It’s Friday! That means Ten Big stories in 10 little bites. We hit Bret Bielema and Sami Spenner, Curt Tomasevicz and Evan Turner, Marcus Paige and John Calipari, much, much more. But first, Creighton & Nebraska hoops.
Creighton is within striking distance of a No. 1 or 2 seed. Nebraska is within striking distance of an NCAA tournament bid. I don’t know what’s going on around here, but I’m having a blast.
Thursday night delivered NU’s 15th win of the season, lifting the Huskers over .500 in the Big Ten and giving them their first four-game conference winning streak since 1999 (a year they got snubbed by the selection committee).
Unlike traditional Nebraska teams with late-February hope, this club didn’t crack. It actually played like an NCAA tournament team. It handled its business.
Why? I’ll give a little credit to the coach.
Penn State is bad, but maybe Miles’ personality is taking the pressure off the Huskers. Players are gonna hear an awful lot the next few weeks about NU’s 16-year tournament drought. They’re gonna feel the weight.
But one of Miles’ strengths is he doesn’t make life (or the job) more stressful than it needs to be. His sense of humor is useful in times like this. And remember, he has experience on the bubble from his Colorado State days.
If his guys play loose, there’s no reason to think they can’t keep rolling.
>> Stat to watch for Nebraska basketball — free-throw attempts. The Huskers are at their best when they’re attacking the rim, as they did last night. Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway are especially hard to defend off the dribble. So what’s the stat?
The Huskers are 0-5 in Big Ten play when shooting fewer free throws than the opponent.
They’re 7-1 when shooting more free throws (Michigan was the only loss). They need to stay aggressive down the stretch.
>> On Monday I laid out the path to an at-large bid for Nebraska — four more wins. But Miles’ club needs those “quality wins” to remain “quality wins.” Which means Ohio State and Minnesota, in particular, need to finish strong. The Gophers’ loss at home to Illinois doesn’t help.
>> It’s funny, the Huskers’ schedule is so soft down the stretch, I wonder if that’s actually a bad thing. My reason? Let’s say it was Iowa or Michigan State coming to PBA Sunday instead of Purdue. Nebraska, as hot as anybody in the league, would have an excellent chance to win. And it’d be another chance to beat a ranked team.
Because the next four opponents are sub-.500 in the Big Ten, Nebraska will have a harder time turning heads. That’s another reason the Michigan State upset was so critical. Get that signature win secured before March.
>> What about Creighton’s chances at a 1 seed? I think it could happen if CU wins out — seven straight wins. But two of these five teams would need to stumble once or twice: Syracuse, Arizona, Florida, Wichita State, Kansas.
My guess is your No. 1 seeds come from that pool, with Arizona the most likely to drop to a 2, based on their trajectory. Can you imagine two No. 1s from the state of Kansas?
>> I’m blown away by how little value a regular-season conference title holds with fans anymore. The other night, I tweeted that Creighton’s Big East championship hopes took a hit when Villanova held off Providence in double-overtime. ‘Nova’s last five games include four at home. Creighton may now have to go 4-0 to win the league.
According to several fans, I was wrong because a strong Villanova makes Creighton look better in the eyes of the selection committee, thus improving its seed.
First of all, a strong Providence helps Creighton, too. But more important, do people really care so little about a regular-season crown?
We’ve reached the point in college basketball (at least among the casual fans) that it’s NCAA tournament or bust. If you gave people these two options: 1) Go 20-10 and make a run to the Sweet 16; or 2) go 25-5, but lose in the second round, I’m convinced option 1 would earn significant votes.
Conferences races aren’t what they used to be. Leagues are too big. Double round-robin is mostly extinct. But it’s not in the Big East. And winning the league in Creighton’s first year would be a major, major accomplishment. Hopefully it means as much to the fans as it does coaches and players.
>> What are CU’s Final Four chances? I asked that question the other night on Twitter. Votes covered quite a range, with “20-30 percent” most popular. (That’s where I voted). Here’s a little breakdown from Teamrankings.com, which says CU has a 41 percent chance at a No. 1 seed. (That seems a bit high.)
>> Miles’ last comment at his post-game press conference took a dig at Bluejay fans:
“Unfortunately, there were so many whistles it was hard for them to really, you know, get into it and then the lead got so big, had they been over in Omaha, they probably would’ve been out in the hallway.”
(Laughter in the room)
“Couldn’t resist,” Miles said, smiling.
When I heard the comment, I laughed. A jab at Creighton? Sure. But a funny one. I thought Miles’ main point was that CU fans have access to beer during a blowout, while NU fans don’t. (Or maybe he’s been reading Mad Chatter and knows how sensitive Bluejay fans are.)
Unfortunately for Miles, the crowd at Pinnacle Bank Arena has a ways to go before it reaches the CenturyLink level of volume and enthusiasm. I was sitting next to Lincoln radio host John Gaskins on press row and, at one point during a Nebraska run, I said rhetorically, “Why are they sitting down!”
Just because there’s a padded seat beneath you doesn’t mean you have to sit. It’s like folks’ backsides are magnetized to the seat. They stand for 5 seconds, then back down! I joked on Twitter last night that I’d take all padded seats out of arenas, removing the incentive to sit down.
Another idea: There’s roughly 120 minutes during a basketball game. The amount of time you’re allowed to sit corresponds to your age. If you’re 80, you can spend 80 minutes in your seat. If you’re 20, you sit for 20. (I’m quite confident my jittery 3-year-old would have no problem with this rule).
>> Luke Winn’s weekly power rankings are always must-read, especially when they feature Doug McDermott’s versatility.
>> Husker fans may hate to admit it, but the chances are probably 50/50 that either Johnny Stanton or Tommy Armstrong leaves NU in the next two years. Stewart Mandel studies the alarming trend of quarterback transfers.
>> Has college football peaked? Most of the reasons in this column I don’t buy — SEC dominance, the playoff diminishing the regular season, etc. But the appeal of being in your own living room watching a 60-inch screen for free is hard to beat, especially if your team isn’t winning.
This piece by Ty Duffy looks more closely at the same issues.
>> No surprise, but the “Saban rule” likely is going nowhere. College football won’t limit offensive tempo. But the real news Thursday came from Bret Bielema, not Saban. He cited Cal defensive end Ted Agu’s recent death as evidence that offenses are moving too fast.
>> The Miami Heat had a very good night in Oklahoma City, throttling the Thunder. LeBron outplayed Kevin Durant and the Heat defense looked fantastic. But big picture, I think it was a bad day for the Heat.
The Pacers look even more capable of beating them in the Eastern Conference Finals after grabbing Evan Turner, whose addition added a little necessary offense to the backcourt. The Pacers remind me of the old Pistons, with seven or eight good, physical players. I think they’ll wear out the Heat, just as Detroit did to Magic’s Lakers in ’89.
>> A good behind-the-scenes look at the pressures facing Kentucky and John Calipari. Nice work, Jason King.
>> North Carolina’s rally to beat Duke was quite the stunner. The Tar Heels, led by Iowan Marcus Paige, have now beaten the top four teams in the preseason poll — Kentucky, Michigan State, Louisville and Duke. And they’re unranked. They’ll be a tough team to bracket (and project) in the NCAA tournament.
>> Remember Sami Spenner, the UNO track and field star shunned by the NCAA? She’s competing today and Saturday in the USA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque. Newsweek profiled her last week.
>> NET put together a cool page on Curt Tomasevicz, which it updates almost daily. Saturday and Sunday are bobsled days in Sochi. Tomasevicz, the Shelby, Neb., native, will be striving for his second gold medal.
>> I was going to wait to post the blog until the U.S. had toppled Canada in hockey, but it looks like I may be waiting a while (another four years).
>> Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend.