There hasn't been this much excitement in the state of Nebraska about the Cornhuskers' hoops team in a long time.
Regardless of the fact that the Cornhuskers just finished their second year of Big Ten play in the bottom-third of the conference, there are signs of hope on campus and around the city of Lincoln.
Nebraska has a young, energetic head coach in Tim Miles who seems to be wise beyond his years. They have arguably the premier practice facility in all of college basketball. They'll also have a new home to move into next season -- the NBA-esque Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Needless to say, there is a lot to look forward to in terms of recruiting and building a program that can compete in college basketball's premier conference. There is, however, one thorn still stuck in Nebraska's side: The Creighton Bluejays.
Creighton University sits just about 40 miles east of Lincoln down I-80 in Omaha, the state's largest city. For years, Creighton has been sort of a pesky little brother to the Cornhuskers. They were the feisty mid-major team who shared the state with Nebraska, a long-time Big Eight and Big 12 school.
Every once in a while, Creighton gets the best of the Cornhuskers head-to-head (Nebraska leads the all-time series 25-21). For the most part, however, the two teams and their fans were resigned to the fact that one of the programs played in an elite conference and the other was a big fish in a small pond that was the Missouri Valley Conference. Everyone knew their role.
Lately, however, the tide has begun to change. Creighton's followers dwarf the the Nebraska fans in numbers. The Bluejays are consistently in the top 10 of all of college basketball in attendance and have become regulars in a 20-win club annually. Those factors combined with the national exposure of the program have led to rumors that Creighton may be on the verge of joining the seven Catholic schools who are breaking away from the current Big East Conference.
A move to the new Big East would come with both pluses and minuses for the Creighton program. It would mean more national exposure and money for the university. However, fans would have to deal with the fact that those 20-wins seasons they've gotten used to would be much harder to come by.
For Nebraska, a Creighton move to a power conference would no doubt hinder the progress the Cornhuskers program is trying to make in the power conference they already reside in.
As of now, the two schools recruit two different types of athletes. Nebraska recruits more athletic players capable of creating their own shot against Big Ten players of the same or high caliber. Creighton recruits more fundamentally sound team-oriented players who excel based on the system they are in and their ability to shoot the ball. These players usually are locks to stay for at least three or four years as opposed to the "one and done-ers" who populate the power conferences.
Creighton's move would mean the two schools would be recruiting the same players to the same region to play in two different power conferences.
As of now, it would be hard to argue against the school of thought that says Creighton would have an immediate recruiting advantage over Nebraska, as they have established more of a basketball pedigree as of late. The Bluejays also already have pipelines in places like Minneapolis, South Dakota and Iowa—all places where Nebraska would like to establish the same.
Creighton also has the added advantage of being the "keepers of the western door" for this newly redesigned Big East, giving Midwest and West Coast kids a chance to play in a premier basketball conference focused on cities like New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. without having to travel across the country to do so.
Nebraska can still sell kids on the prestige of playing in the Big Ten, but the only track record they have in the conference is one of failure so far. On the other hand, Creighton has multiple recent wins over power conference teams and RPI rankings to make the case that they'll be able to finish in the top half of their new conference on a consistent basis.
In a state where college basketball is on the rise and fan allegiance is at a premium, one must question if there is room for two programs in two different power conferences to succeed on the ever-changing landscape that is college sports.