OK, I’ll say it. Since we’re all in the ecstatic phase of the Madness.
But before I do, my credentials: I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I was once a beat writer for the Daily Nebraskan, covering the men’s basketball program at that university, in the Grand Guignol that was the Danny Nee administration. And finally, yes, I also hold a degree from the University of Kansas, where basketball is not some play-pretty that comes out of the toy box every decade or two, but a deathly serious business.
So I’ll say it: What on earth is Nebraska doing in a Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament?
A 19-12 team that just happened to catch fire at the end of the season when the selection committee tells us, repeatedly, that they look at a team’s entire body of work?
I remember another 19-12 NU team.
The guys from 1998-99: Cookie Belcher, Larry Florence, Cary Cochran, Andy Markowski and the venerable Venson Hamilton. That team beat the ranked Jayhawks twice, beat ranked Oklahoma on the road, ranked Missouri at home, demolished Creighton, won a game at the Big 12 Conference Tourney and still missed out?
My beat took me all over the Big 12 with that squad and against my better journalistic instincts, I really came to admire those guys and feel they had earned a shot at an NCAA Tournament.
I remember that Selection Sunday (not quite as much hoopla back then) very clearly. I sat in the DN’s basement newsroom in the Nebraska Union and watched as the slate was filled and the Huskers were left off the dance card.
In that moment, I remember an acute disappointment: as if this had been done to me. As if there was something I could’ve done to propel NU into the Big Dance. In that moment, I remember how bad I felt for Coach Nee (he was always a perfect gentleman to me, if profanely profound) and those guys.
I suppose as an alum — and not a very avid fan — I wish Big Red the best tomorrow (though my bracket reflects my feeling an old Big 12 foe will get the better of them).
Yes, there are plenty of arguments that make this year’s Huskers more deserving than the 1999 version. And yes, trying to understand the moves the primum mobile of the NCAA makes is tantamount to uncovering some sort of unholy athletic Atlantis.
But some part of me might have died in that basement newsroom 15 years ago with another 19-12 Nebrasketball team.