It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I, along with most of The Daily Nebraskan staff, took some time off over winter break to regroup. A lot has happened over the past month, so let’s not waste any more time and get to it.
1. Nebraska basketball remains a fascinating case study worth paying close attention to this season.
The Huskers have had some fascinating results so far this season, both good and bad. Up close, it’s been fascinating to watch how this team of 13 newcomers has gelled. It certainly hasn’t gone as planned.
Sophomore point guard Cam Mack has been everything recruiting experts expected — an electrifying player who gives his team a puncher’s chance in any game. Senior guard Haanif Cheatham hasn’t posted the offensive numbers that he has at previous stops in his collegiate career, but he has taken a valuable leadership role he didn’t have prior to this season.
Meanwhile, junior shooting guard Jervay Green has struggled to transition to high-level college basketball, and a violation of team rules last month led to a two-game suspension. After the Huskers dropped games against North Dakota and Rutgers after he returned, Green has been riding the bench the past two games and has not received any playing time.
Senior graduate transfer Matej Kavas was supposed to be the top shooting threat on this team, given that he shot 46 percent from 3-point range last season at Seattle. Three months into this season, he has yet to find his rhythm and shot an abysmal 18-56 from deep.
At 7-9, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Nebraska to even come close to a winning record. This upcoming week alone could be very telling about whether the Huskers have that type of fight in them.
Nebraska travels to Ohio State on Tuesday to face the Buckeyes in front of what will surely be an unenthused crowd. The Buckeyes have lost four straight games and didn’t top 60 points in any of those losses. They have an arsenal of average to above-average guards and a trio of respectable big men but are enduring quite the slog since knocking off Kentucky the week before Christmas.
If Nebraska can find a way to start the game with a focused and sustained defensive effort, and keep the crowd that likely wishes it was in New Orleans watching football instead out of it, there is a chance for an upset.
Then, on Saturday, the Huskers have a rematch against Indiana in a rare primetime basketball game. If this contest is anything like last month’s 96-90 overtime battle, everyone is in for a treat.
2. Scott Frost’s handling of his assistant coaching vacancy could be telling about his management style.
For the second straight offseason, Scott Frost has a single assistant coaching position to fill. This time, he is in the market for a new outside linebackers coach. Or is he?
There has been plenty of speculation about whether Frost will shuffle the responsibilities of his staff and instead hire a coach to focus primarily on special teams. The speculation largely comes from how horrid Nebraska’s third phase was in 2019, but a quick check of the national landscape makes one wonder if a special teams coordinator is a necessity.
Out of the four teams that made the College Football Playoff this season, only LSU has a special teams coordinator that doesn’t also coach a different position. Frost’s UCF teams were exceptional at special teams, with Dewitt coaching them as well. Will two seasons of struggles in the Big Ten change his mind, or will he stick to his original methods?
I have no idea which way Frost is leaning when it comes to filling this vacancy, but given what I know about how he operates, he likely will look into any and all possible solutions. He has made it to this point in his career by trying to be on the cutting edge of advancements and management in the game and will likely see if he can get ahead of the competition in any way with potential staff changes.
Also, it’s refreshing to see Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos stay out of this hiring process. That’s the way it should be, and it’s how most college football programs are run.
3. A few thoughts on another outstanding bowl season.
Once again, bowl season did not disappoint. People can talk all they want about whether there should be so many bowls, but the bottom line is that most of these players would give anything to keep playing a game they love, and it shows in almost every bowl game.
There weren’t quite as many memorable games this year as there were in past years, but it was still jarring to see Miami lose the Independence Bowl 14-0 to Louisiana Tech. It was just as surprising to see Iowa pound USC 49-24 in the Holiday Bowl to finish with one of the least impressive 10-3 seasons I can remember.
The College Football Playoff did not disappoint, either, with Clemson breaking Ohio State’s hearts once again. That series is arguably past Nebraska-Texas levels of brutal losses for one side only. Also, the 2019 Ohio State team may eventually be looked back at as one of the greatest teams to not win a title.
Speaking of the playoff, it just makes too much sense to put the event on New Year’s Day every year. As much as I enjoy starting the year out with the Citrus and Outback Bowls, it makes much more sense to put one playoff game before the Rose Bowl and the other after it. It’s just weird to see the playoff followed up by the Belk Bowl.
4. I wouldn’t bet the farm on Nebraska winning it’s division in 2020, but I like its chances of getting over the hump against Wisconsin.
Sports in the state of Wisconsin continued its recent trend of blowing leads in key moments in the Rose Bowl, as the Badgers stepped in line with the Bucks (2-0 lead blown in NBA Eastern Conference Finals), Brewers (3-1 lead blown in the eighth inning of wild card game at Washington) and themselves (21-7 blown lead in Big Ten Championship) by blowing a late lead against Oregon.
Following the loss, star running back Jonathan Taylor declared for the draft. So did top receiver Quintez Cephus. In fact, most of Wisconsin’s offense will feature fresh faces this fall. If people want to set a goal for Nebraska that isn’t as sad as reaching a bowl game or as unrealistic as winning the division, might I suggest beating Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium for the first time since joining the conference?
5. This college basketball season has been unpredictable and crazy, but let’s set the record straight on a couple of things.
Enough with the talk about there not being any dominant teams this year. I just watched Baylor dominate Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. They’ve also handled Texas Tech, Butler, Arizona and Villanova. I highly suggest getting to know that team well because they are very fun to watch and haven’t lost since blowing a 10-point lead in the final five minutes of the season opener against Washington in Alaska.
Duke also looks like a dominant team in my eyes. Yes, I saw the loss to Stephen F. Austin. I also see that this is Coach K’s best defensive team in quite some time. He has an experienced point guard who is playing exceptional on both sides of the ball. Duke also only had one game decided by single digits since its lone loss, and it wasn’t even its road game at Michigan State.
A tier below those two teams sits three other teams that are close to hitting dominant status. Michigan State, Kentucky and Oregon each have elite and experienced point guards and plenty of size to trouble any team they face. But all three are still just inconsistent enough to make me believe that they are at risk in any road game in conference play.
As for the remaining teams, it’s a total crapshoot. The bubble for the NCAA Tournament may never be larger than it will this year, given the amount of teams with quality wins and horrible losses. The college football season ends tonight, but there will still be plenty of entertainment to get us through the winter.