LINCOLN — Italy was pretty. Practices in Lincoln are fine and good. The exhibition in Wichita last weekend was helpful.
But this is the real deal.
“This is what everything that we’ve been through up to this point, it’s all about getting ready for that first opportunity to get on the floor,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “This is the real thing now.”
Hoiberg and his team will take the floor in a game setting for the first time Wednesday night in an exhibition against Doane University. It’ll be the first time a head coach other than Tim Miles coaches from Nebraska’s bench inside Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The game will mark the end of a long offseason, which included adding 11 new scholarship players, a new staff and even a new court inside the arena.
The game may not count. But Hoiberg and his staff want to approach it like it will.
“I’m excited, our staff is excited, and I know our players can’t wait to get out there.”
There’s no point spread, but if there were, it’d be massive, despite the fact NU is picked to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten. The Tigers, based in Crete and out of the NAIA, are already 0-3 and will be playing their fourth game in nine days. Coach Ian McKeithen’s team was picked to finish 10th in the GPAC and returns most of its starters from a 9-21 team last season. Tipoff in Lincoln is at 7 p.m. The game will not be broadcast on TV, but will be streamed on BTN Plus.
Nebraska is coming off nearly 40 days of practice and a scrimmage at Wichita State on Saturday afternoon. In that 89-75 loss, the red flags began to form for this first year under Hoiberg. The Huskers were outrebounded by nearly 20. Guard Cam Mack, at 6-foot-2, led them in rebounds with six. They didn’t knock down shots like they wanted to.
Nebraska went down 10 to start the game and never crawled out of the hole.
Hoiberg’s first season will be a constant cycle of cleaning up mistakes and tightening screws. There’s no one practice or one lesson that can fix Nebraska’s issues. They can’t get taller. They can’t get thicker overnight.
Most of the team hasn’t played a game against a Power Five school.
They’ll need nights like Wednesday to get better, Hoiberg said.
“It’s gonna take a while,” said Hoiberg, who finished 16-16 in his first season at Iowa State then made the NCAA tournament in Year 2. “We have to hit adversity in a game situation to see how we’re gonna handle it.”
The good news is, Nebraska has improved dramatically in Hoiberg’s eyes since the last time he spoke to the media about a month ago. When practices began, Hoiberg was worried about his team’s ability to fix mistakes. They didn’t handle tough situations well. They weren’t shooting all that well.
“As far as today versus a month ago, we’re head and shoulders above where we were,” Hoiberg said. “I thought, for the most part, when we hit adversity the other day (against Wichita State), they handled it well, they stayed positive. They tried to battle through it. They made a lot of runs when we got down double digits.”
Nebraska on Wednesday will be without Shamiel Stevenson, who is still awaiting a ruling from the NCAA. The Nevada transfer applied for immediate eligibility.
Besides that, Nebraska will have a fully healthy roster with 10 scholarship players available.
Mack — a transfer from Salt Lake Community College — led NU with 17 points, six rebounds and six assists against Wichita State. Dachon Burke, who transferred in to play for Miles and stayed, led the team with 13.5 points per game in Italy. Graduate transfer Haanif Cheatham added 11.7 per game.
Fans inside the arena Wednesday may not recognize any of these guys. But behind closed doors, they’ve begun to form a team identity, Hoiberg said.
“As far as the chemistry, I’ve been very happy with the way the guys have gone out there and played for each other,” Hoiberg said. “I just want our guys to go out and compete, and again, after the game is over I want us to be the hardest and most together team out there, whether we win or whether we lose. And want to take obvious steps in the right direction and continue to get better as the season goes on.”
That starts Wednesday.