Sadlers style of defense relies heavily on physicality, which plays better into the hands of Standhardinger. Sure, he looked lost at times last year, but he was never afraid to put a body on someone. This will give Nebraska an extra little edge, in the fact that they will be able to adjust from a smaller lineup to something more physical if the need arises.

Down low, I think Nebraska fans need to pay close attention to what happens here. With Diaz getting as much playing time as he did last year, and the additions of Almeida and Neimann, you have to think that Nebraska will be able to simply rotate fresh bodies in the post to bang away at the defense. Almeida and Diaz are blocking fiends, and Neimann is probably good for 7-10 points per game. We deperately needed this last seaon, and lost more than a few games due to the opposition wearing down Diaz or Standhardinger late in the game. The physical development of Diaz at the center position, and adding two more big bodies to help out will be huge. As Doc was quoted at Nebraska's Big 12 Media Day "When people do come inside now, I think we're big enough to make them remember when they come back". Having someone to battle the Cole Aldriches of the world makes us better - instantly.

Overall, I think Nebraska has many more options and a flexibilty that was non-existent last season. The speed to play with a Missouri, and the size to battle a Kansas. The x-factor was always our depth, which cost us in 09-10. I don't see depth being a problem this winter. Expect the defense to match last years efforts, giving up just 65.7 ppg. On the other side of the coin, I think our offensive numbers will go up from the 66.5 ppg by a good margin. Nebraska faces a few good tests early, in Vanderbilt and potentially West Virginia, North Carolina, or Davidson in the Puerto Rico tipoff. The Big Red will also get USC, Creighton, and TCU at home before starting league play versus Iowa State on Jan. 8th.

I'm picking the Huskers to finish no worse than 9th place in the conference ahead of Colorado, Oklahoma, and Iowa State. We have every reason to expect 6-8 wins in the B12 this year, especially considering how close we played many of the power schools last season. Doc's defense will be there, and his guys will work hard. Beyond that, it's all about depth, limiting turnovers, and hitting your shots,...three areas that I feel Nebraska will be much improved in.

It's going to be another long, cold Nebraska winter once football ends, so keep those car engines running and get to a few games. Like I said before, nothing like hot popcorn and basketball while the icy winds howl outdoors! If you can't get to games in person, join us for open threads on each gamenight here at CN.

Go Big Red!