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Mad Chatter: College hoops could be wildest season of all; A Indiana-Northwestern Big Ten title?
COMMENTARY

Mad Chatter: College hoops could be wildest season of all; A Indiana-Northwestern Big Ten title?

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Hey, remember when the Golden Window Classic was going to be the best regular-season tournament in college basketball?

Sixteen teams! Major conference programs! All right here in downtown Lincoln.

Sigh. Now the local virus numbers are out of control and Nebraska is left with Nevada and Chadron State. For now.

In less than a month, we slipped from Maui Classic to Ameritas Classic.

This is what college basketball is going to look like all winter, I fear. The Big Ten released its conference schedule and it’s almost comical to consider how many games will be canceled.

I wish the league would’ve gotten more creative. Maybe hold four-team pods at a single site. Play three games in three days: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Then take a week or two off and do it again. Push the NCAA tournament back to April or May.

The problem is we don’t know when or where outbreaks will happen. Moreover, it’s hard to organize so many programs on short notice. Leadership isn’t strong enough or decisive enough to make necessary changes. So we’ll live with the wildest sports season of all.

Teams are going to get really good at practicing free throws.

* * *

» Chew on this hypothetical: An Indiana-Northwestern showdown in the Big Ten championship game?

Basically they’re one win away as they prepare for Big Ten showdowns Saturday. I don’t suspect the Hoosiers will beat Ohio State or the Wildcats will beat Wisconsin. But the fact that both are in position suggests the jump from irrelevance to conference contention isn’t as chasmic as we tend to think.

Remember, Northwestern was 3-9 a year ago. Indiana had back-to-back 5-7 seasons in 2017 and ’18.

Of course, a year ago it was Minnesota, which broke through with a top-10 season. It’s not just Big Ten teams. Look around the Top 25.

Cincinnati at No. 7. BYU at No. 8. Miami, 7-1 after a couple tough years, is ranked 12th. Iowa State (17th) leads the Big 12.

The canyon in college football is between the top four or five programs (Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia) and everyone else. Almost anybody can get hot and climb into the Top 10. Including Nebraska.

Breakout seasons are dependent on a few key playmakers and positive vibes.

Nobody is talking about Indiana right now if officials rule Michael Penix short of the pylon in overtime against Penn State just as nobody would’ve thought twice about Minnesota a year ago if P.J. Fleck hadn’t squeaked by South Dakota State in the season opener.

Momentum matters. Confidence matters. The Huskers surely got some against Penn State. They need to build on it.

» In case you missed it, The World-Herald has launched a weekly studio show (soon-to-be-podcast) called “Go Big Omaha.”

The main feature (aside from Jon Nyatawa’s charm) is extended interviews with prominent local sports figures. There’s an element of my old “Where I Come From” podcast, but the conversation is a little lighter.

Our first three guests — Tom OsborneKenny Onatolu and George Achola — were excellent. This week’s guest, Jay Mims, detailed the first season of Union Omaha and what may be coming down the road.

Listening to Mims, it’s easy to see how Union Omaha — 10 years down the road — might follow the popularity trajectory of Creighton basketball in Omaha.

» Old World-Herald colleague Mitch Sherman had a great piece in The Athletic this week about Nebraska’s final Big 12 road game, 10 years ago.

I probably remember it as well as any Husker game I’ve ever covered, which says a bit about the program’s struggles.

I remember Taylor Martinez’s cell phone call to his dad and Ben Cotton’s family jewels and Carl Pelini’s assault on a Texas A&M camera. Of course, I remember the seven personal fouls on Nebraska and Harvey Perlman’s public scolding of Bo Pelini a couple days later. What a mess.

That was the most talented Husker football team I ever covered. And I have to believe that if Nebraska had beaten Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game, we’d all have a much different perception of the program right now.

For better or worse, Pelini might still be here.

» Shoutout to Phoenix Academy here in Omaha, which hosted a 24th & Glory event Thursday featuring Johnny Rodgers, Ernie Chambers and John Beasley. Students at Phoenix Academy finished the book this fall and produced presentations about some of its characters.

It was a thrill to sit next to Rodgers and Beasley as they gave advice to students. But the highlight was Chambers, who after delivering one heckuva motivational speech, dropped to the floor and did 20 push-ups.

Not bad for 83 years old.


Nebraska hosts Penn State

Omaha World-Herald: Big Red

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Reporter - Sports

Dirk writes stories and columns about Husker football in addition to covering general assignments and enterprise for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @dirkchatelain. Phone: 402-444-1062.

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