Just when it seemed like Nebraska's start to the Big Ten Conference season couldn't get much worse, the Huskers suffered two more major blows on Thursday night.
Head coach Tim Miles announced on Friday that senior forward Brandon Ubel suffered an elbow injury late in NU's loss at Michigan and would be out indefinitely. Miles also said junior point guard Mike Peltz would undergo season-ending knee surgery.
While losing any depth is a serious concern for Nebraska's already limited rotation, there's no question that Ubel's injury is about as bad as it gets for the Huskers. The 6-foot-10 native of Overland Park, Kan., leads NU with 6.8 rebounds per game and is the third-leading scorer at 12.1 points per game.
Miles said Ubel got hit on the elbow by UM's Mitch McGary while taking an inside shot in the final minutes against the Wolverines, which forced his elbow to nearly dislocate.
The elbow didn't dislocate, however, and resulted in a radial head fracture. Ubel showed obvious signs of discomfort after the play, but initially told the coaches and trainers he thought he just hit his funny bone on the play.
"It sounds worse that it is, but it's still bad news," Miles said. "I talked to the doctor yesterday. They MRIed it, they saw a small fracture. I don't know how long he'll be out. Certainly he's going to be unavailable for Michigan State. I would say highly doubtful in the imminent future after that. It's one of those things that could be 10 days, could be 20, could be 30; but it's not one of those things that - you say he's got a fracture in his elbow, you think well, that's going to be forever. I don't believe that to be the case, but we'll find out."
The good news was Miles said Ubel does not require a cast or a sling, and is actually supposed to have a decent range of motion to prevent his elbow from stiffening up and heal improperly. Miles said Ubel would occasionally shoot 3- to 5-foot shots during his rehab and go back from there as he recovers.
"By all accounts, everything is strong in there," Miles said of Ubel's elbow. "There's not a lot of swelling, but at the same time, it's just going to be a while to get that to recover."
It's unknown at this point whether Ubel will even travel to Michigan State on Sunday, and Nebraska is now left with trying to figure out how to replace his impact both on and off the court with a bench filled with inexperience. Miles said he wasn't sure at this point how he would try to handle his team's even thinner depth moving forward.
"I don't have a great answer for you, because you know, we're going to have to get some guys on the floor that haven't shown the consistency to deserve to be on the floor," Miles said. "We just have to figure out, OK, identify a role where we can get enough guys in the game and still be functional.
"I mean, I think we'd be remiss to take any option off the board or off the table."
As much as Ubel meant to the Huskers on the court, Miles said he might be missed even more in terms of the leadership he provided both in games and in the locker room.
"Brandon is amazing that way in terms of, you know, in a timeout, they're forever - they're about as long as this press conference - and you're going on and on and on," Miles said. "You don't want guys to tune you out, so you really look for your team to take on a voice. You'd like to have one voice, you like to say, so everyone is speaking the same language.
"Brandon's one of those guys where he talks in a coach's language, and you really appreciate that. He'll be all about the right things. He's on point, he's on target, and he delivers his message the right way. Those are really good things, and so not having that hurts us."
Junior guard Ray Gallegos said he and other veterans like seniors Dylan Talley and Andre Almeida would have to step up as leaders to help fill Ubel's void.
"That's a big part, because he is a big leader, I think the biggest leader on this team as far as vocally and his presence and everything. Having him gone, of course other people are going to have to step up, including myself. I'm obviously a pretty quiet guy, so I'm just going to have to step out of my comfort zone and try to just help my team in that way and try and lead them. Same with Dylan and Andre, too."
As for Peltz, he will have a patella tendon debridement on his left knee, and the typical rehab schedule for the surgery is three to four months. Miles said the decision to go with season-ending surgery came after the junior college transfer decided the pain of his lingering knee injury became too much to play through.
Peltz missed two of the previous three games because of his injury. He played in 14 of the Huskers' first 16 contests, averaging 2.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.1 points per game in over 15 minutes of action.
"It just got to be a point where you can only play as tolerated, and Mike felt like the pain was just too much and he wasn't able to be effective as a player by practicing one-third of practice and those sorts of things," Miles said.
As bad as things may look for Nebraska looking ahead to the rest of the season, Miles said this wasn't the first time he'd been in a situation like this as a head coach.
"I've got some old stuff now," he said. "I've been here before."