Nebraska hadn't even gotten to its first exhibition game before it was dealt its first significant injury of the season.
For the third time in a less than two years, redshirt sophomore center Christopher Niemann will have to have surgery on the same knee he already had two ACL surgeries. Head coach Doc Sadler said Niemann underwent an MRI which found damage to his meniscus.
Sadler said the surgery is set for Wednesday, and was unsure of the timetable for Niemann's return. He said he hopes to have the 6-foot-11, 275-pound native of Germany back in roughly three to five weeks, but couldn't make any guarantees.
"We don't know exactly what's going on there (with his knee), but hopefully it's not like it's been," Sadler said. "I don't think it is, but until they go in there and see exactly what's going on with it. He's had some good practices, but last week his knee just started swelling and was giving him some problems.
"There's obviously something wrong. He just hasn't been able to do the things he wants to be able to do, and like I said, his knee is really, really swollen."
As the Huskers prepare for their exhibition home opener against Peru State on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., Niemann's re-aggravated knee definitely puts a damper on the start of an otherwise exciting season for the program.
After last year's disastrous 2-14 run through the Big 12 Conference, Nebraska has plenty of reason for optimism this season. With yet another batch of new faces that should bring an array of talents to the lineup, the Huskers look like they'll finally be able to match-up physically with the majority of their opponents.
In particular, Sadler said the switch to more of a zone based defense this year should maximize his team's talents defensively. He said the Huskers have yet to really focus on some of the zone schemes - which he modeled after what Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim runs - but they will begin to prior to Wednesday's game and every day the rest of the year.
"Now it's a matter of them putting it into play," Sadler said. "I think if they do that, this team has a chance to be a good defensive team just because of the size we have inside."
Final year of exhibitions
When Nebraska takes the court against Peru State on Wednesday and then Bellevue on Monday, it will likely mark the last time it plays its annual exhibition games against in-state opponents.
Sadler said starting next season he wants to replace the exhibitions with scrimmages or even non-conference games against former Big 12 foes. He said he's already been in contact with Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg and Kansas State head coach Frank Martin, and both have expressed interest in meeting up again for scrimmages or games, depending on how future scheduling plays out for each school.
After playing Peru State and Bellevue, Sadler said he will have played exhibition games with every Nebraska college since he took over in 2006, which was one of his goals upon coming to Nebraska.
Now, he said scheduling tougher competition, whether it be a game or a scrimmage, would be in the best interest of his team in taking the next step.
"Peru (State) has four guys from the state of Nebraska, and I wanted to give those guys a chance to come in here and play," Sadler said. "After this year though, that's probably going to end that deal. We'll be either playing or scrimmaging teams that are in the Big 12, whether it be Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, people like that, in scrimmages situations more so than an exhibition game. I just think that would probably help us a little bit more."
Around the rim
***In other injury news, Sadler said sophomore center Jorge Brian Diaz (hamstring) was back to 100 percent, and junior center Andre Almeida (strained calf) was also able to return to practice last week.
***For those attending either of the two exhibition contests, don't be startled to see some unique starting lineups and substitutions throughout the games. Sadler said he plans to try out a number of different combinations to see how they work in the next two games, and there would be no significance to who starts or sees the most minutes.
***Sadler said transfer guard Kamyron Brown has been picking up Nebraska's offensive and defensive schemes pretty well over the past few weeks, and if he can continue to progress there's no reason he can't be a factor for NU this season.
"I think Kamyron, in time, is going to be able to help us," Sadler said. "The year off definitely has hurt him. I would say these first 12-15 games are going to be pretty important to him before we get into league play. There's a difference between just working out on you own and competing night in and night out. But the good news is he had two years in the Pac-10 (at Oregon) that should help him."
***Asked who he thought has been the most improved player on the team from last season to now, Sadler said sophomore forward Brandon Ubel has made some of the biggest strides over the course of the offseason.
"That guy does everything perfect," Sadler said. "He never messes up, whether it be every day life, off the court, on the court, he's just so consistent."
Sadler said the fact that Ubel was thrown into the fire last year as a 17-year-old freshman helped him learn and grow as a player very quickly.
"He was 17 years old, early 18 years old going up against some pretty good guys, so that got him better also," Sadler said.
***Another returning player who the Huskers are going to count on heavily is junior guard Toney McCray, who missed all of last season after undergoing surgery on his shooting elbow. Sadler said how well McCray is able to bounce back from the injury will play a big factor in Nebraska's success this year.
"He's going to need some time," Sadler said. "He missed all of last season, and not only did he miss all of last season, he wasn't able to do anything. From November to June, he couldn't even shoot a basketball. In a lot of ways, we're expecting Toney to do some things we really don't know if he can do or not. I do think for us to be as good as we can be, then he does need to step up and be one of our guys."
***Sadler said he's been pleasantly surprised with the play of junior college transfer guard Caleb Walker, especially with the offensive skills he's put on display since joining the team this summer.
"Caleb is definitely a guy in this last week that I've been very, very pleased with," Sadler said. "Going in to it, after watching him and recruiting him, I thought he could bring some athleticism and competitiveness to it. He's probably brought a little bit better shooting to our team than I thought. The other things have been what we thought they would be, but the shooting is probably a little better."