From day one, the talk about Big Ten expansion and Nebraska's addition to the league has been centered almost exclusively around football, and for good reason. After all, it's the school's calling card and let's face it, the $$$ the football program is worth to the Big Ten is really all Jim Delaney was worried about when he added the Huskers to the family.
That said, Nebraska is going to be joining the Big Ten for all the other sports, too, believe it or not, and that includes the school's mediocre-at-best basketball program.
So...who are these guys, and what will they bring to the conference? After the jump, we talk about scheduling and the league tournament. We also have a Q and A sesh with Brian of Corn Nation to give us an introduction to the Husker basketball program. Let's go...Schedule
The Big Ten is currently the second smallest BCS conference basketball league, meaning it plays one of the more intimate conference schedules in the game today. With an 18-game league slate, any given conference member sees eight of its 10 opponents twice with two one plays to round things out. Nebraska's addition will change that.
The number of one plays will jump up to four, as every team will need to add a game for Nebraska, and will only have seven games left to play the other eleven teams a second time. Needless to say, the schedules will become considerably less balanced, which could lend itself to weaker teams being able to compete for the Big Ten title every year. It could also make it harder for bubble teams to pick up signature wins against some of the big dawgs in the league. This will probably be the biggest change Nebraska will bring.
The five seed's free ride is over. Since Penn State hopped on board, the five team has been able to skip the play-in round of the Big Ten tournament and just face the four seed the following day. No more.
Now the five will have to earn its way into playing the four by beating the 12, and since five on down is about where things get murky in the NCAA at-large pool, there are plenty of teams that won't be thrilled by this at all. A win against the twelve could mean you're safely in. An upset may take you from the inside and stick you on the outside. Certainly an interesting dynamic to keep an eye on.
Q and A
Now it's time for a little question and answer with Brian of Corn Nation. Brian was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the type of program Nebraska has been historically, and what type of impact the Huskers will make when they join the league in 2011-2012. Enjoy.
BSD: The only time Big Ten fans ever really get to see Nebraska basketball is when it's playing Kansas or Texas. Could you give us an introduction to the program's recent history and its key contributors?
Brian: Don't worry, most Nebraska fans really only watch the Kansas games as well. (Texas hasn't really been a bigger player in our basketball schedule until very recently) That is unless, there happens to be a chance of a winning season. Speaking of more recent Husker hoops, I'd break things down like this for simplicity: The Danny Nee coaching era, and then everything else before and after. There will be some Husker fans who scoff at that, but seriously...that is how a Husker Football fan would classify it. And since the whole dang state is "football first"..well, you get my point.
5of our 6 NCAA tournament appearances came during Nee's coaching term, along with 4 NIT showings and an NIT Championship. Rich King was the biggest name on that 1991 squad that went to the NCAA tournament. King was drafted, but played only a few seasons on a couple different NBA teams. Immediately following that team, a great group of players gave us our best moments as Husker basketball fans. Eric Piatkowski, Erik Strickland, and Jaron Boone anchored what was probably the best core we've ever had in Lincoln. That team stayed together and played in the NCAAs in '92, '93, and '94. Piatkowski (aka The Polish Rifle) is still bombing away in the NBA, and could possibly be Nebraska's best combined college/professional basketball product of all time.
Nebraska has entered the NIT every year or two on average since '81, which is something to be proud of. On the downside, we've yet to win an NCAA Tournament game in our programs history. The term "March Madness" takes a slightly different meaning for us.
This season? Well, you can't do much worse than 2-14 in conference. With the emerging leadership of guard Lance Jeter, the return of a few key players from injuries, and some talented sophomores that saw a lot of time last year...I'm excited to see what we can do in 2010-11.
BSD: Nebraska hasn't been particularly competitive in the Big XII. Do you expect the Huskers to be more or less competitive in their new league? Where do you think they'll fall in line amongst the other Big Ten teams?
Brian: Again, we've been competitive. We just haven't had the wins to show for it. We won the league tournament in '94, and have a handful of upsets over Missouri and Kansas when they were ranked in the top 2 or 3. Case in point, we led Kansas in the second half during both games last year, but couldn't pull them out in the end.
Nebraska will be more competitive in the Big 10. We've had a few rough seasons, but our youth is very talented and after last season...experienced. Keep in mind, Nebraska led the Big 12 in scoring defense for the majority of the year in 2009-10. We fit the Big 10's style of play a bit better than the Big 12. I'd say that Nebraska will compare to an Iowa or Minnesota in terms of what they are capable of.
BSD: What are some of the reasons Nebraska has struggled, and do you think the move to the Big Ten could make a positive impact on the program?
Brian: No doubt the move to the Big 10 was a plus in all aspects. Basketball will be no different in my opinion. The biggest impact the move will have on our hoopsters, is that our physical style of play will match up better with the teams to our east. Kansas and Missouri are just too fast and too talented for our style of play. We like to grind things out.
The struggles lately have been youth and injuries. Our stud, Toney McCray, was hurt in the 2nd or 3rd game of the year. Along with a few other injures and a player transfer...we didn't have the best chance of winning many games starting the year. McCray will be back this fall, along with Chris Neimann. Our youngsters took a bath of fire last year..which will give them the experience and confidence to contribute in the next 2-3 years. Lack of depth on our bench probably cost us about 50% of our games last year, including both games against KU.
With coach Doc Sadler's style of coaching, we lost another couple of payers to transfer after the season ended. Word is that playing time wasn't there for them, and they couldn't handle the team-first approach. That stings a bit, but they were only a fraction of our teams floor time so we shouldn't see too much of an interruption of team chemistry. In fact, it'll probably improve.
BSD: How excited are you for Ed Hightower, Rotel, and Barbasol?
A. We are all-too familiar with the phenomenon of RoTel.
B. I buy Barbasol. I'm a firm believer of low-price over quality. And I like the swirly colored can.
C. Ed Hightower....wasn't that the guy in the Police Academy movies? I love him!!