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December 22, 2011

Ready or not, Big Ten up next for Huskers

After 11 games of non-conference play, Nebraska isn't much further in discovering exactly what kind of team it is than before the season started.

In getting to 8-3, the Huskers have pulled off some impressive wins (Rhode Island, USC and TCU), dropped some mind-blowing defeats (Oregon and Wake Forest) and squeaked out close victories over teams they should have handled easily (Florida Gulf Coast and Alcorn State).

In just five days, Nebraska will enter un-chartered waters when it beings its first ever run through the Big Ten Conference. Not only that, it opens with a brutal introduction to its new league, starting with home games against No. 13 Wisconsin and No. 19 Michigan State immediately followed by a trip to take on No. 2 Ohio State.

A few weeks ago, head coach Doc Sadler firmly promised that his team would be ready to play its best basketball yet when it kicks off Big Ten play against the Badgers next Tuesday.

With non-conference play now officially in the books, it's time to see if Sadler can hold up to his claim.

"It's been a hard 11 games," Sadler said. "As I told the team, the reason that you choose to come to Nebraska is not because of these 11 games that we just played. - nine of the them, maybe - because now you've got 18 games in an every-night grind. If you're any kind of a competitor, you use these 11 games to get ready for those 18. Are we where I thought we'd be? I don't know. I don't know.

"Would you like to have a better record? Sure. But the fact of the matter is we probably lost a couple of games that we might could've won, but we sure win a couple that we could've lost. So it is what it is. You are what you are. I'm pretty pleased."

Nebraska will likely be heavy underdogs against a Wisconsin team that's off to a 10-2 start this season and leads the nation in scoring defense by holding opponents to just 44.7 points per game.

In fact, the Huskers will likely be underdogs in as many as seven of its first eight Big Ten games. Most consider the deck stacked pretty high against NU's chances in conference play, but the team is eager to prove their doubters wrong.

"We may be underdogs, but we're not really concerned about that," senior guard Brandon Richardson said. "We're just going to go out there and compete and leave it on the floor. That's all we can do. We can't really worry about people talking bad about us, or whatever the case may be. We're just going to go out there and we're going to compete, give it our all, and hopefully we come up with a win."

The lack of respect Nebraska seems to be getting from outside the program and around the Big Ten will definitely help fuel the Huskers' fire as they get ready to enter their conference schedule.

Based on past history, Sadler's teams have been notorious for taking advantage of opponents who don't come in fully focused and ready to play at their top level, especially at the Devaney Center (see Texas in 2010).

It may look like the Huskers have an uphill battle ahead of them, but despite all the hiccups they had in non-conference play, they're as ready as ever take on all that the Big Ten has to offer.

"I still believe in this team, and I think the good thing about the 11 games that we did play is we've seen everything," Sadler said. "We've seen everything. The good thing about getting into these next 18, those teams probably think they're better than you, and they're just going to come in here and try to do what they do, and you'll have a better idea of what's going to be happening.

"You're not worried about everybody switching things and changing. You're going to know that they're pretty confident coming in and at home."



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