It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We hit Husker football, Jim Delany and Richie Incognito, Mike Brown and Ndamukong Suh, Kevin Durant and Lane Kiffin, Ben Johnson and Shawn Watson. But first, college hoops season begins!
Is it too early? Yes. Do November games matter? Not really. But it’s still basketball. And tonight is one of the best nights for Omaha basketball in a long, long time.
Downtown, the most anticipated Creighton season in history begins with an enticing matchup between Tony Mitchell and Doug McDermott, two potential first-round draft picks. I expect the home team to win easily, but what I’ll really be watching is Creighton’s defense.
That’s the ticket to becoming a bona fide Top-15 team. That’s the ticket to competing with national powerhouses. North Texas is a solid measuring stick for the Jays’ offseason defensive progress.
Meanwhile, at the Ralston arena, a new era begins at UNO. The Mavs will look more like a Division I team every year, but they haven’t arrived yet. Derrin Hansen still has personnel questions. Without Mitch Albers around, the Mavs need to find scoring help.
But beating Northern Illinois isn’t the story tonight in Ralston. The story is that for the first time in decades, UNO is playing in a basketball-friendly environment. That alone should help its brand immensely.
In Monday’s Chatter, I’ll have plenty more on Creighton, UNO and Tim Miles, who is giving free Runzas to the first 200 students in the door Sunday.
>> Will we see a Michigan State hangover tomorrow in Lincoln?
Too many times at Nebraska after an emotional high, the team fails to show up the following week. I think those concerns are waning as the Huskers continue to prove their character and maturity. But if you know what you’re going to see from Nebraska against Penn State, you’re smarter than I am.
A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with former Purdue coach Joe Tiller about this topic. Laying the occasional egg isn’t just a Nebraska problem, he said. He had a theory for why.
“College football has become such a high-profile sport, there’s so many dollars involved, the popularity of it is so great anymore that coaches — we were almost afraid to allow a day to go by on a full calendar year without our players working on football.
“To me, it seems that these football teams, with all this talent, do not show up every Saturday. You get one team seven, eight or nine weeks of the year and then you get another team a couple Saturdays. That just doesn’t make sense to me.
“I used to tell our team the last five years I coached, ‘Fellas, it’s harder to win today than ever before because of the talent level, but it’s easier to win than ever before because teams don’t show up every week.’ I think maybe these college players just get burnt out on football sometimes. They need to just step back and catch their breath.
“When you come out of the season, you immediately go into bowl preparation. And you come out of bowl preparation and you’re in the weight room and you’re conditioning at 6 a.m., getting ready for spring ball. And then you come out of spring ball and immediately go to your summer conditioning program.”
In the old days, Tiller said, you might get your butt kicked, but it wasn’t because you took a day off mentally.
>> Here’s my column from this morning about Nebraska’s remarkable comebacks this season and where they belong in NU history. I went on the radio today with “Gaskins and Stephens” on 93.7 FM in Lincoln. Their first question was a good one: Is there such thing as magic in sports?
Husker fans know all about Sooner Magic and Coliseum Magic. Is Nebraska football suddenly becoming magical?
My answer: There’s a fine line between success and failure in clutch situations, and it often comes down to self-belief. For the first time in years, Nebraska enters those tense moments truly believing they’re going to succeed.
>> Earlier this week, I asked Bo Pelini about the No. 1 thing he’d fix about his program if he could. Was it turnover margin?
“Absolutely, no doubt,” he said. “I think that it is the number one thing that equates to winning and losing.”
To illustrate Bo’s point, look at this. Nebraska is 106th in the country in turnover margin. The only winning team below NU is 5-3 Oklahoma State, which 110th. Penn State, for the record, is No. 1 in the Big Ten (and 14th nationally) in turnover margin.
>> Take it for what it’s worth, but this is the third-consecutive season that Nebraska is 7-2 or better after nine games. From 2004-09, it didn’t happen once:
One thing Nebraska has on its side this season? The softest late-season schedule in years. Especially if Indiana represents the Leaders Division in the Big Ten championship game.
>> Coaches and athletic directors are actually buying into the idea of stronger non-conference schedules, in order to compete for college football playoff spots. I gotta be honest, I had my doubts anything would change. Jim Delany is happy to see the Big Ten stepping up.
>> Shawn Watson as Auburn’s next head coach? Really? No, I don’t think so. A school like Auburn is going to want a proven commodity, especially after the Gene Chizik disaster.
>> Lane Kiffin is on the hot seat? Really? Yes, I think so. His athletic director didn’t hire him. And apparently Pat Haden is growing tired of USC’s bush-league behavior, the latest of which centers on deflated footballs. My guess is the student manager at the center of “Deflate-Gate” let air out of the ball because Matt Barkley or one of the players requested it. But considering Kiffin’s track record, it’s hard to believe he was oblivious.
>> Remember when everyone said Texas A&M couldn’t compete in the SEC because they couldn’t even win in the Big 12? I’m wrong about a lot, but I was bullish on the Aggies, especially long-term. Here, Dan Wetzel examines the SEC’s growing force in College Station. Could they be the biggest threat to Alabama over the next five years?
>> According to an NFL player poll, the two dirtiest players in the league are ex-Huskers. Richie Incognito deserves some kind of award for his longevity on these lists.
>> Why is John Calipari a master salesman? This gives you some insight.
>> I haven’t kept up with ESPN’s second wave of “30 for 30” documentaries. But I did finally see the Ben Johnson-Carl Lewis episode. It’s one of the best of the entire series. That 1988 race was my first Olympic memory. In America, Ben Johnson was a villain. It was refreshing to get the whole story — and revealing to see how many observers had similar drug questions about Lewis.
>> Speaking of performance-enhancing drugs, MLB has a new problem, says Tom Verducci.
>> Why are the Jaguars the worst team in the NFL (OK, aside from maybe the Chiefs)? A series of very questionable personnel decisions.
>> The Bernie Fine controversy at Syracuse is finally over. If you’ve been reluctant to follow it — as I have — here’s a summary of everything that happened the last year.
>> What is the most fascinating decade of any single sport, pro or college? You could make an argument for 1970s MLB, 1970s NFL, 1980s college basketball, 2000s NFL. But I would argue the greatest decade for any sport was the NBA in the 80s.
I read this oral history of the rise and fall of the Houston Rockets with Akeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson. This excerpt, in particular, was new to me:
After Sampson averaged 14.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks his freshman season (at Virginia), Boston Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach tried to convince him to enter the 1980 NBA draft. The Celtics, a 61-win team in the previous season, featured a transcendent rookie forward named Larry Bird and owned the first overall pick. Sampson remembers it well. “Auerbach came to my house and said, ‘You can come and play for the mighty Boston Celtics.’ I gave it a thought. Ralph Sampson coming to Boston — there might not have been a Kevin McHale there or Robert Parish.” When Sampson stunned basketball by staying in school,1 Auerbach traded that pick and the 13th selection to Golden State for Parish and the third overall pick (which would become McHale), creating the “Big Three” that would eventually win three NBA titles over the next six seasons.
>> Speaking of NBA rising dynasties, here’s everything you could ever want to know about the Oklahoma City Thunder.
>> Mike Brown was fired today as Lakers coach. As crazy as it sounds after five games, it’s the right move. Unlike guys like Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich, Brown never struck me as a guy who had control of his team. Time for Kobe to name a successor.
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.