Published Monday, February 18, 2013 AT 12:37 PM / Updated at 1:43 PM
Mad Chatter, Feb. 18
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

Sunday The World-Herald printed a project on the 500-mile recruiting radius around Lincoln, showing how Nebraska is signing fewer and fewer players close to home.

I received a lot of feedback, which I always appreciate. Some folks were struck by NU’s ineffectiveness signing Midwestern blue chips. Some focused on the perceived decline of in-state talent or intensified competition from neighboring programs.

But big picture, I think the story is another illustration of how it’s increasingly more difficult for northern programs to compete. Not just Nebraska, but everybody. Population changes. Scheme changes. The specialization of high school athletes. It all points to a wider gap between warm-weather and cold-weather schools.

It’s not exactly college baseball — where 90 percent of the best teams are in the Sun Belt — but I worry about the future of northern football. How do we change it?

The Big Ten could play a small role. Help high schools and youth programs improve. Form a task force of retired coaching icons (Tom Osborne, Lloyd Carr, etc.), current college coaches and prominent high school coaches and administrators. Ask them to brainstorm and recommend ways to improve the game in cold-weather areas.

Maybe it means increasing practice time during the spring and summer. Maybe it means using the Big Ten Network to feature top high school programs and players within the footprint.

I certainly don’t have all the answers. But it’s an issue that deserves attention.

Yes, Big Ten teams need to recruit better. But the easiest way to do it is by improving football in their home states. You’re not going to get people in Florida to move to Minneapolis, Detroit and St. Louis. But southern states are producing (per capita) two or three times as many BCS recruits as most in the Midwest.

That needs to change.

>> For 18 months, I’ve been writing about the possibility of Creighton earning a conference promotion. I imagine the CU administration has pondered it for years — if not decades. Now, if you believe John Feinstein’s report in the Washington Post, that dream is dead. Creighton didn’t make the cut for the Catholic 7.

I know Pete Thamel and Andy Katz had previously linked CU as a likely choice for the new league, citing their own sources. But Feinstein laid out the plans in much greater detail. Creighton, he wrote, is too far west for the non-revenue sports.

Aren’t Marquette, DePaul and Saint Louis pretty far west, too? Well, yes, but the first two are already in the league. And Saint Louis is 300 miles east of Omaha. Doesn’t seem like much to us, but it’s only 400 from Washington D.C. to Cincinnati.

Geography was always going to be an obstacle to Creighton in this process. My hope is that Catholic 7 administrators step back and remember why they’re doing this. They want to build a top-shelf basketball league, right? Well, Creighton has a lot more potential than Siena or Saint Louis.

>> On Twitter Sunday, I asked Jays fans for their reaction to the Feinstein’s story.

From Mike Ballet: “Don’t know when that kind of opportunity will come around again. #bummer”

From David Dirgo: “Disappointment and relief. It’s a huge opportunity, but a perilous one. There’s nothing wrong with the Valley.”

From Dennis Crawford: “I’m OK with it. IMO, a school shouldn’t leave a conference unless there is problem with said conference.”

Creighton fans, generally speaking, seemed a little reluctant to make a move. But as a general fan of basketball in Omaha, I was almost giddy. Georgetown, Marquette, Butler, Xavier. It would’ve instantly pushed Creighton up the ladder as a basketball school — and Omaha up the ladder as a sports town.

Would it have added risk? Sure. But remember, the Jays haven’t exactly lit the world on fire in the Valley. One conference championship in 20 years. Only three NCAA tournament wins. The ceiling would’ve been much, much higher in the Big East.

>> It took 27 games, but Creighton finally won a close one. Performing in the clutch is what defined the Jays a year ago. In 2012-13, either they haven’t needed to play the last minute — or haven’t done it well.

The last 5 minutes Saturday wasn’t pretty — following Doug McDermott’s layup with 4:55 layup, Evansville ran off eight straight to cut it to 65-64 — but the Jays got the one big stop they needed. It should give them a confidence boost.

>> As if Creighton fans weren’t upset at the “Flagrant 1” rule anyway, now it’s responsible for Wichita State’s last-minute rally at Illinois State last night. Leading 65-60, Jackie Carmichael came down with a rebound and extended his leg, kicking a Shocker in the chest. Officials whistled him for a Flagrant 1, sparking Wichita’s comeback. Was it a foul? Yeah, probably. Was it flagrant? No.

“They said he kicked him above the neck and he intentionally did it,” Illinois State coach Dan Muller said. “How Jackie was getting a rebound and intentionally was kicking a moving target, I haven’t seen it, but that was the explanation to me.”

Now Wichita has a one-game lead on Creighton with three to play. Here’s how the schedule breaks down:

Wichita State (11-4):
At Indiana State
Evansville
At Creighton

Creighton (10-5):
Southern Illinois
At Bradley
Wichita State

Indiana State (9-6):
Wichita State
Drake
At Evansville

The Sycamores might still grab a share of the title if they win out, but a more likely scenario is Creighton and Wichita entering the finale both at 12-5. One game for a championship. Sounds like fun.

>> This Doug McDermott nugget came from ESPN writer Dana O’Neil’s notebook:

Can a player win national player of the year and not make the NCAA tournament? It has never happened with a Wooden winner, but Doug McDermott might be on the verge of rewriting history in a decidedly twisted way.

McDermott is continuing to put up huge numbers — he is averaging 23 points per game and just eclipsed the 2,000-point plateau — but his team isn’t doing much to prove it belongs in the field of 68.

The Bluejays rallied from a double-digit deficit to win 71-68 at Evansville and end their three-game skid. Feel free to celebrate the end of the losing streak, but then realize that Evansville is 14-13 overall and just 7-8 in the league, so skating to a three-point win doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence, does it?

In the latest player-of-the-year straw poll of actual voters, collected by Michael Rothstein, McDermott was second behind Michigan’s Trey Burke. He had 118 points and 21 first-place votes to Burke’s 136 and 30 (the poll is done every two weeks), and the next-closest vote getter, Mason Plumlee, wasn’t even in the neighborhood, with 35 points and only four first-place votes.

Numbers matter in player of the year ballots, but don’t think for a minute winning isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a factor. If Creighton doesn’t right the ship well enough soon, it will be interesting to see whether McDermott is part of the collateral damage.

>> Why is scoring down in college basketball? Officials need to call the game tighter, Jay Bilas tells the KC Star.

>> The Husker baseball weekend started bad and finished worse. Going 0-4 and losing on a Sunday afternoon walk-off won’t make Darin Erstad sleep any better this week, especially considering the schedule will only get tougher. At least the wonderful Lincoln weather allows them to spend some time on the practice field this week. Oh wait…

>> Creighton baseball, meanwhile, goes on the road and sweeps Dallas Baptist. How the Jays did it was pretty amazing. They scored 29 runs and collected 45 hits. But 39 of those hits were singles! No home runs, no triples, only six doubles.

>> Monday mornings at 8:10, I’m a guest on Lincoln KLIN’s “Jack and Dave in the Morning.” Today we chatted about beer sales at the Lincoln downtown arena and whether I agreed with Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst, who told KLIN that they can pack the arena without alcohol. I hope he’s right, but assuming the Huskers don’t jump into the Big Ten’s top half, that seems a bit optimistic.

Beer sales may drive people out of their seats and into the concourses — that can be annoying — but they don’t create an unruly atmosphere. Anybody at Creighton would tell you that. My guess is beer would be good for 1,000 extra fans a night. That’s a nice boost when you’re trying to build a program.

>> Dennis Dodd profiles Andrew Hudson, the former Oklahoma State player whose career ended after Husker Eric Martin laid him out on a 2010 kickoff. I empathize with Hudson and I believe Martin’s hit should’ve been penalized, but I think the bigger culprit here are kickoffs in general. You want to make football safer? Eliminate them. They’re not a critical part of the game. Ten years from now, nobody would even notice if they were gone.

>> On the distinguished list of Husker I-backs, Ken Clark, who died this weekend of a heart attack, is often forgotten. But he’s the first I really remember as a kid. He was my favorite Husker for a few years. I vividly recall a Clark highlight video on the Tom Osborne show, set to Matthew Wilder’s “Break my stride.” Clark perfectly represented those ’88 and ’89 teams. Not flashy, but looking back, pretty darn good.

>> The dunk contest stunk — bring back Dominique! — but I always find the actual game on NBA All-Star weekend worth watching. It’s rare to see so much talent in such a confined space and, unlike baseball and football, it’s interesting to see who emerges as the Alpha dogs. Last night, Kobe Bryant humbled LeBron James down the stretch and Chris Paul showed why he’s the best point guard in the league.

Lakers fans have had it pretty good over the years. But watching David Stern present the All-Star MVP to Paul had to be one more kick in the shorts for Stern’s trade veto a year ago. The Clippers are in great hands with Paul; meanwhile, the Lakers are building around Dwight Howard, the league’s most physically imposing child.

>> Friday on Twitter, I posted a stat about Michael Jordan. In 1986-87, he scored 50 points an incredible eight times. He scored 40 a stunning 37 times. He averaged 37.1 points per game while hitting only 12 3-pointers for the season.

Of course, Jordan also averaged 28 field goal attempts in 1987, a season in which Chicago went 40-42. Can you guess how many times this season LeBron has take 28 shots in a game? Once. Durant has three games with 28 attempts, Kobe has seven.

Can you imagine how critics would treat LeBron or Kobe today if they attempted 28 shots per game during a losing season?

>> Cal coach Mike Montgomery stepped over the line last night, popping a player in the chest during a timeout. The Cal AD called it “unacceptable.”

>> Interesting nugget from Peter King this morning: Of the last 15 quarterbacks drafted in the first round, Tim Tebow is the only one not starting. There’s a ton of discussion in Kansas City right now focusing on the Chiefs’ plans with the No. 1 pick. I know they haven’t drafted a first-round quarterback since the Taft administration, but I just don’t see a QB on the board worthy of No. 1.

>> On Twitter over the next week, I’ll be asking random (hopefully fun) poll questions about Nebraska basketball history at the Devaney Center. Feel free to drop me a note with your thoughts.

Here’s Question No. 1: Best buzzer beater?

Beau Reid’s shot to beat Kansas (’88), Reid beating Michigan State (’90-91) or Jamar Johnson’s 3 to beat KU (’92)? I wish they were all on YouTube. Thankfully, Reid’s first one is at the 6:45 mark of this clip. And here is the Johnson shot. Pandemonium!

About Dirk Chatelain

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments. You can follow Dirk on Twitter (@dirkchatelain) or email him at dchatelain@owh.com