By Jeff Goodman
Doc Sadler has no qualms saying this is his most talented team since he took over at Nebraska.
Now he just needs for this group to get healthy.
For the last few days, he's had difficulty fielding a team in practice. Toney McCray has been out after a pair of foot surgeries this summer. Caleb Walker, Corey Hilliard and Brandon Ubel have all been out for the past few days with ankle injuries and Dylan Talley has missed the last three practices with a thigh injury.
Then toss in 6-foot-11 senior Andre Almeida, whose knee is in bad shape and can't practice at all, and 6-foot-11 junior Christopher Niemann, whose knee injuries have forced Sadler to limit him to one end of the floor in practice.
"He doesn't change ends of the floor at all," Sadler said of Niemann. "When we play up and down, we keep him on the defensive end."
Sadler said he's hopeful that those two big guys can get healthy enough to give him a combined 12-15 minutes per game this season.
Sadler will enter the Big Ten with a team that was a couple of plays away from getting to the NCAA tournament a year ago. Sure, he's without leading scorer Lance Jeter - but there's more overall talent on this team than a year ago.
"This is definitely the best team we've had," Sadler said.
Look for LSU transfer Bo Spencer to battle senior Brandon Richardson (the two can also play together) at the point. McCray and Caleb Walker who started nearly 50 games a year ago - will likely start on the wings and Sadler will have juniors Jorge Brian Diaz (10.5 ppg) and Ubel up front.
Sadler also raves about the potential of 6-foot-7 freshman David Rivers.
"He's going to be special," Sadler said. "He can shoot it, he has a feel for the game and plays his butt off. He's got a chance to be one of the best I've had."
While Sadler is optimistic about his talent, he also realizes stepping into the Big Ten won't be an easy acclimation.
Especially with an unforgiving league slate that includes two games against each of Ohio State and Wisconsin among the first eight.
"You know in the Big 12 how to play people," Sadler said. "You know their strengths and weaknesses. I don't have any idea right now in the Big Ten."