Is the worst finally behind Nebraska?
Doc Sadler certainly hopes so.
His Husker basketball team has completed an eight-game stretch of Big Ten Conference games in which seven opponents either were, or have been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.
Nebraska went 2-6 in those games, including losses by 24, 31 and 34 points. The latter two of those margins came against Ohio State, the team picked to win the Big Ten. Three other losses came to perennial league frontrunners Wisconsin (twice) and Michigan State.
Theoretically, that's an indication the schedule will lighten somewhat as Nebraska approaches the second half of the league schedule.
The question, though, is how many victories can the Huskers snatch -- and how many do they need to keep Sadler, in his sixth season, off the hot seat?
Nebraska needs a total of seven Big Ten victories to assure itself of a winning record entering the conference tournament. Even if that's enough to get NU into the National Invitation Tournament, it won't likely satisfy the critics of Sadler, who's not advanced NU to the NCAA Tournament, and appears to be going backwards with what he said would be his best team yet.
The biggest key for Sadler from here on out: Avoid blowout losses, like the 34-point loss to Ohio State, at home.
--Nebraska suffered its worst home loss on record with its 79-45 defeat to No. 6 Ohio State on Jan. 21.
Nebraska's media guide shows no home losses with a wider margin than 34 points. In 1905, the Huskers lost a game by 37 points to Chicago Central, but the date and location of the game isn't certain.
If that was a road game, that makes the loss to Ohio State as Nebraska's worst at home in 116 years of playing basketball.
--Nebraska's 27 turnovers in a Jan. 21 loss to Ohio State were not only a season high, but the most in the Sadler era.
"To come in here and do that, it was just a very, very, very selfish exhibition of basketball -- starting with myself, by not having this team ready," Sadler said.
The Buckeyes' defense, particularly their pressure on the perimeter, threw offensively challenged Nebraska into a funk.
"We weren't moving," junior forward Ubel said. "We weren't cutting, mixing up our cuts. I think we got a little stagnant and they started getting out in the passing lanes and not letting us catch the ball." --How badly is Nebraska's offense struggling? The Huskers have scored fewer than 45 points in four of eight Big Ten games. In their 34-point loss to Ohio State in Lincoln, no players reached double figures in scoring.
"I don't think we could play any worse," junior forward Brandon Ubel said.
Nebraska, which lost 71-40 to Ohio State in its first meeting, had Jorge Brian Diaz and Dylan Talley healthy for the rematch, after they missed the first game because of injury. But Diaz didn't score, and Talley had a mere seven points.
BY THE NUMBERS: 13 -- Nebraska made only 13 field goals in its 79-45 loss Jan. 21 to Ohio State. That ties for the fewest made in a game under sixth-year coach Doc Sadler.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This ain't the team that's played in the last five or six games. We've just got to get back to the way we were going." -- Nebraska coach Doc Sadler, after his team's 79-45 loss to Ohio State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at Iowa, Today KEY MATCHUPS: Nebraska, the worst scoring team in the Big Ten, meets Iowa, the last-place team in the league in scoring defense. What gives? The Huskers will eye this game as rare, realistic chance of a road victory, but must clean up their offense.
FUTURES MARKET: Dylan Talley was the unsung hero in Nebraska's 70-69 upset of No. 11 Indiana on Jan. 18, when he had 10 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots and two steals.
Can the oft-injured junior college transfer produce like that more often? Nebraska certainly needs him to.
That's mostly dependent on how Talley's thigh is feeling. Right now, the answer is pretty good. "I definitely feel better," Talley said, noting that, for the most part, he's pain-free. "I'm able to jump higher, run around more. My stamina is better. I'm just getting there again, back to playing at a top level."
Talley, who first suffered a thigh injury two seasons ago while playing at Binghamton, has had previous setbacks. Sometimes he needs a week to recover. Sometimes longer.
Each time is different, so when Talley sat out a Dec. 17 game against Alcorn State, he really had no idea when he might return.
He just knew he couldn't play.
"It was bad. Real bad," Talley said. "I really couldn't bend my leg much at all. I couldn't even run."
--Senior G Brandon Richardson now has 128 career steals, good for 10th in school history. That total matches the career totals of both Jack Moore (1979-82) and Eric Johnson (1988-89).
--Senior F/G Toney McCray had been producing at a high level since entering the starting lineup in late December, but had a miserable outing on Jan. 21 against Ohio State. He missed his first eight field goal attempts and had five turnovers in that span. He finished with seven turnovers, one assist and five points.