Nebraska: A Basketball Primer

Dylan Burkhardt

Basketball has clearly been one of the last things driving conference expansion talk over the last couple months. Exhibit one: The Kansas Jayhawks – an all-time top 5 program that has barely been mentioned in conference expansion debates.

While basketball wasn’t driving the conversation, the outcomes will definitely have an effect on the hardwood. Most importantly for Big Ten fans, Nebraska has officially joined the conference and will begin to play Big Ten competition in 2011. So the question is, what kind of basketball program do the Cornhuskers have? The short answer is that they fit the mold of a stereotypical lower tier Big Ten team.

Nebraska is one of only three BCS teams that have never won an NCAA tournament game. The last time they won a conference title was 1950 (share of the Big 8 ) and they have only six NCAA appearances, the most recent in 1998.

Nebraska head coach Doc Saddler arrived in Lincoln in 2006 and has accumulated a 70-57 record in four seasons including two NIT berths. His most recent campaign was probably his worst as Nebraska went 15-18 and a meager 2-14 in Big 12 play. His best season was a 20-12 (7-9) campaign that saw Nebraska make the NIT 2nd round. Nebraska finished 7th in the conference that year, their highest finish under Saddler.

To try to get a sense of what Nebraska is all about under Doc Saddler I put together four year averages of the Cornhuskers’ KenPom statistics.

Offense Defense
Tempo 63.5 (291)  
Eff. 106.5 (103) 93.08 (53)
eFG% 51.15 (98) 49.45 (167)
TO% 19.70 (115) 23.83 (49)
OR% 28.05 (283) 30.85 (67)
FTA/FGA 38.28 (132) 36.78 (153)

The numbers aren’t too glamorous, especially if you were looking for a new style of play in the conference. Nebraska has been one of the slowest teams in the country; playing mediocre to bad offense with generally solid defense. None of their offensive statistics rank in the top 75 and they are terrible on the offensive glass. Their defense appears to be much better than the offense and revolves around forcing turnovers. Over the last four years they have forced more turnovers on average than any Big Ten school forced last year. The Big Ten is the home of great defenses though and there were 6 Big Ten defenses that gave up fewer points per possessions last season than Nebraska’s 4-year average.

It’s pretty clear that Nebraska fits the Big Ten stereotype. They have a storied football program with an underwhelming basketball program that struggles to score points, slows the game down, and plays solid defense. Not really what Big Ten hoops junkies had in mind when we saw schools like Syracuse, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Kansas, and UConn thrown around in the last month as potential Big Ten candidates.


That’s not to say Nebraska doesn’t have any commitment to their hoops program. The Cornhuskers are in the process of building a new arena;  the $344 million, 16,000 seat Lincoln Haymarket Arena will open in 2013. And because one facility isn’t enough, they are also building the Hendricks Training Complex, a practice facility built alongside their current arena which will open in 2011-12.

Nebraska won’t be a game changer in the Big Ten, that much is clear. They haven’t been able to compete against the top tier of the Big 12 but despite their reputation they weren’t terrible. A quick look over Rivals rankings shows that recruiting under Saddler has been generally underwhelming which doesn’t bode well for the future. However, I suppose it is within the realm of possibility that Nebraska could parlay their new facilities and new conference into a little bit of hoops momentum. Who knows, they might even be breaking in a new coach in their first Big Ten tour of duty as well.

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  • Guest

    I'm pretty sure there are more than 3 D1 teams that have never won NCAA tournament games. I think there are a lot more than 3 teams that have never even made the NCAAs. Even if you limit it to teams that have been to the tournament, you can probably find more than 3 winless teams in the SWAC alone.

  • You are right. Should have said BCS teams. Fixed.

  • Light

    Nebraska, Northwestern, and…..?

  • USF.

  • The Yooper


  • andrew

    Speaking of Kansas, Bill Self is all over the place saying they WILL be in a BCS conference. What are your thoughts on viability of the Big XII (which, ironically, has 10 teams while the Big 10 has 12), or of Kansas as a Big Ten expansion candidate?

  • maxwell's demon

    OT, but does anyone actually think Crean would leave IU?

  • Brian W

    Even if basketball isn't Nebraska's forte, I'm glad they joined the Big Ten conference. That should give Iowa a decent rival and provide some good games for football.

    Texas, Texas A&M & Oklahoma have decided to stay in the Big 12 thanks to more money…

    ESPN reports that 2011 recruit Traevon Jackson (son of former OSU star Jimmy Jackson) committed to Wisconsin over the weekend. Frank Kaminsky (2011) committed to Wisconsin recently also.

  • Brian W

    I would think that MSU would go after Brian Gregory at Dayton first. Crean has said that he's happy at Indiana, but if MSU called, I'm sure he'd listen.

  • waldo78

    Wow, Jimmy Jackson's kid is not going to OSU?? Does he think Bo Ryan is a better coach?? I remember some folks getting all uptight because JB did not sign Glen Rice's kid but here is another example that kids may not want to follow in Dad's footsteps or maybe he isn't good enough for OSU and Bo Ryan will turn him into a pain in our side for the next 4 years.

  • AG2

    I'm sure the decision is the kid's alone, but it wouldn't surprise me if someone didn't choose OSU out of a lack of faith in Matta's coaching. OSU seems like the kind of place you go when you already think you're good enough for the pros and you just want to be coddled. I can't be the only one who thinks that for all the talent their coaching holds them back.

  • ZRL

    I've never understood Michigan fans who think that “Matta can't coach”. His first year who took a team low on talent and banned from postseason to a winning record and then followed that up the next year by earning a 2 seed and getting upset in the 2nd round by an underrated Gtown team that had Hibbert and Green. He then got a monster recruiting class and led them to the finals before losing to arguably the team of the decade. Leading a bunch of freshman to the finals is hard no matter how good the freshman are (see Calipari, John). He then recruited a couple of overhyped 5* centers that, while looking great on paper, turned out to be busts, and would have been even if they were playing for John Wooden. However, he was still able to get an NIT and NCAA appearance out of those rebuilding seasons, which is better then Roy Williams can say. This past year, he finally had a great team again and led them to a 2 seed, B10 title, and Sweet 16, and he's looking at another top 10 team next year. I don't know about you but that sounds like one of the top 10 coaches in the country to me.

  • Shanelocke1

    No room for OSU fans in here !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!