What in the world is going on in Chicago? What happened to the Big Ten we all know and (occasionally) love?
The Big Ten that clings to the Rose Bowl as if it’s Grandpa’s inheritance. The Big Ten that names its divisions Legends and Leaders, then proceeds to engage in unprecedented scandal while losing bowl games by stunning margins. The Big Ten that makes a cash grab for Maryland and Rutgers, two schools that are to college football what Screech was to “Saved by the Bell.”
What happened to that Big Ten?
It’s like New Year’s came along and we entered the bizarro world.
Big Ten basketball is better than its been in a few decades. And that’s only slightly more exciting than the news coming out of Chicago this week. Jim Delany and his football coaches produced more encouraging news than they had the past two years combined.
Nine or 10 conference games. That’s pretty good.
September conference games. Uh-huh.
November night games. Yeah, baby.
No more FCS opponents. Hooray!
And, of course, divisions based on geography, with Michigan State volunteering to go to the West. In my book, that’s the perfect scenario.
Is the Big Ten actually listening to its fans? Is it determined to clean up the mess of the past two years and repair its image? Or is it so concerned about the Evil Empire — the SEC — it will do anything to catch up?
I don’t care about the motives. Nebraska entered the Big Ten during an embarrassing period in the conference’s history. Thanks to Delany’s compromise on a college football playoff, thanks to Urban Meyer lifting all boats, thanks to the latest changes from Chicago, finally, I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
Hopefully it’s not just the flashing sign outside another tattoo parlor.
>> And the IOC wonders why the Olympics have lost their appeal. If you’re going to cut a sport, how do you choose wrestling over ping pong? Or golf, which has four “majors” every year. Rarely will you find a decision met with such unanimous condemnation from even the most casual sports fans.
Two of my best friends were dedicated wrestlers, one of whom competed at Nebraska. His reaction? The news hit like a ton of bricks, he said in an email.
“My wrestling coaches told of stories of wrestling in tournaments in stadiums in places like Iran and Azerbaijan full 80,000 crazy men, cheering like mad against the Americans but then giving standing ovations to the Americans who performed well.
“Jordan Burroughs’ top rival is a guy from Iran — check out the picture attached above from the London Olympics medal ceremony. What other sport gets a University of Nebraska standout to compete against and then hug a national champ from Iran?”
>> Creighton basketball received an unexpected Valentine’s present last night when Indiana State lost in Springfield. Now, can CU take advantage? Tonight the Jays go to Northern Iowa, where last year they lost on a last-second shot.
Why bring it up? Because it was the only close game all year Creighton lost. It was 8-1 in games decided by six points or less. You just assumed every time things got tight, Creighton would find a way to win. This year, the Jays are 0-3 (Wichita State, Drake and Illinois State). That’s partly the law of averages, I suppose. But it may also be the absence of Antoine Young.
If things are close tonight, the Jays need to seek out Doug McDermott. Against Illinois State, Doug took his last shot with 4:25 left. Against Drake, he took his last shot at the 2:25 mark. Against Wichita, it was 1:44. He’s an All-American averaging 23 a game. Is it too much to ask to let him take a big shot?
>> Mitch Sherman examines a fascinating new trend in recruiting: Coaches who pull the scholarship offer if a committed player visits another school.
>> Brett McMurphy on the absurdity of Signing Day press conferences. Love it.
>> Ben McLemore’s older brother is in prison. It’s one reason McLemore isn’t. A great profile of the Jayhawks star guard.
>> A bold column that gains a little credibility after Nerlens Noel’s ACL tear last night. The author says Jadeveon Clowney should sit out his junior year.
>> Chip Kelly takes a big chance on Mike Vick.
>> An excellent column on what’s wrong with Dwight Howard, who had one of his best games of the season last night.
>> I don’t usually draw attention to sportswriters attacking other sportswriters. But this is pretty entertaining. Will Leitch eviscerates Darren Rovell.
>> Another Deadspin investigation. How sexual harassment took down Toledo’s cross country coach.
>> Ken Pomeroy is the stat guru of college basketball. Here, he shows a study of what happens when defenses — leading by three points in the final seconds — deliberately foul. And here he puts in perspective how good this year’s Big Ten is (spoiler alert: it’s not the best ever).
>> Carolina/Duke tonight. My brother is a fanatical Heels fan. His college roommate is a fanatical Duke fan. They live a mile apart in south Lincoln. Needless to say, they’ll be watching from separate living rooms.
>> ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett debate the issue of adding another conference game (or two). Here’s my only issue with it: By increasing the number of conference games, you decrease the number of non-conference games. How are we supposed to compare leagues when they never play each other?
Already, we don’t have enough competition between the SEC and Big Ten and Pac-12 and Big 12. Now, unless coaches really are serious about eliminating cupcakes (I’m skeptical), you’re going to see even fewer inter-regional showdowns.
If you’re sitting on the selection committee, that puts you in a tough position. You’re making decisions based on perception or reputation, not actual results. We’re supposed to be removing the beauty pageant part of college football, not increasing it.
>> Finally, “Time Travel.” This is where I dig through The World-Herald archives and post an old story relevant to today’s news.
Nebraska goes to Indiana tonight to face the No. 1 Hoosiers, the latest step in Tim Miles’ rookie hazing process. The fun thing about playing No. 1 is you have an opportunity to shock the world. The not-so-fun-thing? Things can get ugly. That brings us to February 1987, Danny Nee’s rookie year in the Big Eight.
That winter, Nee earned his paycheck and gained fans, going .500 in the league and making it to the NIT final four in New York. But his worst moment came in his first trip to Oklahoma to face Billy Tubbs’ high-octane Sooners. Nee chose to play OU’s pace. It did not go well.
By the end of the night, Nebraska had given up 133 points and Nee had given up three technicals, including one for giving the referee a choke sign. (I miss Danny).
Here’s Lee Barfknecht writing from OU-NU 1987:
Nebraska Coach Danny Nee’s decision Saturday to run with Top 20 power Oklahoma won’t go down as one of the most successful in basketball history.
The Sooners, ranked 13th and 16th nationally, set or tied at least eight Big Eight Conference records in a 133-97 rout of the Huskers before 8,662 fans at the Lloyd Noble Center.
It was the most points OU had ever scored in a game (topping the old mark of 126 vs. Southwestern Texas in 1984), the most NU had ever allowed (breaking the 119 by Marshall in 1968) and the most ever scored against a Big Eight team in a league game.
But Nee wasn’t sorry he made the decision.
“We just chose to play that style,” he said. “That’s a philosophy I believe in, and it’s one we’re trying to develop.”
And he earned OU Coach Billy Tubbs’ respect for it.
“I think you have to give Nebraska some credit,” Tubbs said. “Nebraska didn’t come in here and hold the ball. They are going to be a running team in our league, and I think they will be successful at it.
“I ran in the Big Eight my first year, and Nebraska scored 100 on us at a time when they couldn’t even score 50. You remember that?”
The score was 90-63 Nebraska in that 1981 game. Tubbs went 9 – 18 that year, but since then, OU has averaged 26 wins a season. So even if his facts weren’t quite straight, you get his point.
“At least they came in here and made it an exciting game,” Tubbs said. “They chose to run, and I like that. That’s the way basketball should be played.”
Nee missed the last 16:52 of the record – setting bash. He earned an automatic ejection when official J.C. Leimbach slapped him with three technical fouls in the space of 1 minute and 10 seconds for arguing.
But Nee, whose team fell to 15 – 10 overall and 5 – 7 in the league, witnessed enough to gush over the Sooners, 21 – 5 and in a three – way tie with Kansas and Missouri for the Big Eight lead at 9 – 3.
“That was an awesome display of power by the Sooners,” Nee said. “They are a very strong, very explosive, very talented basketball team.
“I chose to run up and down the floor with them, and it showed.”
When asked if Oklahoma ran up the score, Nee quickly said, “No, no. We just both chose to play wide – open, run-and – shoot basketball.”
If a turning point can be found in a 36 – point game Nebraska’s worst loss since a 97 – 60 beating at Indiana in 1974 the three – point shot was it.
The Sooners drilled 11 of 16 in the first half to take a 63 – 49 lead, then hit 6 of 11 the second half for a total of 17 of 27 (63 percent). That’s a Big Eight record for three – pointers made and attempted.
Forward Dave Sieger, in his third start of the season, also set a league record with 8 three – pointers in 13 attempts on his way to a career – high 32 points. That’s just one point short of the 6 – foot – 6 junior’s total points in the past eight games combined.
Appropriately, Darryl Kennedy’s three – pointer with 9:42 to play pushed OU to the 100 – point mark at 100 – 68. And a three – pointer from Ron Roberts ended the game. Five other Sooners joined Sieger in double figures, led by guard Ricky Grace’s career – high 23 and center Harvey Grant’s 19 points.
Grant also had 19 rebounds as OU held a 50 – 33 edge in that category.
Bernard Day with 16 points, Henry Buchanan with 15 and Brian Carr with 14 topped Nebraska’s scoring.
Despite his ejection, Nee said the officiating had nothing to do with the outcome of the game.
But his ouster, believed to be the first of a Husker coach since Joe Cipriano was thumbed from a 78 – 61 loss at Creighton in 1978, puzzled Nee.
He got his first technical with 18:02 left in the game for arguing a foul on Bill Jackman, the third against Nebraska in 30 seconds.
Oklahoma led 67 – 53 at the time.
Barely a minute later, Leimbach called Carr out of bounds in a loose – ball scramble in front of the Husker bench. The whole team exploded in protest and Nee drew his second technical.
As Leimbach prepared to put the ball in play, Nee gave him the choke sign to draw a third technical.
Nee walked the length of the court off the floor and into the tunnel at the south end of the arena, where he watched assistants Gary Bargen and Arden Reid manage the rest of the game.
“I can’t really comment on it,” Nee said. “I don’t think I did anything to get the three. I don’t know how I got the first one.”
Tubbs said he was sorry Nee got the thumb.
“I hated to see it, and our kids hated to see it,” Tubbs said. “I think Danny is doing a good job.”