As well as Nebraska has played in jumping out to a 2-0 start this season, the Huskers will look like a different team when they take the floor again for Sunday's home game against South Carolina State.
Senior guard Ray Gallegos and junior guard Deverell Biggs will both make their season debuts on Sunday after missing the first two games of the year due to suspensions. With their return, NU is expecting to see a big lift in offense in its backcourt, as Gallegos is the team's top returning scorer from 2012-13 and Biggs has been dubbed the team's "home run hitter" because of his playmaking ability with the ball.
Obviously adding those two back into the mix will be a welcomed addition for the Huskers, but the question going into Sunday's game is how exactly Gallegos and Biggs will fit into a rotation that, quite frankly, has looked pretty good without them the first two games.
"It'll be different having them in," sophomore forward Shavon Shields said. "I think it'll be another adjustment, because we've been playing for a couple weeks now without them. I think they can help us a lot, and they bring different things to the table. Ray brings extra defense for us and shooting, of course, and Deverell brings playmaking on both sides of the floor. They both are going to help us a lot coming back."
Gallegos started all 33 games for Nebraska last season and was named one of three captains by his teammates over the summer. However, head coach Tim Miles said it's no guarantee that the Salt Lake City native would immediate be inserted into NU's starting five.
"I haven't even thought about that," Miles said. "Maybe. Maybe. I haven't even thought about it."
Miles said he and his staff would start to evaluate their options for a starting lineup and substitution rotations on Friday. Regardless of when they see the floor, it's safe to say that Gallegos and Biggs will see plenty of playing time against South Carolina State, as both players have some catching up to do in terms of working into the chemistry Nebraska has developed in their absence.
Based on how they've looked in practice so far, though, it shouldn't take either player long to adjust. Miles said just the other day Gallegos was playing on the scout team against NU's starters in a scrimmage, and Gallegos drained six straight 3-pointers to put the scout squad up 18-0 and made the starters "look silly". As for Biggs, Miles said going into the year that the new NCAA officiating changes geared towards creating more offense could benefit the former Omaha Central standout as much as anyone on the team.
Shields agreed, saying Biggs had the potential to not only create points for himself both in the lane and at the free throw line, but also with drives and kick-outs to his teammates on the perimeter.
"With the new rules, I think it's going to help him," Shields said. "It's hard to keep him in front of you when you're using your hands, let along without using any hands. I feel like he's going to not only create scoring opportunities and free throws for himself, but also other people, because people are going to have to collapse on him when he beats his man, and that will leave open spot-up shots for Walt (Pitchford) and Ray and driving opportunities for Terran (Petteway) when people close out to (Biggs)."
Shields said having to watch the first two games from the bench has definitely been hard on Gallegos and Biggs, especially in Nebraska's historic season opener against Florida Gulf Coast in the debut of the new Pinnacle Bank Arena.
"I talked to Ray a lot, and he was just like, 'Man, I wish I was out there with you guys,'" Shields said. "I was like, 'I know, man. You're time's coming.' They were chomping at the bit to get going, and I think they're both ready to go help us win games… Stuff happens. Nobody's perfect. I feel like everybody was like, you learn from your mistakes. Let's get over it and let's try and make it to the NCAA Tournament."
While Miles was glad to have two of his better players back at his disposal, he didn't feel quite as sorry for Gallegos and Biggs' situation.
"They shouldn't feel too sorry for themselves," Miles said. "When it's self-inflicted, my sympathy level goes way down."
Around the rim
***With Gallegos and Biggs out, Miles has had to use a bigger lineup through much of Nebraska's first two games, and he's actually been pleased with what he's seen from that group thus far. With Tai Webster (6-4), Terran Petteway (6-6), Shields (6-7), Walter Pitchford (6-10) and either Leslee Smith (6-8) or David Rivers (6-7) as the starting five, Miles said NU's size and length on defense has given its opponents a lot of problems.
***One thing the Huskers have to clean up on Sunday and the rest of the season are the number of defensive errors they committed against Western Illinois. Miles said a good number of defensive errors for a game - which he defined as errors that could "hurt us on a score" - was around 130, or roughly two on each defensive possession. After playing a relatively clean game against FGCU with just 122 errors, Miles said he counted 220 against Western Illinois.
***In general, Nebraska knows it's play in the second half against Western Illinois was not nearly good enough, especially once the competition kicks up in the non-conference schedule and on into league play. Miles said he hoped the rough half would serve as a wakeup call for the Huskers heading into a similar situation against South Carolina State, and that it wasn't a sign of more issues to come.
"If it's a wakeup call, it's good. If it's a symptom, it's bad," Miles said. "As long as it's not a symptom of a larger issue. We'll just see how quickly we can overcome that. That's how we'll know. If you see it over and over, now we know, well, this is our deal. We're soft."