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B1G Basketball Historical Perspective - The Championship

A seemingly lost season that led to Nebraska’a only national-level basketball championship.

Former Nebraska Basketball Coach Danny Nee

Writing (‘writing’) a historical perspective article for Nebraska men’s basketball is a bit of a challenge. In their 121 years the Cornhuskers have 7 NCAA Tournament appearances, 1 (Big 8) Conference Tournament championship, and 6 conference regular season championships (the most recent of which was in 1950). Steamrolling the likes of Kansas and Iowa State on the gridiron in the fall was often followed up by getting steamrolled by the Jayhawks and Cyclones on the hardwood a few months later in the winter. That said, 'Nebrasketball' does have one major championship to its credit: the 1996 NIT.

The 1995-96 Cornhuskers had something rarely seen in Lincoln: 2 future NBA players on their roster in Erick Strickland and Tyronn Lue. Even with these 2 players in the backcourt Nebraska only managed a 4-10 conference record: with the 4 wins being Missouri, Colorado, and Kansas State at home; plus Oklahoma State on the road. A 62-60 loss to Iowa State in the Big 8 Tournament quarterfinals left the Cornhuskers at 16-14 overall. A closer look at the schedule though shows a win against a ranked Texas team in Lincoln and 2 overtime games against Oklahoma (including a 117-100 triple overtime thriller in Norman). This was coupled though w/ losses to Northern Iowa and (future Quadrangle of Hate member) Minnesota (in Minneapolis). That said, the 16-14 record was good enough to get Nebraska into the 1996 National Invitation Tournament.

Digging deeper into the 1995-96 season in Lincoln reveals a bit more intrigue, though. Nebraska got off to a respectable 15-4 start; however, the Cornhuskers lost 9 straight and 10-out-of-11 (the lone victory being against Kansas State) down the stretch. Things were so bad that 9 Nebraska players boycotted practice in February 1996 in an attempt to get head coach Danny Nee fired. Athletic Director Bill Byrne told the players to get back to practice; which they did. And then Nebraska went on to lose 6 more games in a row.

Tyronn Lue
Communications Office

Amid speculation that head coach Danny Nee would be fired after the season ended, the Cornhuskers traveled to Ft. Collins, Colorado for their NIT first round match-up against Colorado State. A 91-83 victory advanced Nebraska to the next round, where a home game against Washington State awaited. An 82-73 win over Wazzu got the Cornhuskers into the NIT Quarterfinals, and a trip to Fresno to take on the Fresno State Bulldogs. An 83-71 victory against Fresno State thus earned Nebraska a trip to Madison Square Garden for the NIT version of the Final 4.

In the semi-finals Nebraska knocked off Tulane 90-78; advancing to the finals to take on St. Joe's. In the NIT Finals the Cornhuskers prevailed 60-56; earning the Nebraska men's basketball its first and to date only national-level championship. However, Cornhuskers fans view this NIT Title as a consolation prize - at best - for what was arguably the most talented Nebraska men's basketball team ever.

As an epilogue, during the 1999-2000 season Danny Nee got win #254 at Nebraska after the Cornhuskers knocked off Colorado 69-64. Just 16 days later Nee was fired w/ 3 years remaining on his contract after completing an 11-19 season (4-12 in Big XII play during the regular season); the worst in Lincoln in 10 seasons. Since then Nebraska basketball has been foundering, with the 2014 NCAA Tournament appearance being the first in 16 years (when Nee was still coaching).

With all of that said, though, what some may consider a failure was nevertheless a success and a championship for that 1995-96 Nebraska men's basketball team. To date, their only national-level championship.

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