Derek Johnson Muses

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Straight from the Cornfield, Episode 19

In this episode, I preview the upcoming Nebraska men’s basketball season, weighing what expectations should be for this team and what should be expected from the Huskers’ newcomers. Spoiler: this looks like Shavon Shields’ team.

Maximum Red Podcast, Episode 4

In this episode, I cover Mike Riley flooding Nebraska fans with too much information, Saturday’s scrimmage, men’s Nebrasketball trip to Europe, and of course, great articles and tweets.

In line to get that perfect shot of the Huskers

In line to get that perfect shot of the Huskers

Beating A Want-to-Be Rival was Fitting Way to Close Out the Devaney

A note on these post: as I announced on Twitter this past Monday, I will now be contributing to the website HuskerMax.com. It’s been a bit of a drought between the end of Husker Locker and joining Husker Max, and I’m grateful to David Max and Joe Hudson for the opportunity.

I’ve decided to continue to post Husker content here, because I can use my photos here. But I would appreciate it if all of you here click over and read my work on Husker Max, as I am paid by pageviews for my work on that site. Thanks to all for continued readership and support.

Tim Miles watches over his team.

Tim Miles watches over his team.

Last Saturday, I went to the Nebraska-Iowa game at the Devaney Center on a bit of a whim. It was the third Nebraska basketball game I’ve been to this year, and in all cases, I have wanted to care about going to Nebraska basketball more than I actually wanted to go to the games themselves. And even after the game, I felt like I didn’t learn anything towards whether or not Tim Miles will be the right coach long-term, only that he’ll have one nice conference win on his resume for next year.

Fittingly, the opponent was a team that I wanted cared more about beating than I actually did care. I want to rout against the Iowa Hawkeyes, want them to be Nebraska’s blood rival. But, for whatever reason, they haven’t seemed to be that, in football or otherwise, maybe because beating them has come easy. When I stopped for a quick lunch at Runza, there were numerous Iowa fans there, and as I made my way into the arena, the generous number of black-and-gold clad fans made me upset. But given the product that Nebraska’s put on the court of the last year, it wasn’t like I had a right to be mad at my fellow fans.

There were plenty of Iowa fans up in the rafters and throughout the arena, although not close to the Nebraska-at-Northwestern ratio in football this past year. But it was embarrassing in terms of how much noise was made in the first half. As a whole, it was nowhere close to the sellout it was said to be with were blocks of empty cushioned seats across the arena, the apathy the Bob has become known for. Given the abrupt change in date from Thursday to Saturday, there were bound to be some no-shows.

In typical Devaney Center fashion, I didn’t pay attention early in the game. It was obvious Iowa’s rooster, while not vastly superior, was better. All of their players were thicker, and were looking to step out and shoot. Nebraska’s roster is full of tightly muscled guys who wish to do nothing more than cut to the basket, except none of them are good enough to do it consistently. While Nebraska got behind by the number of free throws they missed, I worked on my to-do list for the upcoming week and took a few pictures. With Iowa leading by 18 at halftime, I went out to the concourse, sat writing in a corner, and didn’t realize that the second half started until they were two minutes in.

I went back to my seat, wondering when Husker fans would start exiting the building. (Answer: the first did so around the ten minute mark). Eventually, the Huskers made a run and got the game back to about ten points, and I thought, Okay, this will be a nice memory of the last time the Bob kind of rocked.

Except that Miles’ crew didn’t stop with just getting the game back to about ten. They got it to seven, and at that point, people started getting out of their seats when Iowa brought the ball to the other end of the court on offense. As the duel carried on, I never expected Nebraska to come back, but I didn’t think that they were not able to come back either. Turns out, they got the better of Iowa, and the nothing-but-net three ball to give Nebraska was a fitting great moment.

I grew up when Nebrasketball was a viable team every year. Not great, but at least they were making the postseason every year in the 1990’s and had shots at the NCAA’s. Success in college basketball at Nebraska wouldn’t be as meaningful as the football success, but given how college basketball has been watered down, it is success that is seen in a different light. Leaving the Bob last Saturday with the silenced Iowa fans, it was nice moment, but it will be a while until any Nebraska fans know if it was the start of anything. I’m not even going to judge how good of a coach Miles is off this year, because of his history suggests he takes more overlooked, great plains players. But early signs suggest it’s not a disaster.

As far as the rivalry with Iowa, I don’t know if it’s going to get chippy just because some Iowa fans from Omaha got disappointed for driving an hour to see their team loose on

Gallegos before attempted the free throw to put Nebraska up for. Curb your enthusiasm, please.

Gallegos before attempted the free throw to put Nebraska up for. Curb your enthusiasm, please.

the road on a Saturday afternoon. Yes, Nebraska’s dominating Iowa in all sports, but I think Nebraska fans assumed this. (As someone who occasionally has to stand Des Moines sports radio, I know whose standards are higher.) I don’t know what’s going to have to change to make this a better rivalry or make me care more about it, but then again, maybe nothing needs to change. Maybe it just needs to give us final minutes like on Saturday.

With ten minutes to go, I moved down to some of the cushioned seats that were a few rows up from the exits. Even with the late game drama, there were still fans who made their way to the exits right after Dylan Talley made the go-ahead three, and left as soon as Ray Gallegos made the free-throw to put them up four with 2.3 seconds to go. I hope that tradition of leaving early ends with the move to Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Tim Miles: At Least He Looks the Part

Saturday I awoke to see one of my Facebook friends had already bemoaned another stint of Nebrasketball irrelevance because of the hiring of Tim Miles as Nebraska’s men’s basketball coach. While he’s not a wow-hire, Miles has  two qualities that give a chance to succeed at Nebraska: one, he has a recruiter/spokesman’s personality, and two, he’ll recruit and sign Nebraska high school players.

To the first point, Doc Sadler didn’t work as an AQ-conference coach was because he was from the Bobby Knight-John Thompson red-faced -yelling sschool. Great players didn’t want to play for him, and the players who did come to Nebraska didn’t stay here very long. Miles is a young, bright media face who tweets during halftime. While he might not be able to sign a bunch of McDonald’s All-Americans, Miles should give Nebraska a positive voice that isn’t hoarse from screaming and wears on players like John Gruden’s did.

Osborne with his new protege.

To the second point, the fact that Miles had four Nebraska natives on his current CSU team  must have been impressive to Osborne, maybe more so than it should have been. Miles is a South Dakota native who spent most of his career coaching in the Dakotas and Minnesota. While Nebraska doesn’t produce a lot of D-I players, keeping the few will do go a long in endearing Miles to the Nebraska fans. Look at this way: if you sign the T.J. Pughs and Wes Eikmeier of rural Nebraska instead of letting them go to Iowa State or Kansas, then at least Nebraska fans will come and support them. Barry Collier had worse record at Nebraska than Doc Sadler did, but was kept after his sixth year while Sadler was fired. The reason: Collier recruited a bunch of local players his first year at Nebraska, endearing him to the locals. If you’re going to serve a bad basketball product, at least buy it locally.

But Nebraska’s inability to hire a great basketball coach stems from the fact that there’s no urgency to win in college basketball, even at major programs. Look at Maryland and Missouri, the two best jobs that opened last year. Missouri hired a coach had been to the NCAA Tournament once and hadn’t won sixty percent of his games at Miami (Frank Haith). Maryland, in a basketball-first league, hired a coach who had been to the Sweet Sixteen once at a mid-major (Mark Turgeon). Given Nebraska’s lack of interest in basketball for the last twelve years, Miles may be the best hire they can get. Even coaching at the school where a long-time Osborne aid is the football coach, Ohio coach John Groce may have his sights set on a bigger job, like Illinois.

In the video below, Miles talks a lot about something that many Nebraska beat writers have been pointing out about Nebraska basketball: raising the standards of a program. Colorado State had finished no better than sixth in the Mountain West the previous seven year before Miles arrived at CSU. Miles had just two scholarship players on his first team but improved every year. At North Dakota State, Miles upset both Wisconsin and Marquette after the school jumped to Division I, and Miles’ players continued to win after their coach left. Maybe Nebraska has found a coach who’s peaking; either way, it’s a better resume than Sadler had when he came to Nebraska (two years, one NCAA bid, one NIT bid, with Billy Gillispie’s players), and everyone supposedly loved him.

I’m not going to say that I’m uber-thrilled with Miles’ hiring at Nebraska, but I am going to watch his introduction today with some optimism. As long as he can recruit local players and there aren’t too many empty seats at Pinnacle Bank areana(or worse, Creighton fans), it will justify a six year tenure, which is what Osborne is going to give a coach if he makes the postseason by year three. When Sadler was named the Nebraska men’s basketball coach, he brought a combative bravado that wore thin over time. Miles looks like a long-term, positive builder, which is exactly what Nebraska needs.

(More Husker Posts)

Update: In his introductory presser, I thought Miles came across very well as the fresh-faced CEO that Nebraska basketball needs. He talked very postively about creating buzz within the fanbase, exactly what Nebrasketball needs to succeed (and fill the new arena.) I had forgotten the North Dakota State connection with Craig Bohl that undoubtedly helped him land the job.

Unfortunately, he didn’t seem very eager to talk about recruiting Nebraska when he was asked about recruiting, instead speaking of the Big 10 and old Big 12 north footprint. Hopefully, he will maintain his old connections and sign local prospects, but I wish someone would have asked him about the Nebraskans he had at CSU.

One last carp: why in the world did we have to hear so much about Doc Sadler? Clearly, everyone cares about him more now that he is gone than when his teams took the court.

Doc Sadler’s Sad Goodbye Reflects the Sad Face of Nebrasketball

When I saw that Tom Osborne allowed Doc Sadler speak to the media after the former had fired the latter, I couldn’t believe it. I understand Illinois letting Bruce Weber speak after he was fired, but Weber delivered a national title game appearance to the Illini. The terminated Sadler, whose never got a team to the NCAA tournament, spoke for a teary four minutes, claimed he didn’t see his firing coming (like most people who get fired), and no one had any questions for him, likely because Nebraska could have shuttled him out the back door. They had, after all, not allowed Mike Anderson to speak to the media, after he was broken off after nine seasons, five postseason appearances, and a CWS appearance in 2005, a much better record than Sadler. Guess we know which sport Osborne thinks is more important.

I realized a year or two ago, Sadler looked like the exact kind of mistake that a football school would make on a basketball head coach. His rah-rah personality, reminiscent of the late great Bob Devaney and current Husker football coach Bo Pelini, isn’t a great sell to premium recruits. Yes, it’s reminiscent of Bob Knight, but over time (and ESPN exposure) he didn’t get the best recruits. (Ironically, Texas Tech, the last school Knight coached at, was interested in hiring Sadler last year.) Sadler always had a player or two transfer after every year, and it makes you wonder if his hot-head style wore players out the way Jon Gruden’s did. Sadler’s defensive-style was another reason that he fooled Nebraska for six years. A defense-first approach appeals to a football mecca like Nebraska, but at some point, a coach has to recruit scorers, and Sadler didn’t do that.

Then there’s Osborne’s role in keeping Sadler on. Osborne said he was embarrassed by Sadler’s low guaranteed money, but why did wait until three and a half years after becoming athletic director to address it? While I understand Osborne’s motivation, if he felt he had to give Sadler the extra money to succeed, he should have fired him last March, after Wichita State had run Sadler’s team out of the gym in the NIT. He should have asked himself, can I still keep this coach if we have a terrible year next year? And with the conference change, there was no guarantee that Nebraska could keep pace in the stacked Big 10. In the end, one wonders if Osborne, with the midset of a former coach, gave one chance too many to Sadler.

Think Nebraska looks bad for keeping Sadler? Kansas State kept Jim Woolridge for six years, and he finished with a record of 83-90 in 2006. There’s no urgency to win in college basketball, because football is what carries the athletic department The reason Osborne gave Sadler a bigger buyout than Bo Pelini (really) rather than break him off last spring was that he could. He’s not the football coach. At least right now, Osborne and Mark Boehm are saying the right things, that they will now spend $1.6 to $1.7 million a year on a basketball coach (Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and Michigan’s John Beilein both make $1.6), so at least there’s a chance Nebraska can land a good coach, although Shaka Smart turned an alleged $2 million a year from N.C. State last year, so don’t hold your breath on him.

But back to Sadler, who spoke to the media in tears on Friday. I felt somewhat sorry for him, although not because he lost his job. In spite of Nebraska’s poor basketball facilities, Sadler couldn’t get out of his own way. And of course his buyout automatically suspends sympathy. I feel sorry for him because someone who has failed so publicly shouldn’t be trotted out there to wheeze to the media like that. That might be what’s really wrong with Nebrasketball.

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