Yeah, winning actually does matter

It's Deja Vu all over again, isn't it? Yeah, the time of the decade where we talk about men's basketball and what should be fixed. We might wonder if it can be. We used to have that with the women's side. But not anymore. At least, not this year. That's how it's been, and just when the women are at their peak, the men are anywhere but. Is it time for a change?

The women's team can't lose. The men's team can't win.

That about sum up the basketball season for ya?

Of course, the women's roster is over half juniors and seniors, whereas the men's team is over half freshmen and sophomores.

And then there is Kelsey Griffin, one of the best players in the country.

Doc doesn't have the male version of her.

But the sad reality of the situation on the men's side is that Doc's been around long enough he's had juniors and seniors playing. He's had scoring threats. He's had players here and there who could make a difference.

Alas, it's not amounted to much.

With just one win in the conference this year, the men's team hasn't lost its identity as much as we have been painfully reminded of it.

Going back to his days at UTEP, Doc has had teams which played hard and were good on defense. Playing in a mid-major conference, that would work, and it would put you in position to make a run at an NCAA bid. And should you get there, you have a team that probably won't make it very far, but they will surprise a team. Because let's face it, how many teams seem as oriented around defense as Sadler's?

And in non-conference play it's served Nebraska well as they have managed to pull off an upset here and there against teams, who like those UTEP might face now and again which weren't ready for a team like that, would almost wilt under the kind of defensive pressure they would see.

But in the Big 12?

OK, not so much.

Teams are used to what Sadler's teams bring to the table by now, and many of them in this conference have a lot more manpower than Sadler would ever see during a single season in Conference USA. It's similar to what USC deals with in the Pac 10, when they play teams who know up and down what the Trojans are going to do.

Only, Doc doesn't have the kind of talent on the hardwood as USC has on the gridiron.

Not even close.

So, here we are as we seem to be when it comes to Nebraska basketball, at least on the men's side – talking about what might have been, what could be and with gritted teeth, with just how things are right now.

The sentiment on the positive side seems to be that Doc's team is loaded with inexperienced players and this league is ridiculously good this year.

The only problem with that is, when you are talking about a bunch of new players at North Carolina, everyone is quite confident that it's just a matter of time. At Nebraska, there is nowhere near that kind of comfort level. People know this team will get better. It couldn't get a lot worse. But how much better can they be?

The answer to that question usually prompts one of two mind-sets on Sadler himself and what he's done and what more he should be allowed to do.

But then we get to the biggest question of all:

Does anyone really care all that much?

Don't ask the "Rebounders" that? They are the booster club which supports Husker hoops, and they will be damned if someone is going to convince them that Nebraska basketball doesn't matter.

And if you look at the women's team and how the crowds have grown at the "Bob" this season, even when it's not "dollar night" – many would say that's proof positive people do care.

Hate to break it to ya, but all these bulging attendance figures mean is that Nebraska fans are just like any others.

 They want to see a team win.

They used to pack the house like that when Danny Nee was the head coach of the basketball team. It was a combination of not just winning, but they had an exciting brand of basketball, built around pushing the ball up and down the court, just short of the fun n' gun style of offenses you might remember from schools like Loyola Marymount.

And Nee could recruit.

He had talent there which found itself in the NBA and not just for stints.

Mikki Moore who played for Nee in the late-90s, just finished an NBA career which spanned over a decade. Then there is Erik Strckland who played for Nee a few years before that, and his career spanned a decade plus a year.

At one point during Nee's tenure the Huskers found themselves ranked in the top 10 in the country. Until Connie's team this year, that was unheard of for either the women or the men.

But, of course, they would have their almost obligatory first-round collapse in the NCAA Tournament, leaving many to wonder what might have been if they could only play a little defense.

Well, they can now. But that's apparently all they can do. Of course, that's not a real headline. Doc's teams play hard as hell. Nobody will deny that. And when they have the right players with experience, I wouldn't bet against them playing standout defense against pretty much anyone.

But on offense?

Not so much.

They have no identity this year. But they really haven't had any identity from that respect in any year of Sadler's reign, even when they had Alex Maric down low. Since Doc arrived the Huskers haven't ranked better than 200th in the country in scoring, out of around 330 teams in the Division.

Scoring isn't what they do. Heck, even Doc said it from the moment he arrived that Xs and Os weren't his strong suit. He said if they wanted someone like that, Nebraska got the wrong "Dude."

I guess Nebraska is going to have to figure out what they do want then, because this is starting to feel an awful lot like it did when Barry Collier was here.

It's a great compliment to someone as a person when they preface a description of you as being someone very likeable, genuine or someone people can admire.

But when it's the first thing you say after being asked about what you think of someone as a coach, it's generally the kiss of death.

The irony exists this year in that on the women's side you can see what Nebraska fans will do when they have a team they feel they can follow. Not just that. But they want to follow them. Everyone loves a winner. Connie's team has beaten three top-10 teams and remains the only undefeated team in the Division outside of that WNBA team in Connecticut.

Who wouldn't follow that? Who wouldn't want to show up for that?

For the men's side, some follow because it's Nebraska, and they are one of the few fans who don't care what the record is. They will show up no matter what. Some follow because they have season tickets, and they will be damned if they are going to go to waste them even if what they are going to see might be more painful than pleasurable.

Then there are the members of the booster club, the student section, the band and the cheerleaders.

Oh, and the media who cover the games. On the men's side, when you have exhausted the almost obligatory attendees, how many more do you expect?

Yeah

At this point I am torn. Doc really is one of those kinds of people you want to root for. He's likeable, downright congenial (unless you are player making a mistake in practice) and it's easy to see why people warm to him almost instantly.

And his teams play as hard as any out there, I'd be confident in saying that.

But is it enough? Does the record not matter?

I think we have only to look at the other side of the fence to see that yeah, it actually does.

 


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