The Nebraska men’s basketball team was ranked No. 13 out of the 14 Big Ten teams in the unofficial conference media poll in the preseason, but coach Tim Miles was not discouraged.
“Lucky 13, I like it,” Miles quipped last month at media day. “Right where we need to be. We’ve got ’em right where we want ’em.”
There are reasons to believe that Nebraska will be better this year after compiling a 12-19 record last season. Not only are the Cornhuskers off to a 6-2 start as they head into their Big Ten opener on Sunday at heavily-favored Michigan State, but also Miles has used technology to gain that insight from Catapult Sports’ GPS trackers.
“Catapult’s awesome,” Miles said. “I’m able to track how intense our practice is. One encouraging factor is that our workload is higher at this time last year but our intensity is less. And what that tells me is that we have better athletes. What you see is that the least athletes have the most intensity because they’re trying as hard as they can, and you just wear those guys out. But your best athletes, they play hard, but their intensity isn’t as high as the lesser athletes. So what that tells me early is that we have more juice, and I like that.”
A newcomer, transfer guard James Palmer Jr., has led Nebraska in scoring thus far. And in the Cornhuskers’ second season of using Catapult, players are buying in to the use of wearable tech in their compression shirts during practice. The wireless GPS devices track the micro-movements they make.
“I’m not really a technology guy, but it kind of gives us a measure of how hard we’re going, how much the body is moving, and whether we need to do less or do more as the season goes on,” starting guard Evan Taylor said. “So it’s pretty cool. It’s just another way for recovery and then knowing what you’re giving, so it’s interesting.
“Some people, if your numbers aren’t where they’re supposed to be, they might poke a jab at you and be like, ‘Well, your Catapult numbers are low, so you must not be going hard.’”
Taylor smiled as he clarified that he has never been “some people,” one of those players with low numbers. “Sometimes they come in with the sniffles and somehow their Catapult won’t work that day,” Miles joked.
It’s the insights on the team as a whole that are changing the way Nebraska prepares for games.
“We found out a year ago through our Catapult system that over 40 percent of our workload on game day was done before we even got to warmups through our shootaround and our pregame shooting,” Miles said. “So we changed our entire shootaround to a little bit of walkthrough — a rehearsal — and we did our shooting but we cut it from 15 minutes to 10.
“And that took our load down to about 25 percent, which is OK. To think that you’re using up — it was like 42 percent — but almost half of your energy for the day before you even get to your warmup, you wonder why guys are tired at the end of the year, right? So to imagine knowing that and having that proof is a little mind-boggling to me.”
Nebraska is a team that has embraced all kinds of ways to improve, including analytics and sports science. This will be the third season the Cornhuskers will have had their saliva and urine tested on campus at the Nebraska Athletic Performance Lab. The lab can do research on biomarkers found in saliva to learn more about how the stress hormone cortisol can affect behavior.
“It’s interesting because you’d find pregame that two guys are at their best when they’re low-key, and two guys are at their worst when they’re low-key, and two guys are best when they’re stressed, and two guys are worst,” Miles said. “And so you gotta jump on this guy and encourage this guy.
“It was too much, honestly, it was was too much information. Let’s narrow this. But it was good. Our performance lab is an amazing place.”
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