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Nebraska

How Nebrasketball went from an NCAA team to an NIT 5-seed

iron n

There’s a lot of angst in Huskerville about why the Nebraska men’s basketball team failed to reach the NCAA Tournament despite a 22-10 overall record, a 13-5 conference record in the Big Ten and a 16-1 record at home.

From this uneducated vantage point about 250 miles south of Lincoln, Nebraska’s slide from the Big Dance to the National Invitation Tournament — as a No. 5 seed, mind you — comes down to five of the nine regular-season losses. I’m excluding the Big Ten Tournament beat-down by Michigan because, based on the fact NU was not a First Four Out, the Big Red would likely have had to win the tournament and gain the automatic qualifying bid. And, as you can see, the five losses on this list fall in two categories — tough losses to NCAA teams and losses to teams NU should have beaten:

  1. Nov. 23: UCF 68, NU 59. Shooting 25 percent in the first half and trailing by 18 at half was too much to overcome for the Big Red. It didn’t help the Huskers’ Big Dance chances that the Golden Knights finish the regular season 19-13, with their best win Dec. 3 against then-No. 24 Alabama (an NCAA Tournament team). UCF, by the way, did not make either the NCAA or NIT brackets.
  2. Dec. 9: Creighton 75, NU 65. Huskers held a five-point lead at half, built the advantage to eight early in the second half and trailed by three with just over 1 minute left but couldn’t seal the deal…a mantra in several close losses for Nebraska, both on this list and off. Had NU won here and, I think, any of the next three games on this list, Creighton AD and NCAA Tournament Selection Committee Chair Bruce Rasmussen would have had a lot more pause before leaving the Cornhuskers out of the NCAA Tournament (and putting Oklahoma in the tourney…but I digress…).
  3. Dec. 16: Kansas 73, NU 72. Nebraska’s best of several chances at the coveted Q1 win anywhere on its schedule, and it goes to the very last second before coming up short. At the time, it was Nebraska’s third loss in four games, including an 86-57 thumping by Michigan State to start the early-season skid. Had either Anton Gill’s 3-pointer or James Palmer’s follow-up in the final 20 seconds gone in, this win could have been enough to push NU into the Last Four In category. If it hadn’t been for the next two defeats…
  4. Jan. 22: Ohio State 64, NU 59. The third loss on this list to an eventual NCAA qualifier, and much like the Creighton game, the Huskers battled toe-to-toe with the then-No. 13 Buckeyes before Ohio State pulled away in the final four minutes. The loss offset a career game for Palmer, who went off for 34 points.
  5. Feb. 18: Illinois 72, NU 66. Nebraska came into the game on a six-game winning streak following the Ohio State loss and verbally marked the Illinois battle as a game it had to have with questions about its post-tournament direction already swirling…and then it just could not shake Illinois. In fact, the Illini were the team with the finishing kick, outscoring NU 14-5 over the final six minutes to pull the upset. NU then won its final two regular-season games, but in my mind this is the game that sealed the Huskers’ fate as a non-NCAA Tournament team.

While the NCAA’s decision to leave Nebraska out of the 2018 tournament may have surprised a lot of people, those that saw an NIT Tournament bid as at least a decent possibility were shocked the Huskers fell all the way to a 5-seed, meaning no first-round home game and a likely second-round battle with a top seed — in this case Baylor — if they get past Mississippi State on Wednesday night. The general statistics — no Q1 wins, a 2-3 overall record against Q2 teams, six wins against teams with plus-.500 records — don’t help, but I think NU becomes an NIT top seed just if it can beat UCF and Illinois. And I think NU gets into the Big Dance by winning one of the other three games.

Instead, Nebraska goes to the NIT for the 18th time and the first time since 2011. Hopefully, the Huskers feel spurned and roar through the tournament, getting their first title since 1996. My guess is the season ends well before that, capping a year of disappointment on several levels for the Big Red. At least it looks like Nebrasketball is trending up — finally — after a couple years where the so-called eyeball test had NU starting to circle the drain like it has done so many times in the past.

 

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Big Red Fans, Welcome to Mediocrity

“Unacceptable.”

“Extremely disappointing.”

“Low point.”

Call it what you will, but Nebraska’s 21-17 loss today to Northern Illinois should leave no doubt that Big Red Football is not so big anymore. At least when you consider our place in the Division I football hierarchy.

NIU has actually done very well against Big Ten teams recently, but that’s no excuse for what we saw out of the Huskers this morning and early afternoon.

True, the defense had a much better day at the office — right until the deciding drive of the game late in the fourth quarter. But the offense should have pushed Northern Illinois up and down the field. Instead, we see a pair of pick-sixes and another underwhelming performance offensively.

Against an Ohio State or a Michigan, seeing this level of play would almost be understandable — given the turnover in coaches, a new defensive scheme and a new quarterback between seasons. But against Northern Illinois? After poor performances against Arkansas State and Oregon?

What we saw today may have been the low point of the Mike Riley Era. Unfortunately, it was also the continuation of the decline, the regression from a championship caliber team to a program now struggling to be considered a middle-level squad in a Power 5 conference.

Face it, Husker fans. Nebraska football has been sliding toward mediocrity since the end of the Solich days. It took a huge step backwards under Bill Callahan. It stepped back — briefly — towards above-average play under Bo Pelini before the us-against-the-world atmosphere surrounding the team famously imploded.

And now we have…this mess. We have full-blown mediocrity.

Is this what we can expect during what’s left of the Mike Riley Era?

When Riley was hired, I was one of the optimistic ones. I thought his tenure at Oregon State was fairly good, based on where he was recruiting. After the last full season of play by the Huskers, however, especially after how the 2016 season ended, my optimism faded. And the start of the ’17 season hasn’t helped.

Whether you booed or not during the Northern Illinois game (and I have no hesitation in saying I booed), feel free to be embarrassed. We will always be fans of the Big Red. But this phase of Husker football may not be ending anytime soon, even if leadership changes.

Lawrence Phillips: Dead at 40

  
Shortly after noon today, I saw a headline that went something like this: “Phillips was explosive on the field, troubled off it.”

It would have been entirely appropriate to consider Lawrence Phillips explosive wherever he went.

If you wanted a case study for a “talented but troubled” sports figure, Phillips was your man. When Phillips took to a football field wearing Nebraska’s scarlet and cream, you knew he would deliver. Need six yards to move the chains? He’d weave through the line. Third down, 18 inches, tight game? He’d bowl you over. Screen pass as a change of pace? Not his forte, but he’d get the job done.

Off the field, he was a mess. And that was before college. But man, could he run. Power, grace, fluidity, and anger all in one sculpted, 220-pound package.

But nothing could uproot that anger. Not the national championship at Nebraska. Not an NFL career. And not even prison.

A lot of us wondered if death in prison would be where the Lawrence Phillips story would end, especially as the physical violence incidents continued and escalated. That’s what I thought. But it’s hard to imagine the immediate subplots leading to today. Phillips faced death row — death row — for allegedly killing another inmate. 

From the cheers of 77,000 people to death row. And then to possibly suicide.

I’m having a very hard time wrapping my mind around what I saw at Memorial Stadium 20 years ago and what I’ve been reading today. It’s mind-boggling that one character trait that can make you great in one arena — in Phillips’ case, his deep-seated anger — could eventually kill you.

  

Deja Vu in Huskerville

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In case you missed it, the Nebraska-Miami football game Saturday turned out to be quite the battle.

Miami jumped out to a 17-0 lead after a quarter and led 33-10 early in the fourth. NU stormed back to force overtime only to lose.

The nation yawned. Husker Nation cussed.

This was just the latest battle for the Big Red to return to relevance. And it was the latest opportunity to slip by in tantalizing, maddening fashion.

Look: the win over South Alabama was nice and all for getting the Mike Riley era into the win column — and erasing the nasty taste of the BYU game to start the season — but honestly, nobody cares. Those don’t get you back into the national spotlight as a title  contender, whether it be for the national championship or even for the conference crown. It’s games like BYU and Miami that we as Husker fans care about. And it’s those games that determine whether you’re on the road to respect or spinning your wheels as an also-ran.

And what’s concerning is the problems NU has had the past, oh, 15 years or so haven’t departed with the new coaching staff now on board.

Dumb penalties? Yep. Questionable play-calling, bad positioning? Mmm-hmm. Taking too long to get engaged in the game? More of an issue against Miami than BYU, but remember that second quarter against the Cougars? And did you listen to Nate Gerry, who said issues in practice carried over to the Miami game?

I have to breathe. Stuff like this doesn’t change overnight. But don’t tell me there’s a lot of hope after another kick to the gut like the Miami game. Hope for what? More of the same? Because that’s exactly what we got. And we have the loss to prove it.

Inauspicious Beginnings, Hopeful Future in Lincoln

mike riley

How do you lose a football game? Usually it’s with mistakes, either a whopping amount or a handful that are poorly-timed. And make no mistake: errors killed Nebraska’s victory chances in its season-opening football game against BYU.

To spare you a lengthy recap, just observe each team’s final drive of the game. Nebraska’s drive ends in a shanked field goal. BYU’s ends in a Hail Mary touchdown with all of NU’s defenders behind the receiver.

I didn’t watch the entire game — stories to write and post and the like — but I mainly liked what I saw from the offense, although I was more pleased with the passing game as opposed to the rushing attack. So much was made of how head coach Mike Riley’s passing emphasis was different from quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s demonstrated skill set, but that side of the game could have ended up a lot worse.

Punting wasn’t bad, but missing two field goals inside 45 yards is about inexcusable at the Power 5 level these days.

And then there’s the defense, shredded for a half and the out of position enough on the final play to claim defeat.

It’s unfortunate the Huskers lost the game, and with it the streak of consecutive home opening victories. But the game showed there is a lot of hope for the Mike Riley era. They say the most improvement in a given football season happens from Week 1 to Week 2. If that happens, Nebraska’s chances for returning to relevance improve dramatically — if not this year, then certainly by next season.

gbr

First Takes and Second Helpings: April 2015

042815 baltimore

As you can see, this post will cover a gamut of topics…some serious, some not.

The serious first: Baltimore blew up the past two days after the death and subsequent funeral of Freddie Gray.

This tears me up because Baltimore has been a city I’ve wanted to explore more since I was a child. We didn’t travel much to Baltimore during our two years living in Bel Air, Md., about 35 miles northeast of downtown Baltimore, and when we did we never made it to an Orioles game (something that still eats at me). But what I saw as a five-year-old I liked. I have no idea whether the Baltimore of 2015 mirrors the Baltimore of 1975. All I know is people are destroying anything they can get their hands on.

I understand the anguish and anger over alleged police issues, but there’s no excuse for what we’re seeing. It’s humanity at its worst. It’s now happening with less provocation. I’m not sure which of those last two sentences is scarier.

To the silly: Weird work-related things.

042815  notebook

News is not always hard-core, and I’m grateful we’re not always talking about riots or shootings or fatal accidents or fires or budget shortfalls. Thankfully, we started our Feel Good Friday segment a few years ago to balance out all the nasty or the mundane we report on daily. And sometimes, that balance is totally unintentional or unexpected. Couple cases in point:

Earlier this month, I’m searching through district court documents to see what court cases of note are coming up. I didn’t see anything pertaining to my newscasts, but I did see this:

weird

That’s right. Officially, the state of Kansas is in trial proceedings against a car (a luxury car, mind you, although the status of rich Corinthian leather is to be debated). Not sure if this is a regular occurrence. Also not sure how John Stewart hasn’t picked up on this yet.

Yesterday, I’m typing up a story on court proceedings stemming from a combination battery and shooting incident early in April. Instead of typing “aggravated battery,” I punch up “aggravated batter.” Talk of deep-fried food crimes and misdemeanors follows. Insert your own joke here.

Now to the sad:

042815 fiala

Broadcasters outside the state of Nebraska may not have known Adrian Fiala, and that’s a shame.

Fiala passed away recently after a lengthy respiratory illness. He was a legend in Nebraska sports as a football and baseball player, and he then made his mark as a color commentator for several Big Red sports.

He was well-respected, even revered, for several reasons. Being a player, he brought a locker-room perspective to his broadcasts, and he did so realizing most of his audience weren’t former players so he educated without being pushy or overbearing. He was thoroughly prepared for his assignments and studied game trends. And, what I found most important, he was himself behind the mike.

I first met Adrian Fiala as a rather fresh part-timer assigned to run the board for SportsNightly, the Pinnacle Sports Network’s signature weekday talk show. He gave me a warm smile and a firm (very firm) handshake. Just that made me feel like I was part of the team — no small amount of welcome and assurance for somebody struggling to prove I belonged with some very polished broadcasters. On top of that, though, Fiala never — and I mean never — big-timed anybody on his broadcasts, either on or off mike.

This is a business filled with massive egos and a tendency for those egos to get loose, trampling anybody and everybody either lower on the totem pole or outside the field, treating those individuals as if they are less important or not important at all because they don’t have a four- or five-hour air shift to spew opinions couched as facts.

Adrian Fiala was a rare individual in this field. I’d like to be part of his broadcast crew at that next level.

And finishing up with the superlative.

Alex Gordon, Play of the Year candidate. Do I need to say anything else?

Red

Recently, JT Crawford asked me to play bass with him and Jane McCoy for the Flint Hills Beef Fest BBQ contest concert Aug. 22.

So we’re just under a month away from “Barracuda” and “Tennessee Flat Top Box.” From Loverboy to Johnny Cash, the Pretenders to Garth Brooks, we’ll likely have it covered.

Not having touched my bass since the last time we got together, the 2013 Smoke in the Spring barbecue event in Osage City, I was a bit hesitant to agree…only for the simple reason I haven’t had much time or inclination to dedicate to what once had been an integral part of my life.

bass 4

***

I first met Red at Paragon Music in Lincoln, Neb, back in the late 1990s.

I had started teaching myself bass guitar a few years earlier after what can only be called a failed flirtation with guitar during a failed attempt at college in Tucson, Ariz. I don’t even remember how I became acquainted with the black three-quarter model I officially started out with, or how I came in contact with the Peavey 5-string that followed. I do remember the 5-string, Thumper, was a ton of fun, either hanging out for a solo creative session or at parties.

However, I made a slight miscalculation that ended our relationship. As in not studying how to properly tune said 5-string.

Inattentiveness to details such as that is bad. Very bad. It leads to bad breakups…or, in this case, a neck so warped it’s impossible to fix. I could have done some repairs, or had somebody else do them for me), but I decided against for some long-forgotten reason. I think a large part of that was I was just looking for something else, something more basic.

So, with Thumper effectively out of the picture, and with me totally hooked on the instrument (thank you, Geddy Lee, John Illsley, Kim Stone, Roscoe Beck, Marcus Miller, Brian Bromberg, John Pattitucci, Flea, Muzz Skillings, Bardi Martin, John Entwistle, Chris Squire, Jeff Ament, Gabe Nelson, Steve Kilbey, Peter Hook and others) I was looking for something long-term right away. There were a lot of flashier (and more expensive) models to dazzle the eye and the fingers. All sorts of brands were available in all colors and finishes.

It was a rather mind-numbing choice to make. And, no, I didn’t have any mind-numbing ingredients in my body when I stopped there.

Given my budget, I had to eliminate most of the store’s selection…and hope one of the less pricey models was the one.  I didn’t really have any set criteria when I visited Paragon that summer afternoon other than my new musical partner had to feel right. It had to fee comfortable when it was draped around my neck. My fingers had to slide quickly up and down the neck.  The instrument had to hold its tune — something I had struggled with (through a lot of fault of my own) with my previous two basses.

Somehow, some way, Red did. I picked up Red for the first time, plunked a few runs — and I knew. Right then and there.

bass 3

***

Red, in case you’re wondering, is an Ibanez TR series 4-string. Twenty-two frets, two pickups, bass and volume knobs. All in all, pretty simple. There were apparently several in the series, and at this point I have no idea if I have a TR 50 or a TR 200 — although judging from a 1995 catalog, it looks like I have the TRB 50. If that’s the case, Red has a light American maple body, maple neck, Powersound pickup setup and standard four-string bridge. Oh, yes — don’t forget the Ibanez All Access neck joint. Again, nothing to make you jump up and say “wow.”

Sometimes, though, you don’t need the “wow” factor to develop something special.

bass

***

Red became more than my bass, and it didn’t take long for that to happen. With me trying to get a Catholic rock band started, and with me writing lyrics for several years beforehand, Red became more and more of a partner as I conceptualized bass lines, guitar and drum parts to go with the words. We were pretty much inseparable after a short time, and we spent a lot of long hours together.  I’d take Red out with me to work some days, over to the church on others to work on some licks. Red would stay up well past 2 am some nights me as I’d hammer out some song details or rock out a jam session with some of my friends.

Soon, Red wasn’t just my music partner. Red also became my dream partner. Music had been part of my life since my dad let me play his cornet back in fifth grade. Even as I slid down the scale from there (thick lips=no range=instrument change) to euphonium, trombone and eventually tuba in high school, I’ve always loved not only listening to music but playing — and performing. I don’t remember when my dream developed of having a rock band, but it’s always been burning for as long as I can remember. Getting a chance to play “as part of a band,” even with all of two performances (a one-song gig at a church and a youth conference), was pretty heady stuff.

Red assisted me in how I wanted my music to sound (what I can describe, at least in my head, as a mix of Rush, early Dire Straits, Candlebox, the Rippingtons without a saxophone and The Church), and although I never purchased any music software to flesh out ideas that sound is still where I want to go if I have the good fortune to do so. Red also helped me unlock my inner performer, although it took a move to Kansas and a shift in music genre philosophy for that to happen. I have never been the cleanest bass player — far from it, actually, and the more amped up I get the messier I get. But as I got more practice in front of people, the mistakes smoothed out and I didn’t let them affect me for long stretches like I did when I started. On top of that, especially as I transitioned from religious rock to more secular music later, I began realizing you can’t just stand there and play and expect people to want you back. You just can’t. You have to, well, “give them a show.”

Off the microphone or off the stage, I have no problem blending into the woodwork. Give me a stage and my bass, and something happens. Something changes. Automatically I’m trying to do what I can to keep the audience engaged, wanting more. I can’t play behind my head (tried that, didn’t work), but I’ve slid on floors, stood on tables, turned my back to the crowd and looked back through my mike at the group (people still laugh at me for that one), used my cell phone for the ballad lighter effect…all while playing what I can only describe as some active bass lines.

And Red saw it all. Was part of it all. Helped to nurture it all.

jam

***

When I moved to Emporia to become a news reporter with some sports duties, I figured I’d get to form a band at some point. Initially, though, it looked like Red and I would just hang out in my apartment. I was honestly working more to fit into the community than finding fellow musicians. Then two things happened: Crawford called me to play at Reading’s annual concert…but before that, I started dating my future wife.

I actually started dating Ginny as my time in my last praise band was ending. Things developed very quickly, and in barely four months we were engaged. The wedding didn’t take place for another year, but 11 months afterward we had welcomed our daughter, Isabella, to the world.

JT had heard me mention on air that I played bass a few months later, and he invited me to the school to play. Things went well between him and his friends, singer/guitarist Tammy Patterson and drummer Dan “Boogie” Wooge — well enough for us to loosely form a cover band, practice occasionally and look for gigs.

It took a while to develop some contacts, but that eventually happened and we did indeed get some gigs. Quite a few, actually. Osage City, Melvern, Burlingame, Topeka. Even played the Flint Hills Beef Fest main dance back-to-back years.

Life happened, though. I moved from news reporter to news director. JT, Tammy and Dan all had life-changing events of their own. And I started losing interest in playing, especially as I was poorly balancing my home life and sleep. So my personal jam times, which about a decade earlier would run in the hours, could be compressed into 10 minutes or less (usually less). Eventually, about two years ago, the jam times evaporated, with my bass guitar collecting dust on its stand.

Red sat. And waited.

Red’s still waiting.

bass 2

***

JT’s call came at a time when I finally was feeling the itch to start playing again, although unfortunately not feeling the itch enough to actually get the instrument out, find the practice amp and play. It took two weeks after JT’s invite before I finally took stock of my current relationship with my bass guitar.

Red’s a different color than Thumper, but Red’s now in similar shape to Thumper when I regretfully set it aside. Red’s been in its case for I don’t remember how long. The neck is dirty…and it’s warped.  It’s a different reason, but it’s the same sign of neglect that’s worrisome to me.

I’m not in the best of shape, either, and not just because I’m about 40 pounds overweight. My calluses are completely gone, and soft fingers make for painful bass work. Sliding my fingers up and down the neck, trying a few hammer-ons and trying desperately to remember some of the runs I’d conceptualized over the past 20 years, it still feels right to play.

Dealing with instruments is like dealing with friends. You can’t not interact with your instrument for months, in my case now 15 months, and expect you can pick up where you left off. That certainly hasn’t happened with me and Red. The timing’s currently off, the runs don’t come naturally anymore, my fingers are quite sore after the first couple minutes, the freewheel feel of piecing together the fretboard on the fly and creating a coherent but pretty fricking awesome run just isn’t there.

It will take some time to get reacquainted. Get comfortable again.

But it will happen. Over the past 15 months, I’ve rediscovered the need I’ve apparently always had to have some form of music creativity in my life. For that to happen, I need to be back with Red.

And the whole process will be worth it in the end.

First Takes and Second Helpings, December 2013

barry-hinson

Man. I can’t believe it has been months since I last posted anything. Well, yes, I can, but that’s for another post.

It has been a busy quarter-year. Locally, we’re looking for a new city manager, the college football team made the D-2 playoffs and the women’s basketball team is in the nation’s top three.

Nationally, the Affordable Care Act still gets raked over the coals, two members of Pussy Riot were released from prison and a basketball head coach made headlines for comments about size and snipers (in one of the best postgame rants of all time).

And now that I have your attention (in no particular order)…

OWH_logo1. Am I glad this isn’t 1983. The Omaha World-Herald just published a story on December 1983. Worst winter weather of my life. A week straight where the high temperature didn’t crack zero. Lows of -15 to -24, and that’s just the air temperature. Christmas Eve saw a high of -11 and an obscene wind chill of -72 (calculated differently than we do today, but still…). A foot-plus of snow already on the ground which didn’t start to melt until February. Not how you want to spend your Christmas break at any age, but especially as a teenager. 1989 was almost as bad. I took a flight from Tucson back home at the end of my first semester break at the University of Arizona. Temperature when I left: Around 60 degrees. Temperature when I got back home: -15.

2. Thank you, Barry Hinson. Wish we had more honest postgame news conferences such as his from a couple weeks ago.

3. It was hard to get into the Christmas spirit this year. Until the gifts opened up. Blame the shorter shopping season, blame Target’s credit card security breach, blame the busy schedule, blame whatever. However, watching everybody’s faces when they tore away the wrapping paper…it’s hard not to enjoy that.

catsstevens214. I’m still looking for a relatively new rock band I can gravitate towards. Not really feeling the shouty, wall of noise nature of rock today. And now I know how my parents feel when they listen to a lot of the rock that I like. Unnerving. On the flip side, I’m really wondering 1) why I didn’t get Rush’s Vapor Trails earlier and 2) why I got away from the fusion jazz that I used to really enjoy. And 3) how in the world Cat Stevens goes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside Nirvana and Kiss. And 4) what’s it going to take for me to actually want to play my bass again. Talk about unnerving. So that’s what happens when you’re followed by a moonshadow.

5. Returning to weather. The way this winter has gone — gradual warmups followed by sudden cold snaps — we’re setting up for an early severe weather outbreak. Just saying. It’s way, way too much like a spring weather pattern with colder temperatures for my liking.

elreno_tornado

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