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Tom Osborne's March Madness

Ohio's John Groce is one of many coaches that Tom Osborne will be looking at to succeed Doc Sadler.  But is Groce the type of coach who can break Nebraska out of it's long-standing basketball mediocrity? (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ohio's John Groce is one of many coaches that Tom Osborne will be looking at to succeed Doc Sadler. But is Groce the type of coach who can break Nebraska out of it's long-standing basketball mediocrity? (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Tom Osborne said last week that many of the coaching candidates are currently coaching in the NCAA tournament. So while there probably aren't any discussions going on, I'm sure Osborne is probably going to be paying attention to more than a few games this weekend. He probably wouldn't try to sneak in to watch any of these games; that would create quite a disruption. But with every game televised, there's no need to leave the office...or his recliner at home.

(Hmmm... does anybody think that Tom Osborne has a recliner at home? That he actually uses?)

So let's look through the candidates we're aware of, and what they are doing this week:

Ben Howland, UCLA. Much to the chagrin of some (many?) Bruins' fans, athletic director Dan Guerrero announced today that Howland would return next season. Well, maybe. All the press release says is that UCLA isn't firing Howland now. Since Osborne hasn't really started the interview process, we don't know how interested Howland might be. One source close to Howland laughed at the idea of Howland leaving for Nebraska, but that could be a defense mechanism. Howland can't afford to be seen as disloyal after getting the dreaded "vote of confidence". My take is that the only way Howland talks to Nebraska is if there is a firm job offer and reasonable salary attached to it.

In any event, Howland's season is over. The Bruins finished 19-13 and didn't get invited to any postseason tournament. So the only opportunity for Osborne to watch Howland coach will be on ESPN Classic.

Scott Spinelli, Maryland Assistant Coach. The Terps ended their season with a 17-15 record and also weren't invited into the postseason. Head coach Mark Turgeon gave the Omaha World-Herald's Lee Barfknecht a strong recommendation to hire Spinelli. Terrapin fans have been outspoken here talking up Spinelli, pointing up his strong X's and O's background.

Mike Davis, Alabama Birmingham. The Blazers finished the season at 15-16. I'm not sure Osborne wants to see much here.

Rex Walters, San Francisco. In recent days, the name of the 1993 all-Big Eight player of the year from Kansas has been mentioned for the Nebraska job. Walters' team went 20-14 this season, which ended Tuesday night with a 89-75 loss to Washington State in the CBI.

Rob Jeter, Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The Journal-Star reported that Nebraska reached out to Jeter earlier this week. Jeter previously was the top assistant for Wisconsin's Bo Ryan during the Badgers' Sweet 16 runs. Maybe the idea of a coach from Wisconsin-Milwaukee doesn't excite you, but remember that's where Tennessee found Bruce Pearl. (Of course, seeing what happened to Pearl in the end makes you shudder.) In any event, Jeter is not a name and Wisconsin is not a pedigree that's going to excite folks around here. Let's call Jeter a fallback candidate.

Dana Altman, Oregon. The Ducks ended the regular season at 22-9 and defeated LSU in the first round of the NIT Tuesday night. They'll host Iowa in the second round. So if Osborne is interested in seeing coaches in person, he should head west because Altman and three other candidates will be playing in the state of Oregon later this week.

Steve McClain, Indiana Assistant Coach. The Hoosiers will be playing New Mexico State in Portland at approximately 8:45 pm Thursday night on CBS. Indiana will be missing senior point guard Verdell Jones, who had started 103 games in his career. And Indiana has not been good away from home; they lost to Nebraska in Lincoln.

Shaka Smart, Virginia Commonwealth and Gregg Marshall, Wichita State. Two of the hottest coaching candidates for any open position face off at 6:15 pm Thursday night on CBS. So one of these coaches will probably be able to take a call starting on Friday...and athletic directors will be beating down the door. Illinois and South Carolina are also interested in these two coaches. The winner will face the winner of the Indiana and New Mexico State game on Sunday. The winner of that game likely will see Kentucky in the Sweet 16 unless Iowa State or UConn pulls off the huge upset.

John Groce, Ohio. The Bobcats finished the season 27-7 and earned a #13 seed in the Midwest Region. They'll face #4 seed Michigan in Nashville at 6:20 pm Friday night on TNT, prompting football coach Brady Hoke to wonder why the basketball team has to play the Buckeyes again in the tournament. Groce is a former Ohio State assistant, and is very familiar with Big Ten basketball.

Tim Miles, Colorado State. With four Nebraskans on the Rams roster, it's probably worth watching just for that. The Rams will face off against Murray State in Louisville to open the action at 11:15 am Thursday on CBS.

In my mind, the leading candidates for Nebraska's next head coach will be coaching in primetime NCAA tournament games on Thursday (CBS) and Friday (6:20 pm on TNT) if you aren't sure what games to might want to start there. I tend to agree with's Gregg Doyel that Nebraska needs to ante up and sign a coach with a track record that excites fans. A $20 million practice facility and 16,000 seat arena means nothing if you don't have a program to take advantage of it. The new facilities show a commitment to basketball, but now it's time to back that commitment up by bringing in a coach that can take full advantage of these facilities.

There's absolutely no reason why Nebraska cannot be competitive in basketball. Yes, Nebraska's bread and butter is football. But that doesn't stop Ohio State or Florida from being nationally relevant in both. Nebraskans absolutely will support a winner in basketball. Husker fans support volleyball and baseball to unbelievable levels. No reason why that can't happen to basketball. In Omaha, Creighton draws packed crowds for Missouri Valley Conference basketball. Many of those fans wear red on Saturdays in the fall; there's no reason why at least some of them wouldn't support the Huskers in basketball if given a reason to.

Money should not be an object for Nebraska's next coach. Osborne needs to find the best coach he can find...and then pay him what he's worth. Maybe that's a top-tier mid-major coach looking for a break at the next level. Maybe that's a coach who's overachieved at a lower-level power conference school (say, Kevin Stallings of Vanderbilt). But let's exhaust all those possibilities before gravitating towards the bargain bin with another Barry Collier/Doc Sadler coach.