The Cornhuskers have to mix and match their roster to be highly competitive. That means sprinkling in high school seniors, transfers and foreign players. That also means taking chances, even if the news on the eligibility of a foreign player isn't always known.
The Huskers tried that approach with Germany's Christian Standhardinger. The questions arose about his amateur status and how he would be classified by the NCAA. According to Nebraska coach Doc Sadler, the school was told that Standhardinger's grades (based on the grading scale from Germany) meant that he was not a qualifier when Nebraska went to an NCAA seminar in the spring on the subject of foreign admission.
However, Sadler said the information was a year old and Standhardinger was actually eligible. But that news didn't get to Nebraska until after it had committed to giving one-time UAB signee Adrien Coleman a scholarship in July. Coleman signed to play at UAB in November 2008 but failed to be admitted to the university, releasing him to sign a financial aid agreement with another school. Coleman's addition meant the Huskers were at the NCAA limit of 13 scholarships.
"We were trying to get Christian to a prep school to get the three courses he needed when we got the information last week that he was eligible,'' Sadler said.
Once it was clear that a mistake was made, the Huskers were at 14 scholarship players. Nebraska and the NCAA came to a unique agreement which allows NU to move up to 14 for this season -- with a condition. The Huskers could have only 13 players available on scholarship. They would have to redshirt a player.
Well, Sadler wasn't planning on redshirting anyone -- that is until sophomore center Christopher Niemann tore his ACL and was ruled out for the season. So, in a cruel twist, Sadler lost one German for the season but gained another. But there was also a catch with the 6-8 Standhardinger. He has to sit 50 percent of the team's games this season because he played on what was termed a German professional team.
The Huskers have had their issues before with eligibility, losing Roburt Sallie to Memphis after he was denied admission on a Big 12 rule. Sallie took a class at Nebraska, but then wasn't eligible so he left for junior college. But under an obscure Big 12 rule, a player who takes one class at a Big 12 school cannot reattend if he's deemed a nonqualifier and leaves. Sallie played last season at Memphis, averaging 5.8 points in 36 games, including scoring 35 in an NCAA tournament first-round win over Cal State-Northridge.
Finally, now that the eligibility issue is done, Sadler said he has a Big 12-level squad.
"This is the first time that I felt like athletically and sizewise, we can compete in this league,'' said Sadler, who had the 7-foot Aleks Maric his first two seasons but not much else in terms of size around him. "We've got size on the perimeter and inside now.''
But the Huskers are young at the wrong time in the league. They have 11 freshmen or sophomores on the roster for a season in which the Big 12 boasts two potential No. 1 seeds in Kansas and Texas and a host of possible NCAA teams led by Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and possibly Missouri.
But lost among Nebraska's problems and relative anonymity nationally are the numbers Sadler's teams have produced in his first three seasons. It's hard to dismiss that he has had three straight winning seasons and improved in league play each time, going 17-14 (6-10) in Year 1, 20-13 (7-9) in Year 2 and 18-13 (8-8), capped off by a second straight NIT berth, in Year 3. Two late-game losses to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State last season really hurt NU's chances for the Big Dance.
This season the Huskers are rebuilding with talent that Sadler is convinced can win in the Big 12. Games against Oregon State and USC and a tournament in Las Vegas with BYU, Tulsa and Nevada should reveal how much this squad needs to mature before conference play.
"I think with this group, down the road, in the next two or three years, we can compete [for a top spot in the Big 12],'' Sadler said. "We can compete now, and even though we've been a seventh- or eighth-place team in the Big 12, that's not our goal. Being an NIT team is not our goal.''
• Rhode Island was ready to replace Florida International if the Golden Panthers had withdrawn from the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament. The Gazelle Group, which organizes college basketball's season-opening event, had URI ready to replace FIU and was going to send the Rams to North Carolina for a Nov. 9 date and then have them host the three games set for FIU against North Carolina Central, James Madison and Murray State.
URI coach Jim Baron said the issue is moot now that FIU has agreed to play at UNC, but the Rams are likely going to be given an opportunity for a Gazelle-sponsored event in 2010 or 2011 for offering themselves as a replacement. Meanwhile, the Rams already have a unique nonconference game against Oklahoma State in a Jan. 2 event at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn. The game is a return for URI playing the Cowboys last season in Oklahoma City.
Baron recently returned from Turkey, where he was getting his son, Jimmy, situated for a pro career, before going to Worcester Academy (Mass.) to get his other son, Billy, set for his post-grad year. Jim Baron was noncommittal as to whether Billy Baron, who is being recruited by some Big East schools, will play for him like Jim did so well.
"I want to let him breathe for a bit,'' the elder Baron said. "Jimmy won 63 games here. It was tremendous. We had two postseasons, two coach of the years, it was a tremendous run. It was a fabulous experience and one that we will treasure the rest of our lives."
• FIU athletic director Pete Garcia and coach Isiah Thomas cited the American Cancer Society and the benefit of the program playing in the event as the reason they abided by the contract. Garcia said there was a miscommunication with the Gazelle Group about playing Ohio State as opposed to North Carolina. "What's gone on has actually given more exposure to the American Cancer Society,'' Garcia said. "What's great is that Isiah ended his college career against North Carolina and now he'll start his college coaching career against North Carolina."
• Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said Renardo Sidney, who is awaiting clearance from the NCAA Eligibility Center on his amateur status, has been able to practice in individual workouts. Stansbury said Sidney needs to get in shape and "toughen up." But the skill set is in place. John Riek is also working on his conditioning, getting his slender frame up to 245-250 pounds, according to Stansbury. Riek, a one-time NBA draft entrant and Cincinnati recruit, has been a tease but unable to deliver for two years. He should be ready to play once he sits out the first nine games of the season, per an NCAA decision. "He's got size and a work ethic that you can't teach,'' Stansbury said.
• Mississippi State, which always seems to be searching for games late into the summer, finalized its schedule with an opener against Wright State. That's not an easy opener, considering the Raiders should be the second pick behind Butler in the Horizon League. The Bulldogs will play eight of their 14 nonleague games away from Starkville, playing at Western Kentucky, at Houston, at San Diego, against DePaul in Tampa in the SEC-Big East Invitational, against UCLA in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, against Louisiana Tech in Jackson, Miss., and against Richmond and likely Missouri in a tournament in South Padre Island, Texas. The Bulldogs will make two trips to California within a span of three weeks to play San Diego and UCLA.
• The Pitt staff doesn't appear to be too moved by the ineligibility of Gilbert Brown for the fall semester. Brown has been limited by injuries the past three seasons and averaged just 5.4 points and shot 28.2 percent on 3s.
• Every case of discipline is unique, but it's not hard to see why there is some grumbling within the Big East that Joe Mazzulla was reinstated by coach Bob Huggins for the season after he was suspended in the offseason for a violation of team rules, while Brown will miss the fall for academics and Reggie Redding at Villanova will miss the first semester of games for possession of marijuana.
Mazzulla was out for most of last season with a shoulder injury, but then was suspended in the offseason for an altercation at a Morgantown bar, which was his second arrest in nine months. He pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to community service.
Fellow Mountaineers point guard Darryl Bryant is still awaiting his fate for the fall semester. On Wednesday, it was announced he would not face any jail time in two court cases involving traffic accidents this summer, but a university spokesman said Bryant is still indefinitely suspended from all basketball-related activities.