Last season the Nebraska University men's basketball team started the 2016-17 season by winning its first four games, including a victory over Dayton, an NCAA tournament team. Then the Huskers went into a bit of a slide in its non-conference schedule by losing six of its next eight games. However, Nebraska rebounded with four straight wins in Big Ten play.
But injuries and inconsistent play hurt the Huskers for the reason of the season. Nebraska only won two more Big Ten games and finished toward the bottom of the conference standings. The Huskers finished with a 12-19 record and were 6-12 in the Big Ten.
The Huskers lost their top scorer, Tai Webster, to graduation and sophomore Ed Morrow transferred to Marquette. But Glynn Watson Jr., who averaged 13 points per game, and Jack McVeigh return and coach Tim Miles added two quality transfers to his roster.
Junior Isaac Copeland is a 6-9, 221-pound transfer from Georgetown who was a 2016-17 second-team preseason All-Big East Selection. James Palmer Jr. joins Nebraska after sitting out a season. He was a part of the University of Miami's NCAA Sweet 16 team in 2015-16.
So the Panthers have to prepare for a new-look Nebraska team in the season-opener at 7:30 p.m. in Lincoln, Nebraska.
"They picked up a couple of good transfers. They have some athletic big guys," EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said. "Their team is huge. It's a starting line of 6-11, 6-9 and 6-6, and then their point guard is a really good player. They look like a Big Ten team. You know you are going to play against a Big Ten team when you step out there."
Spoonhour said it's a team that doesn't resemble the 12-win squad from last season.
"Nebraska was really good in the early season last year and had injuries and hit hard times," Spoonhour said. "They played hard and fast. Tim Miles is a good coach and has a good staff and one of their assistants, Michael Lewis, used to coach here. It's a great game for us and we are glad we found a date to play it."
Lewis spent six seasons at EIU as an assistant coach before joining Butler's staff in May of 2011.
Nebraska did play two exhibition games and beat Mississippi State 76-72 and Northwood University 80-62. Nebraska was outrebounded in both contests and gave up 24 offensive rebounds to Northwood. However, the team has had plenty of time to work on its rebounding problem.
"When you go on the road, you have to be able to hang in there on the boards," Spoonhour said. "We can't let them pound away; they are certainly capable. When they outweigh you by 70 pounds, they don't have to push you out of the way – they can just lean on you and move you. You just have to be active and go hard."
EIU had its own two exhibition games and beat Illinois 80-67. But then the Panthers lost 95-92 to Southern Indiana on Monday. Both games were at Lantz Arena, so this is EIU's first real road test.
Spoonhour is looking for his team to come together a bit more during this game against Nebraska.
"We haven't played with as much poise as we need. When things went wrong in either exhibitions, we splintered and got into our own little world," Spoonhour said. "When things get hard, you have to come together as a group. We shouldn't have that problem with four seniors, but just because you have an SR by your name doesn't mean you have it all figured out. When things go poorly, we have to have some poise from those guys."