March 20, 2009

A look at Nebraska's 3 biggest reasons for optimism

If nothing else, the 2008-09 season was one that potentially laid the foundation for future success for the Nebraska men's basketball program.

While the finish to the year left much to be desired, the common feeling within the locker room and by many fans was that the Huskers took another big step toward their ultimate goal of being a consistent Big 12 Conference and NCAA Tournament contender.

That being said, why not take a look at three of the biggest things Nebraska has to look forward to heading into next season.

No more small ball

Nebraska's lack of overall height was the team's biggest story line from the opening practice through its first-round exit in the National Invitation Tournament. With 6-foot-8 forward Chris Balham standing as the tallest player on the active roster, the Huskers boasted the smallest line-up in Division I.

Next year, however, that's all going to change. With the addition of 6-11 center Brian Diaz and 6-10 center Christopher Niemann to the rotation next season, Nebraska is going to have an entirely different look and style on both ends of the floor.

With the addition of some solid size in the post, the Huskers will be able to move several players back to their natural positions. Senior-to-be guard Ryan Anderson should benefit as much as anyone, as he was forced out of his comfort zone on the perimeter and forced to play more as a power forward because of NU's need for bodies down low.

Anderson had his best season as a Husker two years ago when he served as more of an outside threat, as he led the team with 50 3-pointers and shot better than 36 percent from beyond the arc in 2007-08.

Another year wiser

While seniors like Ade Dagunduro and Paul Velander were the clear leaders for Nebraska on and off the court, several underclassmen played pivotal roles in helping the team attain the success it had this season.

In particular, redshirt freshman Toney McCray and Brandon Richardson both saw significant action all year. As a result, all three should be able to build on their experience and gain even more confidence going into next year.

McCray appeared in 29 of NU's 30 games this season, averaging 5.8 points in 16.2 minutes per game. His 17 blocks led the team, and his breakout game came in the Huskers' regular-season finale against Baylor when he scored a team- and career-high 18 points to lead NU to a win.

Richardson also saw plenty of playing time, as he averaged 15.2 minutes in 26 games and boasted the highest free throw percentage on the team at 85.7 percent (30-of-35). The most encouraging aspect for Richardson was the increased role he saw as the season progressed, as he became more and more of a fixture in Nebraska's backcourt down the stretch.

More talent on the way

Aside from losing center Vander Joaquim to junior college because of grades, Nebraska's incoming recruiting class will the most complete class head coach Doc Sadler has put together since coming to Lincoln in 2006.

The highlights of Sadler's latest class should be guard Rayes Gallegos and forward Brandon Ubel, both of which ended their respective high school seasons playing very good basketball. Gallegos was named the Utah state tournament MVP in his school's class, while Ubel averaged nearly 18 points per game.

Sadler recently raved about Gallegos, specifically what he brings to the table offensively. With a knack for scoring and quickness off the dribble that Sadler said is already as good or better than any player on NU's roster, Gallegos could provide an immediate impact for the Huskers next season.

While Nebraska is currently at its 13-scholarship limit for next year, that doesn't mean Sadler and his staff are completely satisfied with their roster. Sadler has already said he plans on hitting the recruiting trail from now until the recruiting dead period hits on April 4. Who knows, maybe the future will get even brighter for the Huskers in the next few weeks?

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