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Nebraska Basketball: Expectations for 2018 And How To Handle Them - An Interview with Kent Pavelka

How you can enjoy the 2018 season, come what may.

Jon Johnston

Nebraska basketball season has already started with the first game of the year being a blowout in Nebraska’s favor. Perhaps it was an omen. More likely it was an overmatched foe. Either way, our beloved Huskers have the right pieces in place to have a good year, possibly an outstanding year.

The expectations for this team are so high that the heights are making me nervous and as you all know, I wear my Husker heart on my sleeve. I needed someone cool and collected to settle me, so I called on the voice of Nebraska basketball, Kent Pavelka.

After greetings and salutations, I relayed my nervousness to Pavelka and asked him to react to this statement:

This team has the potential to be the best Nebraska basketball team in school history.

He replied that it was way too early to start talking like that. The biggest problem with my statement is the setting of expectations and the biggest problem with having high expectations is that “it sets you up to not enjoy the season.”

I brought up how Nebraska basketball fans have had to deal with having their hopes dashed throughout the years, how it’s created the proverbial “monkey” on the basketball team’s back, and how it shapes the way we see the beginning of every season.

Husker basketball fans are familiar with the concept. Nebraska remains the only major conference school out of the six conferences - the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and the SEC - to have never had an NCAA basketball tournament victory. Nebraska has only played in seven NCAA tournaments.

It’s the nature of a Nebraska basketball fan to go into this season having high expectations while maintaining a fear of having them be destroyed again.

Pavelka pointed out this team doesn’t have a lot of time to get good. Seton Hall comes to town next week; then the Huskers play Missouri State, a team projected to win the Missouri Valley Conference, and USC or Texas Tech in Kansas City at the Hall of Fame Classic Tournament. They play at Clemson, then two Big Ten conference games before the first week of December is over. After that, it’s in-state rival and nemesis Creighton.

Depth is crucial.

Nebraska lost key players from last season. Evan Taylor and Anton Gill are gone, as is Jordy Tshimanga. Taylor and Gill averaged 8.1 and 6.4 points per game respectively. Tshimanga was “dismissed by most as not having much of an impact” to which Pavelka disagreed. I’ll point out that Tshimanga was third in rebounds despite playing only 13.6 minutes per game.

There’s an excellent returning team core in James Palmer Jr, Isaac Copeland, Isaiah Roby, and Glynn Watson Jr. Add shooter Thomas Allen, and you have a basketball team, but one without a lot of depth. Who else is going to consume significant minutes? Amir Harris? Nana Akenten? Tanner Borchardt? Thorir Thorbjarnarson?

The Huskers have to figure it out sooner rather than later as they might need early wins to get into the NCAA tourney. They came close year against Kansas and Ohio State, but close isn’t enough. They’ll need to get those wins this season.

I brought up that on our game threads early last season there were CN community members who wanted Tim Miles fired before the season was barely underway. I find it frustrating that so often the proposed solution is “fire the coach.” Pavelka said that he hopes Nebraska fans are reasonable; “it’s a process (getting a team playing together well) and you’re going to lose some games on the way to your goal.”

I hope that our game threads are measured in that regard and that we see a team develop into an NCAA contender. Losses are going to come. It’s the nature of the sport. Every basketball team suffers bad losses from time to time. Nebraska is certainly no different.

I have always been impressed by Pavelka’s nature, his ability to keep a good attitude no matter what happens throughout any given season. He explained that he’s always understood that Nebraska basketball is “kind of a unique animal in my lifetime.”

I asked for further explanation. Pavelka talked about how years ago when Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne couldn’t win big games and Nebraska fans would get a “David and Goliath” mentality, frustrated that our beloved Huskers couldn’t get past monsters like Oklahoma or a national title game in the Orange Bowl and wondering if it would ever happen.

“It’s a hard job. Every coach is optimistic they can get the job done (kill the monkey). Then there’s the lack of population.” He even invoked the name of Tom Osborne, mentioning how many times Osborne commented to him about losing a recruit to teams like Miami or Oklahoma because “Nebraska was just too far away from home.”

The expectations for the season are high. It’s an NCAA tourney bid or bust. We have no idea what’s ahead. Injuries to one key player could play a huge factor in how the season turns out. We need more depth as we always do.

Pavelka commented on the urgency of the season. “Most of these guys won’t be around next year.”

“I’ve been waiting for this (an NCAA tourney win) my whole life!”, I replied.

“So have I,” he said, “and time is running out.”

If there is one thing I took away from my conversation with Kent (we’re on a first name basis now), it’s that setting expectations will not allow me to enjoy the season. It’s something I’m going to work on because it’s something I’m terrible at. It conflicts with my inner desire of wanting our accursed monkey killed forever as if my demands will drive the team to greatness when the reality is, they have no effect at all.

It will be an inner war for me to let go, sit back and relax and enjoy this season, come what may. I suggest you try to do the same. Maybe we can collectively experience the best season in Nebraska basketball history.