UPDATE: IF YOU WANT PART II, GO AHEAD AND CLICK HERE.
Instead of me waxing poetic about Nebraska for what seems like the hundredth time - much to the chagrin of some of you all - I decided to switch things up and do a joint discussion with a good friend of mine, David McGee of Corn Nation. David is the de facto basketball guy over there, and is about as long suffering as it comes. He was there with his season tickets in hand when we were battling the titans of basketball like the UMKC Kangaroos along with those lame fake birds from Lawrence. Basically, he's the guy who held onto that last NIT Championship banner in hopes of better days, and he's as happy as a clam right now. While I may not have had quite the dedication and time put in like him, I've definitely had my fair share of close losses heard over the radio, watched on TV, and felt in person. A few weeks ago we decided we needed to do a piece about Nebraska if they went dancing... and now they are.
Now, as a quick aside for those bluebloods who are smirking about getting there being the standard, here are some things that happened the year Nebraska last went dancing - 1998:
- Monica Lewinsky became a household name.
- Seinfeld was ending its fantastic run on TV.
- Windows 98 was a thing.
- Saving Private Ryan, Armageddon, A Bug's Life, and a myriad of movies that are now TBS staples came out.
- Stamps were $0.32, gas was $1.15/gallon, and Red and Blue Pokemon was a thing
Basically, it was a really long time ago. Like, long enough that the most jarring thing is that those things were 16 years ago and I remember all of them as integral part of my Jr. High. Ugh, I'm feeling old. Let's just move on...
This is nice long and will be two parts, but I think it's always fun to listen along with guys talking sports at the bar. That's what we're doing here, and I hope you all enjoy it. We invite you all to take a trip with us as we discuss where we've been as Husker fans, where this program currently is, and what our dreams for the future involve. We'll talk a little bit about the last time we were here and in Part II, we'll even talk Creighton/Nebraska, the absurd amount of talent we have in the B1G, and why you're not crazy to believe. David has always believed, and I'll never forget when he corrected me on my expectations of the program. "Why not us?" he told me as we considered the potential for a National Championship in basketball. Touche. And so it is...
David, can you believe this is actually happening? Five weeks ago we were excited about a run to the NIT and the chance to make life miserable for the upper crust of the B1G. Now we have avoided Dayton, have a game that we can potentially win on our hands, have the most conference wins that I can remember ever having, and even have a chance at the Bluejays if we survive the first round. Does it get much better than that? Perhaps Tim Miles really is a wizard. As such, I'll let you kind of get this started. It has been 16 years, four coaches, four ADs, two arenas, and two conferences later. Tell me how you felt when you saw Nebraska on the line. What did that moment represent for you.
You forgot one, Jesse, the last time the Huskers went dancing, the football team were defending national champions.
So, there's that, too.
Can I believe this is happening? Are you asking now or relative to what I expected in November? Because in November I would have fallen out of this chair I'm sitting in laughing. And It has arm rests and I'm saddled up pretty close to the desk. From that perspective, it's pretty crazy to see them where they are now. I might have done that if you had asked me after the Penn State loss, too. Thing is, as things developed since then, there's no doubt they're a tournament team. When I was at the Selection Show watch party, it wasn't a shock when they were in the field. Not even a little bit.
It's a pretty cool time to be around the program. I've literally dreamed about this (Rob Lowe voice). I've had conversations with friends about what our NCAA tournament watching traditions are going to be. These are important decisions. This is a decision that (hopefully) will have ramifications on the rest of my existence on this place we call earth. Bigger picture, though, it represents that what I've always believed to be true is in fact true. When this program took the sport seriously, it can be competitive. How will they build on it? I'm really excited to see what it becomes because what we watched this year is pretty special. Even if the Huskers become a power and competitive at the top of the Big Ten and go to Sweet 16's and Elite Eight's and Final Fours, it'll be hard to top the out of nowhere specialness of this season. There's a raw joy that emerged this season that you can't duplicate. The expectations change. There can still be some sweet, sweet moments for this program, both this season and beyond, but replicating this is going to be impossible. I'm just glad I got to be a part of it.
Also, Jesse, remember that one time when we braved the blizzard to watch Nebraska get hammered by Creighton, we watched two NCAA tournament teams "battle" it out. That, I never would have guessed.
It was a blizzard outside but David drove to Omaha to watch this game with me. The team looks about as sad as we did sitting there watching Creighton. Photo credit: Dave Weaver-USA TODAY Sports.
I remember leaving that game thinking there was no way that Nebraska was that bad and Creighton was that good. Creighton had obliterated Nebraska in every facet of the game and even though Nebraska made it ‘reasonable' on the surface by the end of the game, the witnesses knew this team needed to grow up fast. More simply put, this team was not one that could just go out there and out-athlete better teams. It would take team play.
As a quick aside, I'm totally with you on the NCAA dream. You and I got to experience arguably the highest point in Nebrasketball history followed up by quite possibly the worst points in Nebrasketball history. I still pretend Collier wasn't our coach, and as for Doc? Well, I wish him well because he really was a good X's and O's guy who just never could hit his stride as a recruiter. Anyhow, I really thought about San Antonio this weekend, but I can't leave work which puts me in a bit of a conundrum. If Nebraska can get to the Sweet 16, it does put us in California... I suppose a trip back out there wouldn't be so bad. Regardless, let's just reiterate the part where WE'RE GOING DANCING!!!
Doc fell victim to something a lot of new coaches fall victim to: winning now. He felt the pressure to come in and make a name for himself and win some games quickly and made some bad recruiting decisions in the process. Instead of trying to build something or to some sort of identity, he just went out and grabbed the best players he could and tried to make it work. It didn't. Miles did the exact opposite. From day one he warned that it could take a while before things got rolling and he was able to build up the foundation of the program. You don't see him throwing offers indiscriminately (not that Doc or Collier did) he's very clearly got an idea of what he's doing because he's done it before. He got a little lucky along the way that Petteway and Pitchford were available and Shields developed into a beast, but he still built (and is building) the program with a plan in mind.
True, but... *Ahem* Okay, back to some decorum.
Sorry for the tangent.
No problem. Let's talk a little bit about the turnaround. Remember that point in the B1G season when we started 0-3 after a heartbreaker to Michigan, and then instead of fighting back and taking it to what turned out to be a terrible Purdue team, we folded and dropped to 8-8? At that point, you could have told me that we were destined for the CBI and I probably would have been happy enough. There was very little hope for something going into that Ohio State game at home. Sure, PBA had proven to be a formidable enough arena, but this was a ranked - reeling of course, but ranked still - team with a name, a brand coach, and brand players.
That was the first time I stepped into PBA, and man was it awesome. While there would be some bigger wins - the Spartans come to mind - that game will always stick out to me as the first step towards confidence in the system. Nebraska played as a team, and Coach Miles made sure that each player knew their role. Oh, and we made free throws, which would turn out to be a welcome surprise to me, at least. Things were well on their way.
So how about you David, tell me where the turnaround - and even greatest highlights - happened for you this season.
It's difficult to pinpoint anything other than the dismissal of Biggs as the turning point of the season. The team and players talk about a period of reflection after they got humbled at Michigan where everything changed, and that's probably true, but everything fell into place after Biggs was gone, then refined after Michigan. This seems to be one of the closest group of players I've ever seen.
I fully bought in after they beat Northwestern AND Purdue after beating Michigan State. The history of Nebraska hoops is that every time there's an opportunity to seize the opportunity and build momentum with a game or two at home vs. eminently beatable opponents at home, they don't. They lose, often epically. So, as awesome as the win over Michigan State was, I was still a little reluctant to go all in on this team, but dang was I thrilled to win in East Lansing. Nebraska teams just don't do that. Then they started doing things that hadn't been done since, oh, you know, the last time they went to the tournament. That's when you look around and say, "well, maybe this can happen". You start looking at the schedule and make a checklist:
- Win some road games: check
- Don't lose to bad teams, home or road: check
- Win at home: check
- Beat really good teams, home or road: check, check, check
- Snag a bye in the BTT: check (wait, what?)
Once you started seeing ALL of those things happen, then it was difficult to contain the excitement. The capper was that game vs. Wisconsin, though. I've never been a part of anything like that. It was a 16,000 throated student section. I sat behind two older gentlemen, probably in their late 60's or 70's who never stood all season. They stood the entire game and yelled, too. There are countless stories like that from all over the arena from that game. It was truly remarkable to be a part of. When Petteway hit that three to go up 10-3 forcing Wisconsin to take a timeout and then again when Pitchford hit his two threes in the second half to push the lead to 8, I believe, I've never heard anything quite like that around Nebrasketball. I'd heard it compared to Allen Fieldhouse when Mizzou came in for the last time before leaving for the SEC. It was intense. The fans believed. This team was different and we weren't taking anything less than a victory. I don't think the Huskers win that game in the Devaney Center.
For Part II, click here.
Hey everyone. I hope you enjoyed part I today! If you haven't checked out David's work over at Corn Nation, you're really missing out. Not only is he a diehard fan, but he is a heck of a photographer. You should hit him up on the twitters as well. @dpm917 He might talk a little bit of Nats baseball too. Don't begrudge him for that.