The result was far too predictable, but the manner was still shocking.
It was clear going into Saturday’s showdown between Nebraska and Creighton that the Bluejays were the better team. Given the fashion in which they were blown out at Pinnacle Bank Arena one year prior, it was safe to assume that Creighton would be out for blood against the inexperienced Huskers.
Still, it’s always shocking to see a team trail 40-9 in a game against a rival. That shouldn’t sit well with the Nebraska fanbase or program, even if lopsided scores like that are a familiar sight on the CHI Health Center scoreboard in this series (see: 38-8 circa 2013).
It’s likely going to be a frustrating winter for Nebraska basketball, and there’s not much anyone can do about it.
From the moment the team was formed, this group has adopted a very laid-back approach. There were 13 newcomers and just three familiar faces, counting Tim Miles-era holdover assistant Armon Gates. Expectations from the outside were fairly low, with the Huskers picked to finish 13th in the Big Ten by the media before the season began.
Unlike the previous two seasons, where nearly every game ended with a moratorium on the future of the program, there was far less pressure going into this season. Growing pains were to be expected, and they have been more painful than previously predicted.
Back in the spring, as the newly hired Fred Hoiberg cleaned out nearly all of the returning players’ lockers to open up more roster spots, a comment from a similar head coach earlier in the year crossed my mind.
It came from Georgia head coach Tom Crean, who was in a similar situation to Hoiberg’s in his first season. Sitting at 10-12 in early February, Crean turned some heads when he said a loss to Ole Miss was “all on me,” but not for the usual reasons.
“I’m the one who decided to keep these guys,” he said. “And I get it, because the last thing I can do with making decisions on keeping guys in the program in the spring, is now overly get mad at them because I’m the one who made the decision. I live with that everyday, and it doesn’t mean that they’re not great kids.”
In Crean’s first year, he only had one player transfer out of the program. Following the 11-21 season, six underclassmen left the team. Given that this is the second college program that Hoiberg has taken over, it’s fair to wonder if he learned the same lesson Crean did back in 2010 at Iowa State.
Prior to his debut season at Iowa State, eight underclassmen left Hoiberg’s team. He scrambled back then as well to add four freshmen and six transfers, but only one of the transfers was eligible to play.
Following a season that ended with the Cyclones going 3-13 in conference play, four of those 10 additions had already left the program. With an entire season to evaluate recruits compared to just several months, it’s not crazy to wonder if a similar spring cleaning will take place for the Huskers in 2020.
Before this upcoming offseason, it will be interesting to see how this team develops. Even within the additions, only Thorir Thorbjarnarson and Haanif Cheatham had played at a high-level Division I program prior to this season. There is also the pair of junior college transfers, Cam Mack and Jervay Green, who are adjusting to the rigor and mental challenges of playing for a high-major program.
Most of the players on this team have not experienced much failure in their careers prior to this, and since each individual responds differently to failure, how these individuals handle it could be huge for the rest of the season as well as the future of the program.
For as laid back as everyone around the program has been up to this point, things appear to have changed after the first 15 minutes at Creighton. No one seemed or sounded dismissive following the game, and the players appeared to have focused on more of the details on both offense and defense in the second half.
There are no more vacations for Nebraska basketball. Gone are the days in Italy and the Cayman Islands; only cold nights remain in Indiana and Ohio. It’s time for players to truly start to grind, especially over the upcoming three-week break from school.
In the end, Saturday’s game and this season in general won’t mean much. There shouldn’t be many moratoriums on Hoiberg and his program in year one unless there are some critical issues off the court. Saturday was more about a Creighton team out for revenge that exerted its will, building plenty of confidence in the process, than it was about any serious issues with Nebraska.
It’s fair to hold Hoiberg and Nebraska to standards in year one, but there will be some serious growing pains for a team of players who have limited experience at this level of basketball.
There’s only so much that scheming and screaming can get out of the team. Some of the growth has to come from taking some punches against elite competition, which is something Nebraska will get plenty of as it moves into conference play this weekend.