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January 5, 2012

Injuries proving costly already for Nebraska

There's not much more that can be said about Nebraska's offensive struggles of late that hasn't already been addressed countless times over the past month, and the Huskers are still no closer to finding an answer for how to fix those problems.

Obviously injuries have played a big role in the Huskers averaging just 45 points per game in their first three Big Ten Conference contests, including scoring a season-low 40 points against Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Three of their best overall players - junior center Jorge Brian Diaz (feet), senior center Andre Almeida (knee) and junior guard Dylan Talley (thigh) - have missed all three Big Ten games so far, and none look to be any closer to returning to action any time soon.

Almeida hasn't played all season and has only even fully practiced a handful of times. Diaz's lingering foot problems have kept him out of the lineup since Nebraska's win over TCU on Dec. 10, and as much as Talley has tried to play through a deep thigh bruise he's re-aggravated several times this year, the pain has been too much to get him back on the court the past month.

With the status of all three players up in the air for the rest of the season, head coach Doc Sadler is stuck with the predicament of figuring out the best way to move forward with his team while not knowing if or when he'll have some of his key pieces back at his disposal.

"The problem is you don't know if Brian and Dylan are going to get back, and so do you scrap everything?" Sadler said. "We've been trying to add some stuff. You change some things schematically, but guys, you don't just change that in a day or two or a week. I thought these guys would be back by now, and they're not. But we'll get closer to being able to do some different things I think. Now, whether or not it's going to be any good…

"But as I've said before, no disrespect to our guys, because they're giving everything they've got - but 40 points, you know, we'll see if it's ready to be implemented, because you've got to score more points. I mean, I ain't smart, but I ain't stupid."

To make matters worse, the Huskers have gone through a brutal gauntlet to open their first run through conference play, facing now No. 18 Wisconsin, No. 10 Michigan State and No. 6 Ohio State in their first three games.

Fittingly, with NU missing two of its best post players due to injury, it's had to play three of the best inside teams in the country the past three games.

Back in 2008, Sadler was able to take the smallest team in Division I and finish 18-13 overall with a respectable 8-8 record in the Big 12 Conference by using a guard heavy lineup. Unfortunately, he said a similar strategy wouldn't be nearly as effective in the Big Ten.

"It's a whole different league and depends on the teams that you're playing," Sadler said. "The fact of the matter is at this stretch right now, these teams are as much different than we are as you can get. These teams you're dealing with, their strength is inside and size. So we're having to fight and do the best we can, and again, I think our guys are doing that. Defensively I think we're still pretty good, especially when you consider that you're team is struggling as much as they do to score."

So for now, Sadler is left trying to find the best formula for success for a team that still has a few bright spots, but has yet to be at full strength all year.

In a conference where games are won in the post, Nebraska has the deck stacked against it in a big way because of its current injury situation. Until Sadler does find an answer for how to succeed in spite of his team's current predicament, things aren't going to get any easier for the Huskers as they continue through the grind of the Big Ten.

"I mean, these dudes are competitors," Sadler said. "I'm not telling them anything offensively. I'm not telling them 'do this' or 'do that'. All I'm telling guys is to play as hard as you can play and to take good shots. For the most part, I think they're doing that. What do I want to do, get in a half-court game with these guys? Probably not. Do I want to get up and down with these guys? Probably not.

"We've got to find that medium, and it starts with your defense, and that's solid, as solid as it can be. Bottom line, 71-70, you still get beat, but you don't have any chance scoring 40 points. Offensively, it's a struggle right now. No doubt about it. If you're waiting for a guy to get hot and go for 30, that's probably not happening in this league on the perimeter without an inside game."



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