Nov 6, 2013

Know Your Opponent: Q & A With Corn Nation

Courtesy of Linwood Ferguson
David McGee, Husker hoops guru over at Corn Nation (SB Nation's Nebraska Blog), was kind enough to do a question and answer with the Eagles Nest. Enjoy.

Update: After this Q & A took place, Huskers guard Ray Gallegos was suspended for the first two games of the season due to a violation of team rules regarding personal conduct.

Liam Jones: A lot is being made of the opening of Pinnacle Bank Arena, they're trying to create a new buzz around Nebraska hoops. Do you think it will make a difference and attract more fans even if they continue to still be mediocre? 

David McGee: Well, it already has made a difference. They sold the season out in May. At the game on Friday, there will be as many at that game alone then were at the Penn St. and Northwestern games combined last season. We’re in uncharted waters here. If by the end of next season, they haven’t started winning, or at least in the bubble conversation, then, no, they won’t continue to sell out the place. If they can put it together over the next couple of years, it will be the hardest ticket in town. Husker fans love a winner, they’ll jump on that bandwagon for all it’s worth if the start winning. And it is a beautiful building. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that this program in this city has a building like this. It boggles the mind. It’s now up to the coaches and players to take advantage of it and change the culture and reputation of what has been a rather moribund program for the past 15 years.

LJ: How do you think the Huskers matchup with FGCU's up tempo style of play? Can they keep up? 

DM: Not trying to cop out here, but I have no idea, honestly. There are a ton of new pieces for NU that it’s difficult to say. They’re much more athletic and talented than they’ve been in a long time and deeper, too. With FGCU replacing Sherwood Brown and Erik McKnight suspended to start the year, that has to work to Nebraska’s advantage, also considering it will be the first game under coach Dooley. There’s always a transition there, even if it’s a similar system. I’m very curious to see how the new players the emotion and expectations that will come with the season they’re about to embark on, much less the first game in the new building. There will be a lot of pomp and circumstance on Friday. How they handle that spotlight will be the question. And I honestly have no idea what the answer will be.

LJ: And considering Nebraska has a polar opposite style in terms of offense, how will they maintain that slow tempo?

DM: I’d be careful making the assumption that they’re going to slow it down. Coach Miles has recruited players to a system that puts pressure on teams and will play a much more up tempo style than they were forced to play last year. They say they want to push the tempo and play a more exciting band of basketball and they’ve got more players this year that should fit that style. That said, Coach Miles said the other day that this team can get sped up at times and when they do that they start turning the ball over. If that starts happening, they’ll have to slow it down, so that’s really the key. If they take care of the ball, which they did vs. an out-manned exhibition opponent, it should be a much more wide open game than Husker teams have been more known for.

LJ: Ray Gallegos and Shavon Shields are obviously the main guys returning but how do you think could make a surprising impact for the Huskers? 

DM: Well, Gallegos has been dealing with some injury issues in preseason practices. His status for this game is still uncertain. That will bear watching. The fanbase is expecting contributions from three main newcomers: Terran Petteway, Walter Pitchford and Tai Webster. Webster is the headliner, a top international recruit with loads of talent but will need some time to adjust to the game in the states. The other two transferred in from Texas Tech and Florida, respectively. All are very athletic and can do basketball things. It’s not often that Nebraska has had players that can do all of that well, either they've been athletic and lacking in the basketball skills part of vice versa or were just fairly average (for major college basketball) across the board. These three are the obvious answers. We've been told they can do these things in spades and judging by the limited sample we saw the other day, those reports seem to be accurate.

But if you’re looking for a sleeper pick, Leslee Smith and David Rivers would be your best bets. Smith is a big body who will see time at the 4 and 5. He’s not the most heralded player, but will be a big piece of the puzzle if the Huskers want to surprise teams this season. Post depth has been a major weakness the past, well, it’s been a while since they’ve had any depth there. Rivers is a junior forward who is a versatile, solid player. He’s not flashy, but does a lot of those little things that every team needs. Like Rivers, he’ll be key if NU wants to shock the world, so to speak.

 LJ: What aspect of the game do you think Nebraska can take advantage of on Friday? 

With the news that  Benard Thompson will at least be not 100% and likely won’t play, Nebraska should have a decided depth advantage, even if Gallegos can’t play, either. With this game being at home and all the hoopla surrounding the it, if they can keep their poise and feed off that, it should tip the scales in Nebraska’s favor.

LJ: What weaknesses do the Huskers have that you think FGCU would be wise to exploit? 

DM: Tough to say without knowing more about the Eagles squad this year. The nucleus of that team went through something last spring that no Husker has ever experienced. I don’t expect most of the FGCU squad to come into this atmosphere and be overwhelmed and wide eyed. With their sudden depth issues, however, I do question whether or not they’ll be able to run as much as they did in the past and how much they’d probably prefer to.
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