Posted by Eric Angevine
What’s the deal with Nebraska?
As the Cornhuskers prepare to join the Big Ten, there are a few questions that the team may want to answer before they exit the Big 12. Do they have what it takes to compete in an elite conference? Can they win enough in this lame-duck season to keep Doc Sadler employed through the impending move? This is what hoops watchers want to know.
Nebraska is a bit of an enigma. It’s evident that Doc Sadler is an excellent defensive coach. His Huskers are in the national top 25 in almost every category tracked by kenpom.com. That includes a 38.2 opponent shooting percentage inside the arc – the best in the land. Sure, you say, but who have they played?
TCU. Hofstra. Both Dakotas. Half of the SWAC. Nothing too impressive there. However, the Huskers did beat USC and Creighton (in a game they might struggle to win today), and dropped low-scoring grinders to Vanderbilt and Davidson in November for their only losses of the season. There’s something there. But can the current lineup put that potential in motion when it matters?
The glaring problem is that the best player Doc Sadler had to start the season is a Husker no longer. Christian Standhardinger, a 6-foot-8 sophomore who was the clear star of the team, left in December, unhappy with his role. An incredibly efficient scorer and rebounder, the German import never averaged more than 18 minutes per game. His departure leaves the interior offense in the hands of 6-11 sophomore Jorge Brian Diaz. A native of Puerto Rico, Diaz is a slightly better scorer than Standhardinger, but has so far proven to be far less effective on the boards, despite a three-inch height advantage.
This Husker team in general is much bigger than past editions have been, which makes the rebounding issues all the more surprising. The team also boasts 6-10 sophomore Brandon Ubel and junior transfer Andre Almeida, a 6-11, 300-lb. Brazilian. If Sadler can get more production out of either, Nebraska may be able to beat some Big 12 teams they ordinarily wouldn't, but time is running short.
What the team does have is an able distributor in Lance Jeter. The senior averages 2.4 to 1 in assists to turnovers ratio, and has the steady hand to run the team even in hostile environments.
Doc has yet to make inroads into Big Ten recruiting hotbeds yet, though he has stated in the past that he will begin to look that way. Next year's crop of freshmen are all wing players again, so Sadler really needs to see what he can get out of his big men. Otherwise, it's back to the junior college ranks again - a stopgap measure that the Huskers have employed frequently to little effect.
The odds are not in Sadler's favor at this point. If the Huskers end up below .500 in conference play, don't be surprised if Nebraska's AD decides to enter a new conference with a new coach.