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Husker Basketball Season Recap , Looking Ahead to the Big Ten

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Happy Holidays everyone, I hope you all found it easy enough to enjoy some time off from your jobs, or at least be in the company of friends and loved ones.

We're sort of venturing into new territory in terms of scheduling for the basketball team. In the Big XII, the conference season wouldn't get going until we'd rung in the new year and seen the football team in one last hurrah. Now, in the Big Ten, the Husker basketball team will be starting conference play in late December. Might as well get it over with, eh?

Today, we'll review some of what Nebraska did in their non-conference portion of the season, as well as preview what's coming up as the Big Red prepare to battle the rest of the Big Ten in our innagural season as conference members.

Eleven games, highs and lows |

Pre-season CN Prediction: 9-2 with losses at TCU and at Creighton.

Actual Results: 8-3 with home losses to Oregon and Wake Forest, and on the road at Creighton.

In order to determine just how the non-conference season has gone for Nebraska, it helps to understand just how different this team looks compared to last year. It also helps to understand how the game of college basketball differs from that of other sports, especially football. While Nebraska hasn't been able to crack the tournament under Doc Sadler's reign, their is quite a bit more that goes into the season as a whole, and understanding this may help people understand why Dr. Tom has backed Sadler so whole-heartedly.

While it's easy to glance at the Big Ten standings (Nebraska ranked 10th), and check the win/loss record for Nebraska (8-3) and cast doubts on the Huskers' chances of competing for an NCAA Tournament spot, it's not always the best way of evaluating a Sadler-led Nebraska team.

Covering this team over the last few seasons for CornNation, has taught me one thing. It's virtually impossible to predict what is going to happen during any game outside of playing Kansas. We do know that Nebraska is not an elite program, and that reaching the NCAAs would satisfy most. We also know that over the last few decades, sans the 2009-10 season, the Huskers have shown some potential.

Given this tumultuous past few years, I don't think we have much in terms on the last 11 games to base any opinions on moving forward. If anything, we just know what personnel we have..and what they are capable of doing as individuals.

So..let's look at those three Husker losses, and try to determine just what each of them really means in the long run...if anything.

Oregon: 76-83 in Lincoln.
Dana Altman, of Creighton fame, pulled out his Doc Sadler notes and did a great job of walking into the Devaney Center and taking one from the Big Red. Nebraska held an early lead, and the two teams went back and forth until the Ducks started to create distance. After leading by as many as 15 points in the second half, Nebraska showed why they have the ability to stay in any game this year. Closing the lead to only 3 with under 2:00 left to play, the Huskers couldn't quite get things over the top. Garret Sim lead the Ducks with 20 points on 4/6 shooting from the 3 point arc. While Jorge-Brian Diaz had a stellar game with 21 points, it wasn't enough to overcome the uncharaceristic 83 points allowed that evening.

Nebraska had lost it's first home game of the season, after losing just two at home all of last year.

Wake Forest 53-55 in Lincoln
This game was a close battle all the way, and could have gone either way at the end. Both teams shared the games high scorers with Spencer netting 13 points, and Wake Forest's Carson Derosiers matching him with 13 of his own. A low scoring game, with the only real letdown coming in the final moments when Jorge Diaz played bullfighter to the Deacon's C.J. Harris. With just 0:01 remaining in a tie game, Harris drove right past Diaz on his way to a layup, and left Bo Spencer with only a desperation heave at the horn.

Not only another loss at the Devaney Center, but especially dissapointing because of the lack of defense at the end when it counted.

Creighton: 76-66 in Omaha.
Nebraska headed up the road to take on it's only intra-state rival, and faced the nation's leading scorer in Doug McDermott. Not much positive was said in the days leading up to this matchup, yet the Huskers and Bo Spencer came ready to play. Nebraska hung in the game, and pulled to within three by halftime. The nation's leading scorer, McDermott, was eventually out-gunned by Nebraska's Spencer, who ended with 29 points on the afternoon. Nebraska was scoring points, and keeping up step for step with the MVC's favorite to win the conference, when it all crashed down in one bizzare incident.

With 10:42 left in the game, Nebraska led by 2 points before Creighton's Grant Gibbs scored three points on a layup and free throw. One minute later, Toney McCray was called for a personal foul, followed by a technical foul for arguing the call. In what I can only call a confusing string of events, Doc Sadler was then called for another technical foul which led to a 1-point getting stretched to a 6 point lead all in a flurry of officiating debauchery.

Nebraska never recovered, and the Huskers were handed their 3rd loss on the year, and their second straight. It was now in question as to whether Nebraska would make it out of the non-conference season alive, and with a chance in hell of salvaging a decent season.

P.S. This game, mainly the officiating, really pissed me, and others, off. Creighton is a solid team, but I still don't buy that they are tops in even their own conference.

The Wins |

While all wins are a good thing, we'll point out a few wins that perhaps meant something a bit more that a "w", for one reason or another.

Southern California: 64-61 in Los Angeles

Nebraska played it's first BCS conference opponent in the Trojans of Southern Cal, and boy was it a thriller. Bo Spencer, who at that point hadn't shown us much yet, broke out and scored a game high 22 points on 50% shooting. Jorge Diaz and Brandon Richardson chipped in 10 and 12 points respectively, but the biggest plus to come out of this game wasn't the production. It was the way it was won. While it would have been understandable to fold on the road, especially after Toney McCray converted game-tying free throws not once, but two times to keep Nebraska in the game, the Big Red battled to the end and pulled out a team victory in double-OT.

This win was noteable for two reasons. First, we found out that Nebraska has a scorer on its roster. One that was not only needed, ut somewhat expected. Secondly, we saw a team come together and win a close game, which after the last few seasons of losing close games, is a breath of fresh air.

Rhode Island: 83-63 in Lincoln.
This was the feel good game we needed after a close victory on the road. But that's not why this game was noteable. No, this game was Nebraska's first statement of it's defensive intentions for 2011-12, as well as one of the better all-around performances of the young season so far. The Rams of Rhode Island were one of the top scoring teams in the country early on, averaging 90 points per game as they strode into Lincoln. Since then, the Rams haven't had the best of luck, going just 1-7 since then.

Nebraska put together one of their most balanced games, going 32/56 from the field, and 10 of 23 from behind the arc. Another nagging problem had been turnovers, and the Huskers kept within their goal of 13 turnovers or less. While not perfect, it was a good sign that we had led the game from start to finish. Dylan Talley also made his first big splash, proving that we had yet another option to score in the backcourt.

Central Michigan: 72-69 in Lincoln.
Why this game? Central Michigan? Shouldn't these guys have been an easy victory, one that was a mere tune up for real opponents like Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Indiana? Perhaps, but this game was a bit different, and posed its own unique challenges.

With center Jorge Diaz and guard Dylan Talley out with injuries, the Big Red were suddenly facing a solid Chippewas team that was also sporting a potential first-round draft pick in Trey Zeigler. The absence of two starting players is the key here. Winning this game, although a bit closer than people would have liked, was actually a good test. If anything, it gave us an idea of how we could play if/when key players either go down with injuries or simply get into foul trouble. Others stepped up their game, and five players ended the game in double-figures. That's balance, and again..finding a way to win.

Big Ten - Full Speed Ahead |

Time for business. Nebraska is facing what I think is probably a more difficult stretch of games than anything we ever did in the Big XII. Six of our next eight games will be coming against AP Top 25 teams, with seven qualifying for the NCAA Tournament last year.

Nebraska will be facing a grind, no doubt. But these are still college kids, and the games still need to be played. Gone are the days in which we knew Kansas was a loss, and the rest of the league was a toss up. Last year, Nebraska beat #3 Texas at home, and then managed to lose to teams like Iowa State and Colorado. Hopefully this season provides a bit more predictability, but I'm not banking on that. With injuries hitting us again, this could be another season of nail-biting and rolling the dice.

Next, we'll take a look at a few key stretches of games, in which Nebraska could make or break their season.

Dec 27th - Dec31st: Wisconsin and MSU

Home games versus two teams ranked in the top 20, back to back. Winning even one of these games is critical to a good start in the Big Ten. Given that the Huskers will travel to #2 Ohio State for their 3rd game of the conference, we will really need to have something under our belts in case that game goes the way most people think it will (Buckeyes roll).

Which game, if any, will Nebraska be able to swipe? Who knows, but neither Wisconsin or Michigan State has played Nebraska since the 97-98 seasons, with Tom Izzo of MSU having the only experience in Lincoln of the two coaches. Wisconsin is leading the country in scoring defense, which could make for a very physical and low scoring contest given Nebraska's propensity for playing the same type of game.

Winning both games would be all a Husker fan could ask for starting the B1G portion of the season, and would potentially start the Big Red in a direction towards a 9 or 10 win season. Lose both of these games, and you're probably staring an 0-3 season in the face, with not much relief coming after that.

Jan 26th - Feb 11th: Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota, #18 Michigan, Penn State, Illinois, Purdue.

While the start of league play is shaping up to look like that scene from Raider of the Lost Ark, (you know...the one where the bald guy backs up unknowingly into a spinning propeller blade?) the stretch from late January into the middle of February could be where we gain some ground in the standings.

With just one of seven teams being currently ranked, there is no reason to believe that the Huskers couldn't take a handful of games here. The games on the road will be Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern, and Purdue. Not too bad.

Minnesota, who has played more games in Lincoln in the last 15 years than any other Big Ten team, could be a tough game, along with Purdue on the road. But I like our chances of recovering on this stretch, which quite honestly..may be the only thing that keeps the season together.

Predictions (Man I hate this part) |

I'm gonna make this short and sweet. Mainly because it's probably going to be dead wrong, but also because I'm pushing to make this post by the dinner hour.

I think Nebraska does exceptionally well at home, winning games versus Iowa, PSU, Minnesota, and at least one upset over tOSU, Michigan, or Wisconsin. 4 wins.

On the road, we drop a fair amount of games but manage to pick up wins at Iowa, PSU, NW, and steal one from either Purdue, Wisconsin, or MSU. 4 wins.

Conference Record: 8-10

A decent showing in the first season as B1G members, but again looking at the NIT for post-season action.

Final Thoughts |

Lastly, as we get ready for meaningful games, I'd like to encourage all Nebraska fans to start shifting their mentality towards the basketball team a bit. I'm not ever going to ask that anyone proclaim roundball as some sort of comparison to the guys on the gridiron. Hell, I can't even say that I'm partial to the hoops team. I know where the bread and butter is at, and always will.

I would however, ask that we start looking at things on a different level. We've moved to a new conference, and in doing so, started anew with a chance to form new reputations and build new relationships. As I look around at some of the fan bases in the Big Ten, I see a lot of diversity amongst their school's athletics. I like that. I think we are capable of that, and I think we deserve that. Nebraska hasn't always been known for it's football teams, and believe it or not...there was a time when Nebraska Basketball was the hot ticket in town. Is it so impossible to think that we can't bring Husker Hoops back into relevancy?

I know one thing, and that is Tom Osborne is full in. He's at games. He's helping get large sums of money pumped into the program. He's started something that quite frankly...can't be stopped. We're going to have a new arena and bazillion dollar facilities over the next two years. The national media is aware that we will have iPads in the bathroom stalls, and so we had better start producing, or risk becoming a laughing stock. The team with the best facilities, yet average-at best teams with apathetic basketball fans. That's not "Nebraska" to me.

To me, "Nebraska" means doing what needs to be done to be successful, and doing it the right way. It also means supporting all student-athletes despite records or trophies. In all sports. Doc may not be the Husker coach that get's us to the promised land, but he's got his guys playing hard, and playing with good sportsmanship. (See Xavier vs. Cincy fight) We can let Osborne do his job if Doc isn't working out, and meanwhile build something more than a one-dimensional presence in men's athletics in the Big Ten.

And we can start that- tonight.