Though Nebraska is barely a week into its first official practices of the 2013-14 season, head coach Tim Miles is still only starting to get an idea of what to expect from the Huskers in his second year in Lincoln.
With a lineup filled with new faces and players who sat out last season, NU definitely has an entirely different look than it did back in March. With the new pieces comes an influx of energy and athleticism that were arguably lacking last season, but also a group that has yet to play a live game together and is still trying to find its rhythm and chemistry on the court.
"There are exciting possibilities with this team," Miles said. "I really like their athleticism, their movement. We have a good group of guys that are athletic and play the game really hard. We lack some things too. It might be a little bit unfair for me to judge this early, but we're inexperienced. Most of the guys that we think can make an impact are young. One senior is all we have on scholarship, and so when you're inexperienced like that, you worry about the peaks and valleys. It feels like a roller coaster sometimes, so hang on."
The Huskers kicked off the season last Friday with their first official team practice followed by their "Meet the Huskers" scrimmage event at the new Pinnacle Bank Arena. That marked the first of 30 practices the team will conduct over a span of 42 days, the largest amount of preparation NU has had before its season opener in several years. Miles said he went back and looked at the past three seasons and found Nebraska had only 22, 23 and 19 practices before its first game.
The good news for the Huskers is that they need all the time they can get to try and gel before putting their product on display in their exhibition opener against Nebraska-Kearney on Nov. 4 and then their regular-season opener against Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 7. More than anything, Miles said just developing the right level of maturity as a team would be the biggest task his team would have over the next month.
"This is an aggressive group, which I like," Miles said. "But that can lead to issues too. It's that delicate balance of how much to rein them in and how much to just let them go. Early I think we just try and figure out our best combinations to help us be successful… We're going to see what we can do well. We're not going to do any more and we're not just adding stuff to add stuff. We have to find out what we can do well. Every team's a little different. You'll get tired of me saying this, but the team you think you have in October quite often is not the same team you end up having in January and February.
"That's the discovery. I'm really looking forward to the improvement of this team just throughout this season. Right now, I think it's going to be a roller coaster early. I think we'll play really well some nights, but some nights me might struggle. That comes with maturity, that comes with discipline, that comes with better decisions, that comes with experience. I think as all those things fall in place, we're going to have a nice club on the floor."
With just one senior scholarship player on the roster - guard Ray Gallegos - and potentially seven players set to make their Husker debuts this year, Miles is like most fans in that he's still not quite sure what to expect from this group once the lights come on for real and the season gets underway. For now, Miles said the level of excitement in the locker room is as high as ever, but the key would be maintaining that energy and focus every day throughout the season, even when things start to get tough for the first time.
Miles' goal between now and November is to make sure all of his players know exactly what it's going to take for the program to make the jump to the next level of success.
"They're a rambunctious bunch anyway, so they're plenty geared up the way it is," Miles said. "They're a high-energy group, and that's good, but to me it's more maturity issues. Not that our guys are immature, but maturity issues of how you come to work every day and how you perform well every day and how you get yourself ready every day. You might come out and have a great practice one day and then stink tomorrow. You could be having a great practice and then somebody gives you the business in the lane and all of a sudden for six possessions you're worried about retaliation. It's just a certain amount of maturity we need.
"My whole point is to get our guys to where we have this level of consistency where we can perform at a high level and stay there. I think we get there sometimes, but I think we dip other times, and I think it's reasons we can control. That's just mental preparedness, emotional control, whatever it might be that way."
Around the rim
***Miles said sophomore forward Shavon Shields and junior forward David Rivers have both fully practiced every day this week. Shields was shaken up during Friday's scrimmage when he came down hard on his tailbone, and Rivers sat out the scrimmage entirely while nursing an injured foot. Miles said both players were back to 100 percent.
"They've both practiced full since the scrimmage," Miles said. "Everything has been good. You get nicked up a little bit but there's nothing out of the ordinary with our guys."
***Asked if there were any potential redshirt candidates this season, Miles said he hasn't made any decisions on that yet, but did not rule out the possibility. He said he would sit down with any players he might consider redshirting around the exhibition game and make a joint decision with each player.
"There's always redshirt candidates," Miles said. "Whether I do it or not, I don't know. Whether they'll do it or not - a lot of times, if I'm not sure I'll put it in the player's hands. I'm like, 'This is an option you have, and you can have a right of refusal.' Then I'll say, 'I'm the coach. I'm usually right. Sometimes I'm wrong, that's true, but I'm usually right. So just hear that out and let that weigh on your decision, because I'm usually right, but sometimes I'm wrong.'"
***One player who likely won't be redshirting is senior guard Mike Peltz, who missed much of last season with a knee injury.
"I believe Mike's going to play," Miles said. "If we redshirted him, then I couldn't see him on special teams for the Husker football team next year. I say that only a little bit tongue-in-cheek. I think he could do anything."