The Comprehensive Guide to the Start of Husker Basketball 2003-04
Since HuskerConnection.com has gotten a late start this year covering the Nebraska basketball team, I have decided to put together a little recap of this year's events up to this point. This recap will consist of a game-by-game summary of the first nine games the Huskers have played and a player-by-player analysis through the 8-1 start. After the look back, I will take a fearless look forward at the remaining schedule and correctly predict each and every game! (I'm sure everyone will hold me to those, right?!?!)
It has been a great start to the season so far for Barry Collier's crew and here is a game-by-game look back at each game during that start:
Game 1: Farleigh Dickenson – Win 80-64 Record: 1-0 FDU Box Score
This was the season and home opener for Nebraska as they faced a team that has made a few NCAA tournament appearances in the recent past, the Knights of FDU. John Turek dominated the middle and showed how much he improved over the summer with a fantastic 24-point, 13-rebound effort. John's biggest improvement was at the line were the notoriously bad free-throw shooter went 8-of-9 and appears to have overcome the problems at the line from the last two years. Nate Johnson added 18 points in what has been his only start this year. Not everything was clicking in this game, but the new offense Collier implemented did produce 80 points, well above last year's average of 63, and the Huskers had assists on 22 of their 27 made field goals. It was a very good start to the season with bigger and better things ahead.
A dominant first half performance was almost squandered by a lackluster second half against the Eagles. The Huskers sprinted to a 19-point lead at the half, 35-16, but limped home to the 8-point victory. With Nate Johnson out with an illness and both Andrew Drevo and Marcus Neal Jr. struggling in practice, Barry mixed up his starting lineup quite a bit for this game. Bronsen Schliep, Charles Richardson, and Corey Simms all entered the lineup and played very well. King LaBronsen took the opening tip right to the hoop and scored the first basket of the game. Freshman Richardson gave the crowd a taste of the talent he possesses by flying around the court causing problems on both ends. He finished with three assists and two steals, but also showed some freshman mistakes with his four turnovers. Corey Simms parlayed his start into starting ever since with an outstanding performance. The St. Louis native was a monster on the boards with ten rebounds and also chipped in 11 points. John Turek once again led the team in scoring, but fouled out with lots of time left in the second half. The lack of a dominant big man inside allowed the Eagles to make a late run after trailing by 27 at one point. The run fell short though and the Huskers notched their second win.
The first real test of the season came in the form of the Sun Devils from ASU and their all-everything center, Ike Diogu. The Devils made the Dance last year, but lost most of their senior leadership and came to Lincoln for their first road game of the year with mostly young talent. The Huskers took advantage of this as they forced Diogu's supporting cast to make the plays. The sagging defense employed by Barry kept Ike from doing much damage at all as he finished with only 13 points. This defense did allow Devil guard Steve Moore to erupt with 22 points, but none of his teammates stepped up to the challenge. Aside from the Nebraska defense, the key to the game was the turnover battle. The Huskers only committed seven, while ASU had 16 of their own. It also helped to have Corey Simms go on an 8-0 run in the second half to put the game away. On a side note, Wes Wilkinson hit two very big 3-pointers and was the first sign this season that his confidence is much higher than last year's forgettable freshman campaign. Sadly, only 6,995 people showed up to witness this very big win. This has not been the only game where a poor showing by the fans has occurred.
In the second revenge game of the year (third if you count the exhibition against Alaska-Fairbanks), Nebraska remained unbeaten against teams they lost to last year. The Huskers dominated on the glass, 44-21, and held the Bulls to 32% shooting in this rout. Almost everybody on the Nebraska bench contributed something in this game as the walk-ons got lots of playing time at the end of this game. Only three of the fifteen players that played did not register a point in this cakewalk. The only major negative in this game would be the 19 turnovers, but it did not matter in this fun blowout.
Game 5: Delaware State – Win 68-39 Record 5-0 DSU Box Score
The Hornets of Delaware State came to Lincoln after being routed by Creighton two days earlier and represented the third game in six days for Nebraska. The 39 points by DSU set a record at the time for the lowest score by an opponent at the Devaney Center, but that record would be destroyed less than two weeks later. The entire bench saw action in this game due to the blowout score and much like the previous game nobody stood out too much. The exception to that would be the night Wes Wilkinson had. The sophomore from Grand Island had his best scoring game as a Husker with a team-leading 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Wes also added 8 boards to lead the team in that category as well. The best part about this game would be the fact that last year it might have been close, but this year the cupcakes have really been cupcakes and resulted in dominant victories.
Game 6: @ Creighton – Loss 54-61 Record 5-1 CU Box Score
The first road test for a notoriously bad road team came only 60 miles away in the brand new Qwest Center against in-state rival Creighton. Both teams entered undefeated and both teams played fairly ugly basketball with some flashes of brilliance. The crowd of 15,561 was the largest ever to witness a basketball game in the state of Nebraska with roughly 70% of the crowd pro-Bluejay. Both teams ended up shooting the exact same percentage with the exact same number of field goal attempts, but the difference in the game was a 10-0 run by Creighton at the end of the first half spurred by Husker turnovers and made CU free-throws. A dramatic comeback attempt got Nebraska as close as three points with 18 seconds left, but two Creighton free-throws and a Jake Muhleisen turnover sealed Nebraska's fate. While this game was a poor showing by Nebraska, it was not the end of the season as some Husker fans were thinking afterwards. It was the first road game of the season against a very good Bluejay team and in front of a huge crowd, which is a tough task for any visiting team, but then also add that this game was Nebraska's fourth in eight days and it gets that much harder to win. In the long run, this game will serve as a great learning tool for the trip to Minnesota and on the road in the Big 12.
A tremendous first half defensive effort led to an easy win over this very good, high scoring SEC team. The Vols just fell short of the Big Dance last year and are looking to take the extra step this year, so this was a very good win for Nebraska. The biggest play of the game, and most likely the year, was the dunk by Jason Dourisseau. The sophomore from Omaha brought down the entire basket and put the Huskers all over ESPN for the night. Charles Richardson had tons of spectacular passes on his way to nine assists and secured his spot in the starting lineup. Another big positive was the way Nebraska held off Tennessee late by making their free throws. Nate Johnson went 10-for-10 and the team as a whole was 27-for-34, almost 80%. The largest home crowd of the year witnessed this game, but only totaled 8,206.
Game 8: Bethune-Cookman – Win 70-26 Record 7-1 BCU Box Score
WOW!!! That is all you can say about the combined efforts of Nebraska's defense and Bethune-Cookman's attempt at offense. The Wildcats were absolutely terrible on the scoring side of the floor as they put up 14 points in the first half and only 12 more in the second half. They also shot 21%, which was just one of many, many records of futility set by BC. During a 20-minute span, the Huskers went on a 40-3 run. Not everything was great for NU, but complaining about the 18 turnovers or shooting only 45% after a 44-point victory seems to be a waste of time. One reason for those minor negatives may be the lack of intense practice for the week before due to finals week. Jason Dourisseau led the team in scoring with 14 points, mostly from dunks and layups. Obviously the entire bench had a chance to play some solid minutes in this game and that led to only two players (Charles Richardson, who did not shoot, and Adam Bohac, 0-2) failing to score.
Game 9: Lipscomb - Win 75-52 Record 8-1 LC Box Score
Another very solid first half performance for Nebraska, but the second half defensive effort left much to be desired. The Bisons are not a very good team, but the Huskers did a good job of being prepared for the first twenty minutes at least. NU raced to a 40-18 halftime lead with excellent shooting and pressure defense. The shooting continued into the second half, but the defense did not. Nebraska only outscored Lipscomb by a single point over the final half and allowed the Bisons to finish the game with 56% shooting from the field. Hopefully, this lackadaisical defense was due to something other than talent and I believe that it was. It is very hard to stay aggressive against a vastly overmatched opponent. The biggest bright spot in this game would easily be Jason Dourisseau. He set a career high in points with 21, but did more than just hit layups and dunks. He was 2-for-2 from long range (his first two of the year) and also hit 3-for-3 from the free throw line where he only managed to hit 50% coming into the game. If JD can continue this type of effort against better opponents, then Nebraska's guard depth just got exponentially stronger. This was not an A+ win by any means, but a nice sendoff to the holiday break with an 8-1 record.
I apologize for the cheesy nicknames, but I thought it would be fun. If you have any better ideas, feel free to send me your suggestions via e-mail. I've included my address at the bottom of the page.
#12 Jake "The Cap'n" Muhleisen (Shooting Guard) – The junior guard from Lincoln has returned from his midseason hip injury from a year ago and performed as a captain should. He has exhibited leadership and toughness while accepting a move to the wing from his previous position at the point. His shooting touch still needs some work and his ability to finish at the hoop as not quite fully returned after the injury, but night in and night out he provides stability and court leadership that is needed by every team. Currently, he is probably the best option to handle the ball in critical situations as the other point guards are new to the team and still somewhat unfamiliar with their teammates' preferences.
#44 John "Last Line of Defense" Turek (Center) – John is probably the most improved player on the team from last year. He has had some monster games both scoring and rebounding although consistency on the offensive end has been a minor problem. His range has dramatically improved with the added ability to hit the mid-range jumpshot. This will force defenders to defend further away from the hoop and open up cutting lanes if John can continue to hit from 12 to 15 feet away. Another vast improvement has come at the free throw line as he is hitting slightly over 70% compared to the last two years of sub-50%. He is still the best interior defender Barry has at his disposal and will be the key to any success during the Big 12 schedule. He must avoid foul trouble for this team to achieve any lofty goals for the season.
#50 Andrew "Threevo" Drevo (Power Forward) – The leader scorer from last year has seen his minutes and shot attempts decrease, but he is still one of the two best pure scorers on this team with Nate Johnson being the other. He single-handedly kept the Huskers in the Creighton game when the offense had flashbacks to last year's struggles. He lost a lot of weight over the summer, which should allow him to still be effective late in games and late into the season unlike last year. He can still shoot the 3-pointer very well and has some nice touch when he posts up. His biggest weakness remains on the defensive end. While it has improved, it could still be much better with regards to fewer fouls and stronger rebounding. As the only other viable option in the frontcourt with John Turek on defense, he must be able to stay out of foul trouble during the Big 12 schedule.
#21 Corey "Skyboarder" Simms (Small Forward) – If you love the energy of a player like Ben Wallace, then Corey Simms is the man to watch on this team. The St. Louis native does not worry about points very often and focuses on the defensive end for the vast majority of his playing time. He is getting better at knocking down a jumper or two as well as finishing strong at the hoop, but he really makes his mark in the rebounding and hustle categories. Corey is behind only John Turek in rebounding, which is quite amazing given his height of 6'5".
#3 Charles "Little Richard" Richardson (Point Guard) – This freshman has come right in and provided excellent defense and ballhandling in almost every game. Since he only stands 5'8", he has a hard time finishing amongst the big men around the hoop, but does have a very good shot from outside when he decides to use it. Since he is a freshman, he commits some dump turnovers on occasion, but usually makes up for it with solid ball control and pinpoint passing. His defense is excellent and will only get better with time. His biggest weakness right now is one he cannot control: his height. Since he is so small it is hard for him to finish strong on offense and makes it difficult for him to grab any rebounds from the guard spot.
The Key Reserves:
#1 Jason "JD" Dourisseau (Shooting Guard) – He has vastly improved his game from a year ago. He is working extremely hard on the offensive glass, which is resulting in multiple easy baskets in the past few games. He showed off some of his shooting range in the most recent game against Lipscomb, but it remains to be seen if he can consistently hit the long range jumper since he had yet to make a 3-pointer coming into that game. JD is probably the most athletic player on the team and looks like he has finally harnessed that athleticism. He will be a vital player the rest of the season.
#4 Nate "Papa" Johnson (Shooting Guard) – Due to an illness early this season and the improvement of many bench players, Nate has seen his minutes decrease considerably. Even though he is not on the court as much so far this year, he remains one of the best players at creating his own shot if necessary. He is also one of the better rebounding guards on the team (although most of the guards do a great job on the glass). He has had some trouble on the defensive end at times this year, but looks to be improving in that area. Like JD, Nate will be critical to the success of the Nebraska backcourt play.
#10 Marcus "The Transfer" Neal Jr. (Point Guard) – Marcus came in and starting the first couple of games, but has since been passed by Little Richard in the rotation. Neal has had problems running the offense effectively and playing the staunch defense Barry demands from his teams. He still has much to offer this team with his ability to break a press or hit an open 3-pointer on occasion, but usually he will not be anything more than a fill-in so Richardson or Muhleisen can get a breather.
#11 Wes "Dub Dub" Wilkinson ("Power" Forward) – Like JD, Wes has improved a lot over his freshman year, but not to the extent that JD has thus far. WW has come up with some big 3-pointers and blocks in some games, but still looks uncomfortable sometimes when he is on the floor. He is still a rather large liability on the defensive end because he does not have the strength to battle down low and box out for rebounds. Eventually, continued weight room work and training table dedication will allow Wes to be able to compete at a higher level in the future. As of right now though, he provides a 3-point threat and a chance to sit Turek and/or Drevo for a few minutes.
#20 Brian "Conk" Conklin ("Power" Forward) – The last remaining link to the Danny Nee era is in his final year as a Husker. Conk's minutes have steadily decreased over the past two seasons and for good reason. His only strength, shooting the deep ball, has turned into hot and cold proposition most games. He has improved over last season's horrible shooting performance, but is still too big of a risk in every other aspect of the game to use for extended periods of time. If nothing else, the one thing you can count on from Conklin is that he will get at least one moving screen foul each game. You can set your watch to it!
#15 Bronsen "LaBronsen" Schliep (Small Forward) – He earned one start this year to shake things up, but does not have the talent to break into the regular rotation.
#2 James "JR" Reynolds (Shooting Guard) – JR is a very raw talent who could develop into a fine talent after his freshman year this year.
#25 Adam "Friend of Soupy" Bohac (Point Guard) – Adam came here from Western Nebraska CC with former assistant Dave "Soupy" Campbell, but has seen very few minutes and even fewer scoring opportunities.
#5 Shuan "Don't Call Me Steven" Stegall (Small Forward) – The last freshman to be mentioned, but he is not last on talent. Shuan will be making an impact next year without a doubt.
#45 Tony "The Alliance Animal" Wilbrand (Center) – The Animal is a fan favorite with his great hustle. He could see some minutes in Big 12 play if Drevo and Turek get in foul trouble, but expect nothing more than some banging in the paint and a couple of fouls from Big Tony.
A Fearless Look Ahead!!
The nonconference schedule is almost complete with only two remaining games, but one of them will be a huge measuring stick for this team. Next Monday, the Huskers go on the road to Minnesota to face extremely talented freshman Kris Humphries. It is a winnable game, but until Nebraska shows they can defeat even an average team on the road it is best not to expect a win in this game. Eight days following the game against the Gophers is the last tune-up for the Big 12 season. St. Francis (Pa.) comes to Lincoln on January 6th and will likely be routed much like Bethune-Cookman, Delaware State or Lipscomb. This will put the Big Red's pre-Big 12 record at 9-2.
Big 12 schedule:
Jan. 10 - @ Iowa State – One of a few possible road wins in the Big 12. ISU is an unknown commodity right now, but is very beatable if Nebraska plays up to their potential. Unfortunately, I do not think they will. ISU wins. Overall: 9-3 B12: 0-1
Jan 14 – Colorado – The Buffs are very talented, but that's usually only at home. If the Huskers can beat them last year at home, they can beat them this year. NU wins. Overall: 10-3 B12: 1-1
Jan. 21 – Baylor – The only easy game during the entire conference schedule. Baylor is terrible and even worse on the road. Big Red Rout. Overall 11-4 B12: 2-2
Jan. 24 - @ Missouri – Quin should have his "pros" playing up to their potential by this point, so don't expect much from this game. Mizzou rolls. Overall 11-5 B12: 2-3
Feb. 1 – Oklahoma – Right now OU is the best team in the conference, but it won't be easy in Lincoln. Sooners squeak by. Overall: 11-6 B12: 2-4
Feb. 4 - @ Kansas State – Wildcats own Nebraska in every sport now it seems, but especially at home in basketball. New Year, New Results. A road win for NU! Overall: 12-6 B12: 3-4
Feb. 7 – Missouri – After a win in Columbia, Quin's boys demand more money. The contract dispute distracts the team and John Turek dominates Authur Johnson. Quality Win! Overall: 13-6 B12: 4-4
Feb. 11 - @ Texas A&M – Thank goodness for Baylor or the Aggies would easily be the worst team in the conference. If the Huskers cannot win in College Station, they will not win anywhere other than Lincoln. Guaranteed .500 record! Overall: 14-6 B12: 5-4
Feb. 15 – Kansas – A sellout crowd watches David Padgett put up his first of many double-doubles against the Huskers. Jayhawks win, but it's close. Overall: 14-7 B12: 5-5
Feb. 18 – Kansas State – Huskers can regain any lost confidence against the Kitties at home. This is as close to being a lock as you can get without it being one. Overall 15-7 B12: 6-5
Feb. 21 - @ Oklahoma State – Nebraska has usually been blown out in Stillwater, but this year things change! They only lose by six or so. Overall 15-8 B12:6-6
Feb. 24 – Texas Tech – Bobby Knight's last visit was very forgettable for The General. This one will be closer, but Nebraska wins again. Another quality win! Overall: 16-8 B12: 7-6
Feb. 28 – Iowa State – On Senior Night, Drevo, Johnson, Conklin, and maybe even Bohac exact revenge for the conference-opening loss in Ames. Overall: 17-8 B12: 8-6
Mar. 3 - @ Kansas – This isn't 1998, so the Huskers won't win in Lawrence. A respectable showing though could catch the eye of the Dance committee. Overall: 17-9 B12: 8-7
Mar. 6 - @ Colorado – CU is a different team at home. It must be those great parties put on by the football team! Bubble may have burst after this one. Overall: 17-10 B12:8-8
Mar. 11-14 – Big 12 Tourney in Dallas – Baylor has already said it can't make the party, so 11 teams will vie for the automatic bid to the Dance. As the sixth seed, Nebraska will play the ninth seed, Iowa State. Nebraska wins in the first round of the tourney for the first time since 1998, but goes on to lose to Texas in the Longhorns backyard. Overall: 18-11 B12: 9-9
If an 8-8 record in conference does produce the sixth seed like I am predicting, then I think a berth into the NCAA tournament will happen. Quality wins over Arizona State, Tennessee, Colorado, Missouri, and Texas Tech should keep Nebraska's RPI fairly high and convince the committee to put Nebraska in as one of the last at-large teams. Obviously, this is a walk on the positive side, and I've been burned before when predicting an NCAA birth (Don't go look at last year's predictions please!!). I think the worst case scenario is barely missing the NIT, but that seems unlikely at this point. Hopefully, Husker fans will begin to see the light and realize that this is a very talented team. They need to show up strong for every Big 12 game and provide this team any extra energy available.
On a final note – If you have read this whole thing, then you are a BIG-TIME Husker basketball fan!! Feel free to reserve a first-class seat for yourself on the bandwagon that will begin filling up sooner than many expect! GO BIG RED!!
Bobby Ludemann can be reached at email@example.com with any questions, comments, or corrections (and cool nicknames, too!).