LINCOLN — Maddie Simon agrees it’ll be hard. That’s part of the fun.
The Nebraska women’s basketball team faces a grueling nonconference schedule that includes five true road games at power conference teams — preseason No. 5 Louisville is one of them — which stands in contrast to NU’s easier schedule last season.
Simon, the senior leader and Lincoln Pius X graduate, is all for it.
“That’s the way you want to go out,” Simon said Tuesday. “You want to play all these good teams.”
The Huskers get one of them on opening night in Drake. The defending Missouri Valley Conference champion returns all five starters from a 26-8 team that took Nebraska to double overtime last season in Des Moines. The Bulldogs shoot 3s, play fast and score points.
“They play a zone defense, and you don’t always see that,” Simon said. Nebraska will try to bust the zone with outside shooting.
Simon can shoot, drive and even occasionally post up. At 6-foot-2, she’s a matchup problem — a stretch 4, in basketball terms — who’s quick enough to draw fouls on post players and a good enough shooter to draw defenders out on the floor. Her leap in play last season was a key factor in Nebraska making the NCAA tournament.
Coach Amy Williams said Simon has been important this offseason in “building the culture” of the program. Nebraska brought in four touted freshmen whom Williams intends to play often. One of them, 6-foot-3 Kayla Mershon of Chanhassen, Minnesota, has long-term potential comparable to Simon’s.
Simon said the veterans and freshmen have bonded together over the past six months, since the team came together for summer workouts.
“It was definitely a learning experience for everyone to mesh, but we’re getting better every time we step on the court,” Simon said.
» Drake shot 25.5 3-pointers per game, and its zone defense coaxes opponents to do the same. The Bulldogs hit 37.5 percent of their 3-pointers last season. Creighton, Iowa, Iowa State and Rutgers are also on Drake’s schedule.
» Nebraska received 13 points in the preseason AP Top 25 poll. NU appeared on five of 31 ballots, and its highest preseason ranking was No. 21.