The moon above Nebraska is a basketball.
There's a hoop on every barn and driveway in the state. Look at the line of headlights, from Grand Island and Wahoo and Beatrice, motoring to Lincoln on a winter's night.
Listen to the conversation in the bars and eateries in downtown Omaha. They're talking Final Four.
Nebraska, in a basketball state of mind.
I've written about this before. This vision. Most would call it a fantasy. Or a delusion.
Football will never leave our consciousness. It will always sit at the head of the dinner table.
But the way we see basketball, the way we follow it, is about to change.
The ante is about to be raised.
Could you imagine Creighton playing in a Final Four?
Nebraska beating Michigan State and Ohio State in consecutive games and neither is an upset?
Pipe dream stuff, right?
Stick around. Things are about to change.
Maybe not this year. Maybe not next. But soon, the way you look at your basketball teams will be different.
It has everything to do with the new toys on the block this year: Pinnacle Bank Arena and Big East Conference.
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Creighton and Nebraska each have had something to hang their hat on. But each also had something missing.
The Jays have had NCAA tournament tradition. Then, 10 years ago, CU moved into a big-time arena. Attendance put them among the top programs in the nation.
But Creighton played in the Missouri Valley Conference, a respected hoops league, but a mid-major league, with mid-major RPI and minimal TV exposure.
Nebraska, meanwhile, has played in the hottest basketball conferences in the nation: the Big Eight, Big 12 and now Big Ten. Final Four teams and coaches and NBA talent have made regular visits to Lincoln. And there have been six or seven NCAA bids to be had.
Alas, the Huskers played in the Devaney Center, which opened in 1976 and was bypassed by every program in whatever league NU played in.
In both cases, Creighton and NU had something going for it. But also something holding it back from really going for it, in a state with low basketball expectations.
The schools received big puzzle pieces that wipe away any excuses.
Creighton now belongs in the Big East, with all of the benefits of membership and multiple exposures on the national Fox Sports 1 network.
Nebraska now plays in the Pinnacle Bank Arena, which is the envy of Big Ten coaches. And don't forget the Hendricks practice facility, which draws reps from NBA clubs who want to copy what NU has built.
In other words, two very big excuses are gone.
And the expectations are about to fly up.
Consider Creighton. The Big East is promoting itself as a top basketball league. Media who cover the conference already are saying five NCAA spots — half the league — are a requirement.
That's a long way from the Valley, where anything beyond the automatic bid was hoped for but never expected.
In the Valley, schools had a hard time finding meaty nonconference games to help the NCAA tourney résumé. Just getting to the tournament was seen as a magical accomplishment, one worth celebration.
In the Big East, schools expect to make the NCAAs. It's a down year if you don't.
Meanwhile, remember Creighton last year? The Jays' big goal was to make that vaunted run at the Sweet 16. Two NCAA wins. Didn't happen, but it would have been the greatest year ever. As CU Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen has said in the past, the Sweet 16 is the Final Four for mid- majors.
In recent years, Butler, VCU and Wichita State have proved otherwise.
The point is, the high jump bar has just been raised. If Jays fans want to use the Sweet 16 as their goal, they should probably keep it to themselves.
The Big East is a place where the majority of teams — Georgetown, St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette, DePaul and Butler — have all been to the Final Four. That's their goal. Not the Sweet 16.
Just as CU coach Greg McDermott must adjust his program to the Big East, Jays fans must adjust their thinking toward the new league. When it was in the Valley, CU often had to win the Valley tourney to make the NCAAs. An NIT year was not the end of the world.
But now, if CU doesn't make the tournament but half of the league does, will Creightonians be upset? If teams they play, and beat, make it to the Final Four, will they want to do that?
Will Jays fans believe that can happen, the way Marquette and the others do?
CU fans have a good perspective. Will that change in the new league? Will there be more pressure put on the head coach?
Down in Lincoln, I think a similar scenario is developing.
The first season at Pinnacle Bank Arena is sold out. Most likely, the second will be, too.
Meanwhile, the Huskers are projected again near the bottom of the league. Improved, but so is the Big Ten, the nation's best ball league.
Pinnacle Bank Arena will be a new play toy for a while. So will the Haymarket area. But even coach Tim Miles knows that will wear off. Eventually, fans will want to see winning.
When will that set in? Who knows? But when comparing Pinnacle Bank Arena to Creighton and its arena, keep in mind CU was winning 20 games and making the NCAA tourney most of the past 10 years.
The dynamics of winning and keeping that arena full will be worth watching in the next several years.
Mostly, NU's beautiful and lavish basketball facilities take away an excuse that the program had for years: the lack of commitment.
Sure, there's a lack of Division I talent in the state. But when you have better facilities than most teams in your league, shouldn't you be competing with them? It will be interesting, too, to see how this changes the expectations of Husker fans.
What it has a great chance of doing is elevating the self-esteem of all those in Husker Hoops. If the locals feel better about themselves, with the sellout crowds and energy and buzz creating confidence that NU can be a player, recruits will notice that.
That goes for Creighton, too. Playing in the same league as college basketball royalty, under the Big East flag, doesn't just elevate CU hoops nationally. It pumps up the perception here at home, too.
But what's that saying? To whom much is given much is expected?
By moving into a downtown arena and moving into a major conference, NU and CU are jumping off the cliff, so to speak, into the great unknown. It's a leap of faith that they will up their game. Or else.
The dreamer in me says this is all going to work out, that nothing drives a program like expectations. They can be good, very good. Just one bit of advice for Huskers and Jays administrators, coaches, players and fans:
Don't look down.