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October 31, 2011It's never a good sign when injury concerns are the No. 1 talking point for a team before the season has even begun, but that's where the Nebraska men's basketball team is a week before its exhibition season opener.
The list of Huskers who've suffered injuries since the start of practice or are still dealing with ailments from last season looks like one you'd see in February, and it's already taking a bit of a toll on the overall look of the team 15 practices into the year.
Here's a quick rundown of NU's banged up players: junior center Jorge Brian Diaz (foot), junior guard Toney McCray (foot), senior center Andre Almeida (knee), junior forward Brandon Ubel (ankle), and junior guard Dylan Talley (quad).
"We need to get some guys on the court for an extended period of time," head coach Doc Sadler said. "We've had a lot of injuries, and not just right now. The injuries that really are affecting us in my opinion were with Toney this summer, with Dylan Talley this summer and somewhat with Brian Diaz this summer, in the conditioning part of it.
Almeida had surgery on his injured knee the week after last year's Big 12 Tournament, and was supposed to be healed in 6-8 weeks. However, he has yet to practice with the Huskers this fall, and there's a chance he may not be ready to play for some time. On Monday, Sadler said the coaching staff would likely have to figure out what do with Almedia in terms of his playing status this season.
"He seems to be doing a little bit better," Sadler said. "He's doing a little bit more each day individually. Unfortunately we've got to make some decisions pretty quick with him."
The other most concerning injury is Talley's, as he had to sit out nearly two months this summer after re-aggravating a deep quad bruise during a pick-up game his first week on campus.
Sadler said Talley initially suffered the injury when he was a freshman at Binghamton University, and it got to the point then where the bruise calcified to the size of a tennis ball.
Talley was regarded as one of the top juco players in the country last season at Blinn (Texas) C.C., but Sadler said he was concerned how big of an impact he would have for Nebraska early on this season. He said Talley's conditioning was nowhere near where it needed to be after having to sit out for most of the summer.
"I think Dylan Talley's conditioning is so far behind that we're really not going to see Dylan and what he can do until probably later on," Sadler said. "There's just not enough time to get him caught up. The one thing that he can do and he's shown us in practice is what we thought he could do, and that's score points. So that helps."
To make matters worse, Sadler said Talley actually had to miss three days of practice this fall after getting hit in his other thigh.
"It's not hard to get hit in the thigh when you're not in a stance," Sadler said. "When you play straight up, you get hit in the thigh quite a bit."
There was some good news on the injury front, as Sadler said junior center Christopher Niemann had been getting more work in the past week of practice than he'd seen since before he suffered his first major knee injury back in 2009.
With Almeida's knee still very much in question, Diaz still working his foot back to 100 percent after off-season surgery and Ubel playing on a rolled ankle, the Huskers might need all the contribution they can get from Niemann down low.
"Inside we are really thin in numbers, and that's a concern," Sadler said.
Should all four big men get healthy and stay healthy, Sadler said he'd feels as good about his team's post game as he ever has heading into his sixth season at Nebraska. In fact, he said NU's size was as good as any team in the Big Ten this season.
"I could not be any more happy, if those four guys are healthy and able to play, with the size and the physicality that those four guys can bring on one team," Sadler said. "Unfortunately two of them are not able to do that. If they do get healthy enough to do that, I do like them."
Around the rim
***Sadler said this year would likely be the toughest schedule he's had since he's been in Lincoln.
"It is difficult," Sadler said. "When you talk about 22 BCS games, and then not only those 22, but the other games that you play - Creighton feels like they have the best team they've had in a while, South Dakota State, who a lot of people don't know about, is picked to win their league, which is a very, very good league Then you have Rhode Island, who year in and year out is very, very good. Then you add TCU on the road, so there's 26 games that are going to be difficult. It's going to be difficult."
***In talking about the schedule, Sadler admitted he was worried about a possible lack of attendance for the Huskers' first two Big Ten home games against Wisconsin and Michigan State. They host the Badgers on Dec. 27 and then the Spartans on Dec. 31, when UNL students are on winter break and many fans will be out of town on holiday vacations or at the Husker football team's bowl trip.
"When I saw that schedule, that's the first thing that came out to me that's scary, because Wisconsin and Michigan State I think are picked by most people to be two of the three best teams in the league, and you've got them on the 27th and 31st of December," Sadler said.
"Students aren't going to be here. People travel in this area during that time of year. So it is a concern, because those are two huge games, and to have a chance to be competitive in the league and then to have post-season goals and reach those, you've got to beat good teams. It is a concern, but I know Coach (Tom) Osborne and our marketing people will do whatever they can to help us."
***Look for a couple of new faces to join Nebraska's playing rotation this season, especially early on in the non-conference schedule. Sadler said junior forward Mike Fox and freshman guard David Rivers have played very well this fall, and both had earned playing time.
Sadler said Fox, at 6-4, could fill a role similar to previous undersized forwards like Ryan Anderson because of his hustle and athleticism.
"I'll tell you right now, one of the guys that's going to play is Mike Fox," Sadler said. "We have found in the past to be able to use and undersized guy, but he's much more athletic than Ryan Anderson was. He defends probably a little bit better and shoots it as well. So we can find a place for Mike."
As for Rivers, Sadler said the freshman has added 10 pounds of muscle to his 6-7 frame this summer, and with his high basketball IQ and versatility on the floor, Rivers could make an immediate impact. Sadler said Rivers could potentially play the two, three or four spots depending on the lineup.
"David's a guy that's going to find his way on the court quite a bit," Sadler said. "David's basketball IQ or whatever you want to call it, is really, really high. He's a guy where you tell him one time and he gets it. He's so easy to coach. He wants to do the right thing."
***Though it's assumed that senior Bo Spencer, who sat out last year after transferring from LSU, will be Nebraska's starting point guard this season, Sadler said not to write him into the starting lineup just yet.
"I think a lot of people are assuming that Bo is (going to start), and I think Bo is going to be a good player for us, but I think based on the last three or four days, I thin our team has probably been better when Brandon Richardson is at the point," Sadler said. "I think just being out for a year (has hurt him), but Bo's a good player."
***Sadler said freshman Corey Hilliard was the No. 3 point guard behind Spencer and Richardson at this point.