There it was, what every Nebrasketball fan was afraid of. What they were waiting for, really. Through this winning streak as part of a longer stellar stretch of games, this national hype, this tournament talk. Personally, and maybe you’re more optimistic/confident than me, but there was always a part of me waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The hype and tournament talk really got going in earnest after the upset of #9 Michigan State on the road. And yes, it was an incredible win, and much of the subsequent hype was justified. But it seems to be that with Nebrasketball, and most of Nebraska sports now that I think about it, that there’s a habit of following up a great win with an ugly loss. I thought it would happen right away; I thought Penn State was a prime candidate for the Huskers to not show up, choke, and ruin all the progress they’d made. To their credit, they got ahead early, continued to play well and won fairly convincingly. After this and the next game, a home blowout against Purdue (who narrowly lost to #16 Michigan tonight) the media hype grew stronger and steadier. Bracket projections, RPI, Strength of Schedule…lots of proof that Nebraska had a reasonable chance to go dancing in March. Local media, who usually, and reasonably, approach Nebrasketball with cautious optimism began to take a happier, confident approach to the team, forgetting that there are four games and a conference tournament to go, and that Nebrasketball is still Nebrasketball.
This game was my next choice for a Husker breakdown. Two straight home games in front of excited and mostly shocked crowds is a pretty choice cushion to fall back on after a big road upset. But the first road game since that upset would be a true test of how far the team has come. And tonight, classic Nebrasketball showed up for the first time in over a month. Turnovers (15, often at the worst possible moment,) lackadaisical possessions ending in 20-foot fadeaways (far too many,) and rebounding troubles (34-28,) combined with an off night offensively easily added up to a road loss. Terran Pettaway, averaging 22 points/game during the streak, scored only 13 points on 18 shots. I love his confidence, but the same confidence that scores 29 points on 19 shots against Purdue also convinces him to keep shooting until he is 2 for 14 well into the 2nd half. Pitchford and Shields can score, too. I mean, they’re pretty much the only ones, but the Huskers even got nine points from Leslee Smith tonight and couldn’t capitalize. Pitchford and Shields only got 13 shots combined, although they struggled as well, making only three of them. Off nights happen, and one came down hard on the Huskers tonight. But you can’t make it worse for yourself by having one player take 18 of your 45 shots when he only makes five of them.
Okay, so this game’s over, what’s next? I believe in Tim Miles, (who doesn’t by now?) I believe he’ll make the proper adjustments. And the players are a good young group that I doubt will sulk about this or fail to put the work in to fix it. Right now, since everyone spent the last couple weeks looking way too far into the future, let’s look ahead one game. Northwestern comes to the Pinnacle Bank Arena on Saturday. (If you are okay with “The Vault” as a nickname, please, I ask you to reconsider.) They are 5-10 in conference play; they have lost five straight games. Continue the focus on defense (their field goal percentage is just under .400) and the offense will come. Take care of the ball and get good looks on offense. This is all very simple, I know. But all too often, Nebrasketball seems to forget its simplicity. Miles understands this, and I’m sure he’ll have the team ready to bounce back.
Until then, just put the tournament out of your mind for a while.
Ugh, fine, if you really want to think about it, let me point you back to 2012 and have the good friend of all Nebraskans Bo Pelini tell you what’s necessary for the Huskers: “We need to win out.”