Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler didn't want to test his team this early, but with just one regular-season game under their belts, the Huskers are already getting thrown into the fire.
With a total of just three live games together, Nebraska's roster featuring eight new faces from last season will hit the road and take on a tough Saint Louis team led by head coach Rick Majerus tonight at 7 p.m.
It's obviously not the most ideal situation for a young team still trying to figure each other out on the court, but Sadler said the Huskers (1-0) are ready to play the cards they've been dealt and see what they're made of against the Billikens (1-0).
"I would rather not being playing Saint Louis on the road after one game, but when it's all said and done, it's going to help us," Sadler said. "Obviously it's going to be a difficult game to win, but we've got to go over there, and we'll have a good idea of where we're at. We're going over there with the idea that we're going to win, but we also understand as coaches that more than anything we're going to see where we're at."
On the bright side, Nebraska is coming off its best shooting performance of the young season in its 76-49 win over South Carolina Upstate last week it its season opener.
After struggling from 3-point range in their two exhibition games, the Huskers connected on 11-of-20 (55 percent) shots from behind the arc. Overall, seven different players made 3-pointers in the win.
Leading the way was junior point guard Lance Jeter, who was a perfect 3-of-3 from 3-point range and finished with a game-high 17 points. He said Nebraska was far more patient with the ball and made it a point to wait for open shots to develop instead of forcing shots.
"That just helped us out a lot," Jeter said. "We spread the defense out, and we just hit a couple shots more than we did the first two exhibition games."
Sadler said he was pleased with his team's shot selection, saying it had been shooting far too many contested shots in the two exhibition games. In those two games, the Huskers shot a combined 23 percent (6-26) from 3-point range.
"I thought we've shot the ball pretty well since we started the first day of school, so I was kind of surprised that in the two exhibition games that we did not shoot the ball all that well," Sadler said. "Going back and looking at the two exhibition games, a lot of it had to do with our shot selection. After looking at the tape (against USC Upstate), I think we shot much better shots and shot shots where we were open instead of trying to create.
"I don't know that there are many college players good enough to shoot 3's contested. We had been shooting some 3's contested, but when we shoot them open, then we made them."
Tonight, Sadler said the Huskers would not only have to again be patient with the basketball, but also on the defensive end as well. He said Saint Louis' motion offense tests defenses' focus as much as any team in the country.
Behind Majerus' offensive scheme, the Billikens had three players score 13 or more points in their win over Southeast Missouri State, including 15 points each by forwards Brian Conklin and Willie Reed.
Sadler said the Billikens offense puts a lot of pressure of defenses because of the amount of time they force defenses to execute.
"We're fixing to find out what kind of defensive patience we have, because they're going to make you defend for an extended amount of time," Sadler said. "I've always thought - and I've only coached against Coach Majerus one time - the thing that I've always enjoyed watching his teams play was how well they ran the motion offense. That's difficult to guard. There are very few people that really know how to coach it, and obviously he's one of them."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
For the first time in a long, long time, Nebraska will actually have the height advantage tonight. Keep an eye on how the Huskers use players like 6-foot-11 center Jorge Brian Diaz and 6-10 forward Brandon Ubel, as the Billikens don't have a player taller than 6-9 on their entire roster.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE HUSKERS
Diaz had a big night against USC Upstate in the opener, finishing with nine points and 11 rebounds. With his 11 boards, Diaz became the first Husker to haul in 10 or more rebounds in his first collegiate game since Aleks Maric in 2004. The total was also more than any Nebraska player had in a game all of last season.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE BILLIKENS
Forward Willie Reed led the way for Saint Louis in their opening game, as he put up 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go along 12 rebounds in the win. He also had three blocked shots and two steals. At 6-9, he also stands as the Billikens' tallest player.