With only two more non-conference games left before start of the Big 12 Conference schedule, Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler can only hope his young and inexperienced squad has taken any heed to his constant warnings.
Since before the season even started, Sadler has openly acknowledged on numerous occasions that the Huskers were going to have their hands full once league play began. With only three seniors and a slew of newcomers on its roster, NU has had only a couple of months to learn how to gel as a team.
When the Huskers take on Maryland Eastern Shore (3-8) today at 3 p.m. at the Devaney Center and then play host to Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday, Sadler hopes they can take a few more last big steps toward getting ready for what's about to hit them with their conference opener at Texas A&M on Saturday.
"I think the thing that scares you most about playing freshmen is that the grind becomes the grind once you get into league play," Sadler said. "Not that (the non-conference schedule) has been easy, but it hasn't been what it's going to be (in the Big 12). Until you go through it, you really don't know how guys are going to react."
At 10-3, Nebraska has done about as well as could be expected during the early portion of the season. However, it's also been about as inconstant as could be.
Along with big road victories over USC and Tulsa and a home win over Oregon State, the Huskers have suffered blowout losses to St. Louis and BYU and played flat throughout a 66-60 loss to Creighton.
On Tuesday, NU scored the most points ever under Sadler in a 94-61 win over Southern Utah, and the team has apparently showed continued improvement through the past few practices this week.
How well that carries over into the next two games and on into Big 12 play, however, is a whole different story.
"We've had good practices, but as I've said all along, this team's been a pretty good practice team," Sadler said. "(But with) this many young guys - you can talk about it and practice hard. You can try and do a lot of things, but until they've got to play with a really sore ankle or they've got to play with a sore shoulder or arm and be tough enough to get through it, we don't know. Hopefully it doesn't happen, but it will.
Sadler said he was also concerned with how his young players would respond if the Huskers lost two or three games in a row, which they haven't done all season. He said the ability to put the last game behind you and move on to the next is something that can usually only be gained through experience.
"Until you lose a game or two consecutively, how are you going to respond in that third game?" he said. "You've got to know that after you win or lose, it's over. You've got to move on. Whether or not you win a couple in a row or you lose a couple, the next day you better be able to put it behind you whether you play good bad or whatever. That's part of experience. Until they go through it, I don't know how they're going to do."
While there are plenty of concerns and question marks about how Nebraska will handle the grind of the Big 12 schedule, at least its young players will go into it with plenty of confidence that they can hold their own.
"It's going to step up an awful lot," freshman guard Myles Holley said. "It's going to be a tough battle, but any other basketball player in this league, they put on their shoes on just like we put our shoes on. It's all about who wants it the most."
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Nebraska is coming off its best offensive performance in more than five years, as its 94 points against Southern Utah were the most ever since Sadler's arrival. Keep an eye on whether the Huskers can continue their hot shooting against a Hawks team that has lost all seven of its road games this season. Nebraska has scored at least 86 points in its two wins over UMES the past two seasons, so today could be another big scoring day for the Huskers.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE HUSKERS:
Junior forward Quincy Hankins-Cole put together another nice game in Tuesday's win over Southern Utah, as he tied his career-high with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field. Hankins-Cole has now scored 15 points twice in NU's past four games.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE HAWKS:
Sophomore Hillary Haley has been one of the few bright spots for UMES this season, as he's averaged a team-high 11.2 points per game. Though he's only shooting 30.1 percent from the field on the year, Haley is tied for the team lead with 19 3-pointers.