When senior center Andre Almeida awkwardly landed on his right foot after going up for a rebound in the first half in Wednesday's loss to Ohio State, it definitely didn't look good for a player with a long history of injury problems.
On Friday, head coach Tim Miles confirmed that Almeida suffered a ankle sprain and was listed as questionable for Nebraska's Big Ten home opener against Wisconsin on Sunday.
For a team already working with one of the thinnest lineups in the conference, losing a player with the presence and value of Almeida was certainly a big blow for the Huskers. At the same time, it opened the door for one of the more intriguing players on their roster.
Should Almeida be unable to play against Wisconsin and beyond, Miles said freshman center Sergej Vucetic would "definitely" be in line to see an increased role in Almeida's absence. The 7-foot-1, 236-pound native of Serbia scored the first four points of his career on his only two shots against the Buckeyes, though his playing time has been minimal at best through the first 14 games of the season.
Even so, Miles said he thought Vucetic had a lot of potential, and if he could put on some muscle to his wiry frame, Vucetic could be a pretty solid player in time. Unfortunately, Nebraska will likely need him to step up as soon as possible over the next couple weeks.
"What I like about Sergej is he's stuck with it," Miles said. "He's not moping around, he's not hanging his head. He's just trying to get better every day. His biggest issue is just strength. It's hard to operate at that size, and there's not a whole bunch of quickness with a European kid that size, so how are you effective? Well, you're effective when you're strong enough to hold your own. He's not there yet."
While Vucetic might be lacking in bulk, Miles said he's been impressed with the 19-year old's basketball IQ on the court.
"He's got a really good mind for the game," Miles said. "He knows basketball well. He's got good feet. He actually passes pretty well facing the basket, and he's got a nice shooting touch. You saw that the other night. He took one good shot that he made and then he made one tough shot. But that's alright."
Since Vucetic first arrived on campus in the fall, senior forward Brandon Ubel - who will also be counted on to handle a large portion of the center duties with Almeida out - said he's been impressed with Vucetic's work ethic both on the court and in the weight room.
"He's good. He's skilled," Ubel said. "Obviously you saw the couple shots he made late in the game against Ohio State. He's always been able to do that. The mentality of American basketball is still coming to him, so I think you're going to see him keep getting better and better. He's been working his butt off in the weight room, too. He's been getting bigger.
"Obviously that doesn't happen overnight. It's going to take about a year or so for him to really see some changes, but he's slowly coming along in that regard. He's been getting better every day in practice, too. He's doing well. Hopefully he can contribute for us in the next few games."
Along with putting in the work in the weight room, Ubel said he's seen Vucetic also be very conscientious in managing his diet. Working with NU strength and conditioning coach Tim Wilson, Ubel said Vucetic has made it a point to fuel his body with the right food to maximize his muscle growth.
"I know Coach Wilson has been on him a lot," Ubel said. "It's not just lifting, you've got to put the right stuff in your body. He's been doing that, so hopefully he can get a couple extra pounds on by Sunday."
Around the rim
***Miles also said point guard Mike Peltz, who missed Wednesday night's game with a knee injury, was doubtful for Sunday's game versus Wisconsin.
***Miles said he wasn't too concerned with senior guard Ray Gallegos shooting just 4-of-15 from 3-point range against the Buckeyes because many of those shots were a result of the Huskers putting him in bad situations offensively.
"We put Ray in a difficult spot," Miles said. "Sometimes we're forcing him - we're running actions for him, and if he's not scoring, who is?"
***Whether Almeida plays or not, Ubel said it wasn't going to make a difference in how he prepared for Wisconsin over the next two days. It doesn't hurt that he's no stranger to playing the center spot in his career at Nebraska, either.
"Me personally, it doesn't really change how I approach any game whether one person is on the floor or not," Ubel said. "Obviously we want him to be on the floor. Hopefully he can get healthy in these next couple days. But I'm used to playing the five, if the last couple of years are indicative of that. We really hope that he can get healthy, because he's a big part of what we want to do offensively and defensively, and he's a huge part of our success."
***Both Nebraska and Wisconsin will be wearing alternate uniforms on Sunday. The jerseys are similar to what NBA teams wore during the Christmas Day games, and will feature "a monochromatic color scheme with solid color team logos, names, and numbers framed with minimal accent color and a shimmer finish."
In other words, Nebraska will have red jerseys and shorts with red lettering and numbers and a white accent outlining the team name and jersey numbers. The player names will be all red, making them somewhat difficult to see from a distance.
Wisconsin will be wearing similarly patterned white uniforms. Nebraska apparently opted to go away from the standard home whites in favor of the reds.