As Nebraska wrapped up its final home practice Tuesday before traveling down to face Wichita State in the first round of the NIT on Wednesday, the Huskers were preparing for potentially having to play without one of their biggest weapons.
Junior center Andre Almeida was once again held out of practice on Tuesday due to soreness in his right knee that he's suffered since re-aggravating a previous injury on the same knee prior to the season.
The 6-foot-11, 310-pound Almeida re-injured his knee when he got it rolled up on during loose ball in the second half of Nebraska's loss to Oklahoma State in last week's Big 12 Tournament. He has not practiced with the team since.
On Tuesday, Almeida said his knee had been bothering him all season, but the pain was magnified after last Wednesday's fall. Further examination after the OSU game showed no further damage to his knee, but NU trainers said the pain would likely only subside over time with rest.
Almeida is currently being listed as "questionable" for Wednesday's game against the Shockers, and head coach Doc Sadler said he would likely be a game-time decision.
"It goes up until he says he can't play," Sadler said. "It looks to me like if he can't practice, he can't play."
Because of Almeida's questionable status, Sadler said he was still unsure about what his starting lineup and substitution rotation would look like for Wednesday's game. He said if Almeida is unable to go, the Huskers would have to rely on redshirt sophomore Christopher Niemann to provide some minutes in his absence.
"A lot of it's going to depend on how much Andre can play and how much Christopher can play," Sadler said. "So I don't know what we're going to do."
Niemann, who has dealt with his own knee injury issues since seemingly the first day he stepped on campus, has played just 28 minutes all season. Still, Sadler said he would have to be counted on to step in and fill Almedia's shoes.
"I hope so," Sadler said of whether Niemann would physically be able to provide significant playing time. "He's going to need to, especially if Andre can't play."
The timing of Almeida's injury couldn't be much worse, as Nebraska is getting ready to face a Shocker team that is built around its strong play in the post.
Wichita State has out-rebounded its opponents by an average margin of 38-30 this season, and three of their top five leading scorers - led by senior forward J.T. Durley at 11.3 points per game - are post players.
"I think that's their strength," Sadler said. "They've got some guys who can shoot the basketball, but when they're really, really good their inside guys play well. So yeah, it's going to be a challenge."
Another player on injury watch Tuesday was junior guard Brandon Richardson, who took a hard fall and was unable to finish Monday's practice. It appears as if that won't be much of an issue, though, as he was back out with the team on Tuesday and is expected to play versus the Shockers.