LINCOLN — The Nebraska men's basketball team has more pieces and better pieces to choose from in coach Tim Miles' second season.
Just don't get the idea that all those pieces fit together yet heading into Monday's exhibition game against the University of Nebraska at Kearney at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“It's very much a work in progress with all the change,” said sophomore forward Shavon Shields, one of five returning scholarship players. “We have seven newcomers. It just takes time to get that cohesiveness going.”
At least there are 12 scholarship players this season. Nebraska used eight last season while finishing 10th in the Big Ten at 5-13 and going 15-18 overall.
The biggest ironman was guard Ray Gallegos. The senior from Salt Lake City led the Big Ten and was third nationally in minutes played at 37.5 per game. He won't mind waiting a few games for newcomers to adjust because he appreciates the help.
“We're a lot deeper and lot more talented than last year,” he said. “Everybody can play. Everybody is threatening for minutes.”
Much of practice lately, Shields said, involves trying to fit different lineups together.
“We're going game speed all the time,” he said. “But when you're playing with different people and learning offense, it takes time.”
The Huskers have worked on creating “big” and “small” lineups. The big lineup, Shields said, has 6-foot-10 Walter Pitchford, 6-8 Leslee Smith and the 6-7 Shields up front, with 6-6 Terran Petteway and 6-4 Tai Webster as the guards.
Though the Nebraska men have held a public scrimmage at Pinnacle Bank Arena, this will be the first true game situation ahead of Friday's home opener against Florida Gulf Coast.
“It will help us a lot to have fans there and a game atmosphere to calm some people's nerves,” Shields said. “It will show the new guys how to get through the game-day stuff and focus on the game itself.”
UNK, under co-head coaches Tom Kropp and Kevin Lofton, is coming off a 7-19 season. The Lopers have two returning starters and 10 transfers. One of the newcomers is Connor Beranek, brother of former Husker Drake Beranek. Connor played at Doane College last season.
Shields said in some ways it's difficult to believe his second season at Nebraska is about to begin.
“It seems like just a month ago we were in Chicago at the Big Ten tournament,” he said. “Now, we're about to play a Sweet 16 team in a new arena. So it has been a whirlwind.”
Ľ Despite the new arena being sold out of season tickets, some individual tickets for this game at prices from $7 to $15 are on sale at huskers.com or 1-800-8-BIGRED.
Ľ This is the Huskers' lone exhibition game. They played a closed scrimmage a week ago against South Dakota State, losing 69-65.
Ľ Nebraska players dealing with nagging injuries include Smith (knee), Webster (ankle) and freshman Nathan Hawkins (foot).