I'm old enough to remember when Nebraska basketball wasn’t a national powerhouse.
When the Huskers weren’t a trendy pick to make a deep NCAA tournament run. When the Huskers didn't humiliate major-conference opponents by 20 points, one week with an offensive avalanche, the next week with a defensive hurricane.
I’m old enough to remember when the analytical gurus didn’t consider Nebraska and Kansas peers.
KenPom ranks Nebraska 14th, two spots ahead of Kentucky.
(I'm picturing John Calipari at a booster luncheon this week. Jim Bob from Paducah grabs the mic and says, “Why can’t we recruit more like Nebraska?”)
Every day seems to produce a new advanced statistic touting Nebraska’s excellence. It’s so bizarre not only because — in case you missed it — the Huskers have never won an NCAA tournament game, but also because this is essentially the same roster that was shunned by the metrics (and pundits) a year ago.
Before we ask the obvious question — "Is Nebraska basketball really better than we think?” — let's try to solve the analytical mystery. I'll be honest, I can't figure it out.
Sure, the Huskers pass the eye test with one of the nation's most experienced and versatile starting lineups. It’s no surprise the experts believe in them.
But they haven’t beaten a top-40 team in the advanced ratings, let alone a top-25 foe. The only time they played a top-25 team, Texas Tech wiped the floor with Herbie's overalls.
And what about Minnesota? Were the algorithms taking a night off when Nebraska collapsed in the final five minutes?
What are these computers smoking?
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North Carolina and Tennessee both beat Gonzaga. Nebraska doesn't have a win anywhere close to those. So how can NU be ranked so high?
Because the advanced statistics account for every possession of every game, not just final scores of showdowns. And the Huskers are destroying teams. They beat Seton Hall by 23, Creighton by 19, Oklahoma State by 23, not to mention Mississippi Valley State by 69 and Southeastern Louisiana by 52.
Perhaps none are NCAA tournament teams (I think CU will be), but they're all safely in the top 100.
Nebraska is fifth nationally in effective field-goal percentage defense, according to KenPom. In other words, teams don't make shots (27 percent of 2s and 42 percent of 3s, both elite numbers). The Huskers force turnovers. They don't put teams on the foul line.
As for offense, the Huskers do make shots, especially an extraordinarily high percentage of 2s (57 percent). They make 74 percent of free throws. They don’t commit turnovers.
The only considerable weakness, at both ends, is rebounding, which seems unavoidable based on NU's lineup composition. But even those numbers aren't that bad.
Basically what the advanced statistics say is that Nebraska hasn’t recorded any big wins yet, but just wait, they're coming.
Husker fans better hope they're right. Because the first five games of post-Christmas Big Ten play are as tough as anything the program has faced in a long time: at Maryland, at Iowa, Penn State, at Indiana, Michigan State. All are top-50 teams, according to KenPom.
If Nebraska plays the way it did against Oklahoma State in the first half, that will be a miserable stretch. If Nebraska plays the way it did in the second half Sunday, you might be looking at 4-1 and a team that rises into the top 10 in the old-fashioned AP and coaches polls.
After halftime, the Huskers absolutely suffocated Oklahoma State, displaying a level of defensive intensity that ordinary teams can’t generate. Nineteen turnovers and 0.81 points per possession for the game is pretty stunning against a top-100 team.
Tim Miles' offense will come and go — we’ve seen the spurts and occasional droughts — but his defense creates a margin for error that Nebraska sorely needs in order to be great.
So is Nebraska basketball really better than we think? Is it really as dominant as the advanced metrics suggest? Or is it just feasting on mediocre competition? My sense is it's in the middle, probably closer to its AP ranking of 25.
But I'll admit, my views are influenced by two decades of futility. It doesn't seem possible that Nebraska could be on the same level with the blue bloods.
Let your imagination roam this Christmas season, Husker fans. Come the first half of January, we'll know for sure.
>> You can’t possibly come within three points of a national championship without feeling devastated. Nebraska volleyball players, coaches and fans will think back on those critical moments of the fifth set Saturday with a feeling of “What if?”
But if ever there was a time to leave the floor with your glass half full, this was it. The Huskers lost the best setter in school history 12 months ago. You aren’t supposed to come back and make the NCAA final again.
It's a tribute to Nicklin Hames’ progress and, of course, to Nebraska's attacking arsenal. Lexi Sun emerged as a critical second option. Lauren Stivrins was a force in the middle. And Mikaela Foecke was Mikaela Foecke.
The small-town Iowan should take a bow. Winning 21 NCAA tournament matches, including two national championships, is unprecedented at Nebraska. But just as impressive was the way she stepped up, time after time, when NU needed her.
I don't question John Cook's ability to recruit and develop more phenoms. But Foeckes don’t come around every year. Nebraska’s biggest challenge may be replicating her intangibles. Leadership, chemistry and clutch performances enabled the past four Husker teams to play their best in December. You can’t take it for granted.
Foecke helped make Nebraska better than it’s ever been. A third national championship would’ve been phenomenal, but losing her final match doesn’t change her legacy in Lincoln.
>> I'm no snowflake, but when I saw the image on Stanford’s locker room whiteboard, I was disgusted. The expletives and flames were one thing, but I don’t have much tolerance for pointing a fake gun (err, hairdryer?) at Nebraska’s mascot.
Where this incident ranks on your personal outrage meter, I don't know. But I thought it was pretty inexplicable from some of the most decorated student-athletes in the country. And if we saw a similar image in Nebraska’s locker room, I think we'd say the same thing.
Now, does it ruin Stanford’s prestigious image? No. Does it stain Stanford’s national title? No. But we should at least acknowledge that the image was distasteful.
>> North Dakota State returns to the FCS national title game. What’s new?
Friday’s blowout of South Dakota State in Fargo is another feather in the cap for Easton Stick, the Omaha Creighton Prep quarterback who ran all over the Jackrabbits. I don't know if Stick has the arm talent to play in the NFL, but his overall athleticism makes him mighty intriguing.
I also wonder why Chris Klieman would want to leave for Kansas State. I know, it's the Big 12. It's the next challenge. It’s more money.
But if the salaries were the same in both places, would you rather be the head coach at KSU or NDSU? I asked that question on Twitter Friday night. With 1,826 respondents, 58 percent voted North Dakota State.
>> Last week, The Athletic posted a story about potential expansion to the College Football playoff.
>> UCF football faces the same predicament that mid-major basketball teams have faced for decades. What to do when the big boys won't treat you as an equal?
Florida offered to play UCF 2-for-1. UCF said no. I think that's a mistake. Anything the Knights can do to get big-game opportunities is progress. Of course, I said the same thing 6-8 years ago when Creighton basketball refused to play marquee road games (without a home-and-home).
UCF's situation is even more challenging, I think, because brand-name football programs only schedule one big nonconference game per year.
Here's the email UCF A.D. Danny White received from Florida A.D. Scott Stricklin.
“UF isn’t in the market for home-and-home or a neutral site games against non-Autonomy 5 opponents,” Stricklin wrote. “However, we would be open to a series similar to what we’ve agreed to with USF … two games in Gainesville and one in Orlando. We are in need of a home opener for the 2022 season, so the 9/3/2022 date you mention would be a perfect date to begin the series, and we can fill in the remaining games from there.”
I understand UCF's frustration here. (Thankfully, it has nailed down a few home-and-homes over the past decade, including North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Stanford). But I look at UCF as the new Florida State/Miami. A program in a recruiting hotbed with tremendous growth potential. What did the 'Canes and 'Noles do in the 1980s to build their brand?
They played anybody anywhere. I'd like to UCF embrace the same mentality.
>> Finally, remember that debate a week ago about Greg McDermott's use of the word "desperate" to describe Nebraska? Was it a putdown? Most people said yes. I said no.
Well, like any mediocre journalist with access to The OWH archives, I went digging. I found two McDermott references to “desperation.”
Creighton can relate to the troubled times that Seton Hall's basketball team is experiencing on the court.
The Pirates head into Saturday's 3 p.m. game against the Bluejays at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, having lost six straight games. Ranked 19th in the country when the teams met in early January, Seton Hall has lost nine of 11 games since.
“They're a desperate team,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “They're in the middle of a losing streak that they want to see come to an end as quickly as they can.”
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Indiana State ran over Creighton on Wednesday night to quash any hopes the Bluejays had of turning the Missouri Valley title race into a runaway.
The Sycamores added No. 16 Creighton to their list of impressive victories this season by unleashing a dominating performance that ended in a 76-57 win before a season-high 8,345 at the Hulman Center. ...
"The energy we had and the energy they had, I'm not sure we're winning that game tonight," said Creighton coach Greg McDermott, whose team dropped to 20-4 and 9-3. “We were flat, and they were outstanding.
"We had a chance to create some space between ourselves and the teams chasing us in the league. Our guys have to understand that Indiana State comes into this situation a desperate team. They were playing to either be three games out of first place or a game out of first."
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After his days as a three-sport standout at McCook, Jeff Kinney came to Nebraska in 1968 to play quarterback. But two other QBs also joined the Huskers that season. So Kinney moved to flanker and eventually I-back, and that's where he flourished over the next three seasons.
Decorated college and high school football and wrestling star. High school teacher, coach and administrator. But Charles Bryant was foremost a pioneer. Bryant, an all-state athlete at Omaha South before graduating in 1950, became the first black football player of the modern era at Nebraska in 1952.
George Flippin was once described by Lincoln Star sports editor Cy Sherman as a "charged bull, into which was bred the tenacity of the bulldog, the ferocity of the tiger and the gameness of the man who knows no fear." He was Nebraska's first black athlete, in 1891, before black athletes were banned by the university from 1917 until the late 1940s.
Former Broken Bow cowboy Paul Tierney has won arguably the two most prestigious titles in rodeo. He finished his 10-year professional career by topping $1 million in career earnings, and his 2008 induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame makes him the most accomplished cowboy from Nebraska.
Shelby, Nebraska, is one of the flattest towns in one of the flattest states in America. The elevation difference between the highest and lowest points is 7 feet. It is literally a town without a hill, one of the last places you’d expect to produce an Olympic gold medalist in bobsled. But that didn't stop Tomasevicz.
Rhodes did it all. The Ansley native held three state high school track records at the same time (vault, long jump, high jump); was player-coach of Ansley’s first football team in 1920, which went undefeated that season; helped Ansley win a pair of state basketball titles; and played baseball. After graduating from high school in 1922, Rhodes went on to earn eight varsity letters at Nebraska — three in football and track, and two in baseball.
After a stellar three-sport high school career at Cambridge, Houghtelling surprised many by signing to play volleyball instead of basketball at NU.
Even though basketball had been her first love, she’s never regretted the decision.
Ruud is Nebraska’s all-time leading tackler with 432 stops. As a senior captain in 2004, he was a third-third All-American, a first-team All-Big 12 performer and NU’s defensive MVP. He was selected in the second round of the NFL draft. Ruud played eight NFL seasons, leading Tampa Bay in tackles for four of those.
Trotter starred at Omaha Creighton Prep, where he was a two-time all-state selection, and was Nebraska's first — and only — player named to the McDonald's High School All-American team.
Grand Island coach Doug Whitman once noted that swimmer Scott Usher was "one to watch." As it turned out, the entire country had the chance to watch Usher. Usher finished seventh in the 200 breaststroke in the 2004 Olympics and in 2008 fell just short of returning for a second Olympics.
Ron Kellogg is considered one of the best pure shooters in Nebraska prep history. The Omaha Northwest grad wasn't bad in college, either, according to then-Kansas coach Larry Brown.
Skinny 14-year-old Geddes left his father, eight brothers and eight sisters in Jacksonville, Florida, and arrived at Boys Town in 1962. Geddes had played football just once before arriving but took such a beating in a sandlot game against older players that he didn’t plan to play again. But Boys Town coach Skip Palrang spotted him and talked him into giving it a try. He eventually thrived and helped the Cowboys win a state title.
The 1978 Holdrege graduate turned down multiple scholarship offers from other schools, including a football and track package from Iowa State, to walk on with the Nebraska football team. The 150-pound walk-on became an integral part of the Husker offense. The three-year starter ranked in the top 10 in receptions and yards by the time he left in 1982.
While a career in the NBA never materialized for the Omaha Benson and Iowa graduate, Woolridge played overseas for 13 years. Leagues in Turkey, France, Germany, Venezuela, Israel and Cyprus. And the money was good. "To do what I loved professionally for 13 years, I can't complain about it," he said in 2013.
Louise Pound, in so many fields, was the trailblazer for women's athletics in the state. And this while becoming a preeminent educator in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln English department over a half-century. In 1890, Pound won the Lincoln city tennis championship. She captured the university's men's singles and doubles titles in 1891 and 1892 — the only female in school history to receive a men's varsity letter.
The best softball teams used to hail only from the West Coast. Keaton changed that. The former Papillion-La Vista and Nebraska star put Nebraska softball on the map with her dominating presence and performances in the pitcher's circle.
Once the last player to survive the cut on Nebraska's recruiting board, Noonan ultimately became a household Husker name. He earned first-team All-America honors and was named the Big Eight athlete of the year as a senior. His 12 sacks that season are tied for third in school history, and his 24 career sacks are tied for fourth.
John Parrella was Nebraska raised, the pride of Grand Island. NU defensive coordinator Charlie McBride once ranked him among the top three defensive tackles he had ever coached.
One press clipping described Hopp, a first baseman and outfielder, as "a dynamo who, perhaps more than anyone else, typifies the dashing, hell-for-leather play” of the St. Louis Cardinals. Hopp's 14-year career spanned five teams and as many World Series appearances, including back-to-back World Series victories with the Yankees. In all, he won four World Series and was an All-Star in 1946, when he hit .333 and drove in 48 runs for the Boston Braves.
Born in Holdrege in 1939 and raised near Axtell, Anderson began his quest at an early age and eventually built a makeshift shooting range as a high school senior at Axtell. After attending Nebraska for one year, Anderson joined the U.S. Army so he could pursue his Olympic dream.
Hare picked Nebraska from a slew of offers after starting for four years for Omaha Tech, where he averaged 26.4 points a game as a senior in 1963. Tech won the Class A title that year after going 22-2 and cruising through the state tournament by an average of 21 points a game. That team was voted into the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame and recently was chosen as having one of the best starting fives in Nebraska high school sports history.
Osborne remains just one of two men to win The World-Herald’s high school (1955) and state college (1959) athlete of the year awards. In high school, Osborne was all-state in football and basketball in 1954-55 and helped Hastings win a state title on the hardwood. In track, he won the discus at the state meet and placed second in the 440-yard dash. The future coach and congressman also stood out on the baseball diamond and had a pro football career.
Hoppen turned down a Kentucky scholarship offer. He also said no to Notre Dame, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado. And yes to Nebraska. Between 1982 and 1986, the 6-foot-11 center became NU’s all-time leading scorer, and he did it with clinical efficiency.
The only native Nebraskan to win a national wrestling championship at NU, Vering took his success to the international level, representing the U.S. in a pair of Olympics, claiming a world silver medal and winning gold at a Pan Am Games.
As a junior, Henry won golds for Bellevue West in the 200, 400 and long jump. Henry went on to set a national age-group record in the long jump and was part of the USA Junior World Team in 1995. At Nebraska, Henry won the NCAA indoor and outdoor long jump titles in 1996. All told, Henry was a three-time Big 12 champion and a 10-time All-American.
Kindig-Malone won gold medals at state in the long jump, hurdles and relays, but it wasn’t until she started getting scholarship offers from UCLA, Iowa and NU that she realized she might be good. Later, she won Big Eight heptathlon and pentathlon titles at Nebraska, becoming an All-American and helping the Huskers win their first indoor national championship in 1982. Kindig-Malone also won a Class C state basketball title with Hastings St. Cecilia in 1977.
Sauer and Bernie Masterson — No. 43 on the Nebraska 100 — paired together in the backfield to usher in one of the first great runs for Husker football. The two led Nebraska to Big Six championships in 1931, ’32 and ’33, when the Huskers went undefeated in league play. Sauer was an All-American in 1933 for the second-ranked Huskers. He also lettered in track, baseball and wrestling.
Cantwell, from Crete, won four straight Class B shot put and discus titles, including three consecutive all-class gold medals in the shot. She was a two-time NCAA shot put champion at SMU and was the 2002 U.S. indoor and outdoor champion as well as a 1999 world indoor bronze medalist. Cantwell also competed in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
Orduna lettered at running back for the Huskers in 1967, ’68 and ’70, running for 1,968 yards and 26 touchdowns. The Omaha Central graduate also played three NFL seasons.
A two-way football player even during his professional career with Green Bay, Charles Brock helped revolutionize the linebacker position in the pros while helping the Packers win two NFL championships. The Columbus native was recalled as a fierce competitor by the late Lee Remmel, a team historian who covered the Packers for nearly 30 years.
Lindsey, a Millard North graduate, was a standout defender for Notre Dame, the U.S. national team and San Jose of the WUSA, in which she played three seasons.
The image of Cory Schlesinger barreling into the end zone for the winning touchdown in the 1995 Orange Bowl burns brightly in the memories of Nebraska football fans. Schlesinger did some barreling in his day, but prided himself on being a bruiser. That trait served him well, especially in his 12 years with the Detroit Lions.
Schmidt represented the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics in the 800. Four years later, she returned to run the 800 and 1,500. The Olympic appearances are accompanied by plenty of other honors: a 2006 U.S. indoor 800 championship; a pair of U.S. outdoor silvers in the 800 (2006, 2008); and while with the North Carolina Tar Heels, two outdoor 800 titles and a distance-medley relay championship.
Mann was a jack of all trades, but a master of all of them, too. “Les did everything well. He was tops at football, basketball, track and baseball. He would have been equally great in other sports,” said Mann’s close friend, Scott Dye, in a newspaper account following Mann’s 1962 death in a car accident.
Dan Brand’s path to an Olympic wrestling medal was anything but typical. He competed in football, basketball and track at Bellevue High, but never was all-conference. He made the Nebraska freshman team in basketball, but after being cut, he signed up for the intramural wrestling tournament. He won and went on to compete in the Olympics.
Vinciquerra played football at Tech High and Creighton University, but is better remembered for making the 1936 U.S. Olympic boxing team. A natural heavyweight, he won a national Golden Gloves championship that year as a 175-pounder. He had a pro record of 42 wins (26 by knockout), four losses and five draws from 1937 through 1941, fighting over 20 times in 1937.
The résumé almost seems too much to comprehend. Four-sport star at Lincoln High. Nebraska football great. Pittsburgh Pirates baseball signee. Four-time football All-Pro with the Green Bay Packers.
At Beatrice, Hohn was a four-time state hurdles champion, a state basketball champion and an all-state football player. As a senior in 1960, he was the Nebraska high school athlete of the year.
Lincoln High football went 23-1-1 during Debus' three seasons on the varsity squad. Debus also played basketball and was all-state in American Legion baseball. But his best sport was track and field, where at state he single-handedly nearly doubled the point total of the second-place team.
Skinner won two high school state golf titles, two junior state championships and the 1980 state match-play crown. She went to Oklahoma State, where she was a two-time Big Eight champion and was named Golf Magazine’s 1982 college player of the year. On the LPGA Tour, Skinner won events in 1985, ’86, ’87, ’93, ’94 and ’95 before leaving in 2003.
Woohead rushed for the second-most yards (7,962) in the history of college football in all divisions and won the Harlon Hill Trophy (Division II’s version of the Heisman) twice. He finished his NFL career with 2,238 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing, along with 2,698 yards and 17 touchdowns receiving.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive tackle was a model of consistency. The three-time all-conference pick flattened plenty of defensive players, with an incredible one sack allowed in 46 career games with the Huskers. As a senior, he captained Tom Osborne's first national title team.
A 2009 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, the former Iowa and Omaha Central great was a two-time All-America linebacker, three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection and an NFL draft pick. At Omaha Central, he was twice named to the All-Nebraska team.
At Nebraska, Cahoy — an Omaha South grad — earned four NCAA national championships — two on the horizontal bar and two on the parallel bars. He made the 1980 U.S. Olympic team.
As a senior in 1985, Rathman produced the best season ever by a Husker fullback. He ran for 881 yards, a position record by 164 yards. He went on to win two Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers in a nine-year NFL career. In 1989, he led NFC running backs with 73 catches, and he capped the season with two touchdowns in a Super Bowl victory over Denver.
A left-hander with a nearly unstoppable fadeaway hook, Witte, a Lincoln High grad, became a three-time All-American (1932-34) at Wyoming. He was the first collegian to score more than 1,000 points in a career (1,069), earning him the nickname "One Grand Witte."
Losing was something Olson never dealt with at Omaha Northwest, going 27-0 with a 0.76 ERA, 276 strikeouts, seven no-hitters — including four in the state playoffs and one in the state championship game — and four state titles before playing at Auburn and being drafted fourth overall in the 1988 MLB draft.
Stecher won the world wrestling championship on July 5, 1915, in Omaha, beating Charlie Cutler in two falls at Rourke Park in front of 15,000 fans. Stecher wore a championship belt studded with 308 diamonds. He became a celebrity across Nebraska. In 1920, he reportedly earned a winner’s purse of $40,000 — four times what Babe Ruth earned the year before.
As a senior, Jones earned all-state honors in football as a halfback and then as a point guard, helping Boys Town win the Class A state basketball championship. But where he really excelled was track. He was the state champion in the mile run, became an All-American at Iowa and was a two-time Olympian.
The first woman from Nebraska to make the U.S. Olympic team, Frost competed in the discus at the 1968 Mexico City Games. In June 2015, at the age of 70, Frost set one world (javelin) and two American records (shot put, discus) for the 70-74 age group. She already owned two USA Track and Field age group records in the discus — 60-64 and 65-69.
A native of St. Paul, Nebraska, Randy Rasmussen was part of one of the great upsets in Super Bowl history when he blocked for Joe Namath in the 1969 win over Baltimore. He was selected in the 12th round of the draft by the Jets. He stayed for 15 seasons and 207 games, including 144 in a row.