The Pit, known throughout college basketball as one of the most difficult arenas to play in and the site of several historic games (1983 championship anyone?), can add another piece of basketball lore to it’s already storied past: the end of another basketball season for the University of Nebraska.
Okay, so this one won’t rank up there with NC State beating Phi Slamma Jamma for the title, but it has some significance for those of us who are desperately seeking any kind of success for Husker basketball.
The 83-71 loss to New Mexico in the first round of the NIT was a microcosm of an extremely difficult, but also rewarding season for the Huskers under third year coach Doc Sadler.
The game of basketball is one of runs usually contained within the game itself. You know, a four-minute run here, a five-minute scoring drought there. Not only did the Huskers experience many of those during games, but the same can be said of their season as well.
There were bad runs (non-conference losses to Maryland-Baltimore County and Oregon State), painful runs (an overtime loss to Oklahoma State, a last-second loss to Texas A&M, a 6-point loss to Kansas) and good runs (wins over Missouri, Kansas State and Texas).
Fielding the shortest team in Division I basketball this year, Nebraska finished the season at 18-13 and 8-8 in the Big 12 conference. Considering the lack of height (no contributor taller than 6’5”) and the lack of depth (usually no more than an eight-man rotation), those numbers are impressive by themselves.
Heck, into mid-February, Nebraska was being mentioned as a potential NCAA tournament qualifier!
Those aspirations were relatively short-lived. The lack of depth and Nebraska’s demanding style of play took it’s toll as the season headed toward March and the Huskers just ran out of gas.
Success can be defined in different ways. Post-season play of any kind was a victory for Nebraska, not to mention a .500 conference record for the first time in a decade (in the 4th most difficult conference in the nation according to kenpom.com).
The numbers, though, don’t get close to telling the whole story. More important than the wins and losses, this program is starting to get it. I mean, really get it. And anyone who watched them play this year saw it happening.
When Doc Sadler arrived at Nebraska in August, 2006, he was handed the keys to a program in shambles.
Nebraska has never been consistently successful in college basketball and apathy had set in, both from the university administration and the fans. Coach Sadler faced a monumental challenge, the depth of which may have been beyond even his own appreciation.
There was no culture, no expectation…no nothing. A successful program starts there: with a culture and a standard of performance that must be lived up to every single day. Coach Sadler had to instill his own: all-out effort every play, every day.
Three years later (likely longer than Sadler first anticipated), the Nebraska Cornhuskers of 2008-09 finally got it.
The Huskers were undersized against all 31 teams they played. They weren’t as talented as a vast majority of them. But they had “bought in” to Coach Sadler’s expectations and worked harder than anyone else, regardless of outcome.
Success this year cannot be measured with numbers. It must be measured with heart and effort. In that respect, this group was undefeated.
The foundation for Nebraska basketball to be a top-tier Big 12 team has been laid. It’s now time for the next step and all signs indicate a drastic upgrade in size and talent in 2009-10 (the university is on-board as well, recently committing to build a state-of-the-art practice facility in 2010).
The apathy has been replaced by a culture of hard work and dedication—two traits very familiar to Nebraskans. Hats off to Doc Sadler and the 2008-09 Nebraska Cornhuskers. Your contributions to the task of building Nebraska basketball have not gone unnoticed.
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