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.
|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.