Archive for March, 2008

A Breath of Fresh Air
Monday, March 31, 2008

With the stars aligned (and my work schedule making it imperative) I attended my first Pelini-run spring practice on Monday.

Even as a member of the media, you walk into the Hawks Championship Center and immediately feel more at ease. Under Bill Callahan, I can recall entering the compound wondering if I would be vaporized if I recorded anything past the allotted 5 minutes of stretching. Now coaches are waving to the cameras.

Okay, maybe that’s not true. But the vibe is completely different. Coaches are willing to stay as long as necessary after practice, helping reporters fill their notebooks. Players don’t seem in as much of a hurry to dodge the assembled media, staying off to the side if they’ve been requested. According to someone in the know, Bo Pelini actually volunteered to speak to the media after every spring practice, but was told that wasn’t necessary. Instead, he speaks three out of every four times.

In fact, you could say that the Huskers are making themselves too available. There is now nothing to hide, nothing to leave to the imagination. The open-door policy seems to apply to everyone with a heart-beat. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they open portions of practice to the public sometime down the line. Doc’s orders.

Let’s take a moment to compare and contrast the Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini era with regards to football practices:

Callahan – Photojournalists can shoot the players stretching, jogging and doing everything except playing football. Once the actual practice begins, you must leave immediately so as not to reveal team secrets (such as, “how receivers catch the football.”)

Pelini – Photojournalists can shoot through the first individual period, usually lasting about 30 minutes. They are encouraged to stay a little bit longer for those final beauty shots.

Callahan – Photographers must remain on the sideline at all times.

Pelini – Photographers are advised to wear green non-contact jerseys while standing at mid-field so as not to be decapitated during live scrimmaging work.

Callahan – The head coach will speak once every three practices, so as not to be burdened with communicating with the outside world on a regular basis.

Pelini
– The head coach will speak following nearly every practice so as to let Husker fans know that all is well. He will also force reporters to hone their question-asking skills. Those that do not improve said skills will receive an already-perfected death stare.

Times are a-changing in Lincoln.

And for the better.

BTW – a reporter from Sports Illustrated was at practice on Monday, speaking to players and coaches about Bo. Expect a nice feature in the coming months.

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Spring Fever
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

When the boogeyman goes to sleep, he checks his closet for Bo Pelini.

Husker football players would be well-served to check themselves before crossing their coach.

Pelini’s mantra: I am the boss. Those who don’t agree with that will immediately be consumed by a ball of fire.

Okay, maybe there won’t be any flames.   But he might just light a fire under you to get his point across.

There is not a lot of room for debate. It is going to be done certain ways. If they want to do it another way there is a lot of other Division IA football programs they can play at. There are not a lot of things that are up for discussion as far as how the game is going to be played and how we are going to go about things.

These players have received the message. They know Pelini has a track record of success, and aren’t going to mess with a Bo in a china shop.

Pelini has preached time and again that it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. In that same vein, fans should be excited not about the outcome of the upcoming season, but in how the team will play and prepare.

“Our foundation, what we do is build on effort first and attitude and focus. Not just what you are doing, but how you are doing it,” said Pelini.


Not the victory but the action.

NCAA, We Hardly Knew Ye
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The sports scene around these parts does not lend itself to too many quiet days. The NCAA Tournament barely had a chance to roll the buses out of town before we shifted gears to Nebraska football.

Before we talk Huskers, a last thought about the madness that was.

Omaha did a fabulous job with its tournament brackets. Creighton’s staff worked long hours to impress the NCAA (and to put on a good show) and pulled it off. A few Creighton employees were asked by the NCAA to stay at a downtown hotel all week since they would be too tired to drive home at night. Luckily, sports information director Rob Anderson lives out of his car anyway, so it couldn’t’ve worked out any better.

We can get so spoiled. Even while having the NCAA Tournament in our own backyard, I found myself watching other tournament games on television thinking, “Why couldn’t we have had some of those games?” Seriously, first and second round games are supposed to be the source of the madness. Unfortunately, we didn’t see one shining moment the entire weekend. Kansas State and USC attempted to put on a show, but the refs knew that what the fans truly wanted to see was a free throw shooting contest. Boy, those are fun.

Qwest Center was made for the opening weekend of the big dance. Sure, hosting a regional final would be nice, but the excitement happens the week before. At least, in theory. If Omaha isn’t in a consistent rotation for hosting the first and second rounds, I’ll be shocked. The next available slot is in 2011.

Maybe by then we’ll have a new ballpark, too.

BTW, thanks to the Kansas Jayhawks for being good sports in our Sunday night story.   Can you tell Jeremy Case is friends with Nick Bahe?  Both performances could merit an Oscar.

Let the Madness Begin
Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Qwest Center was made for this.

The basketball epicenter (well, one of eight epicenters this weekend) is right in our own backyard. And it’s pretty sweet.

Thursday I ventured down to Qwest to watch Kansas State and USC. Less than five minutes into the game I was wondering why I only picked Kansas State on three of my bracket sheets. Shortly after, I began wondering why I filled out so many sheets to begin with.

Michael Beasley and Bill Walker were simply too much for USC. The Trojans could not match the Wildcats’ physicality, and could not hit their outside shots. I said earlier this week that a motivated Kansas State would be dangerous. They showed it Thursday night.

We’ll see if we get some more competitive games this weekend. Kansas won’t get tested until after it leaves Omaha, while Wisconsin lulled Fullerton (and the fans) to sleep. We had four games on Thursday, none decided by fewer than 13 points. Here’s hoping we get some late-game heroics on Saturday.

During the KSU/USC game, I had a chance to sit next to Danny Manning, now an assistant coach with the Jayhawks. Hard to believe it was 20 years ago that he led Kansas to the national championship. It was interesting to get his take on the action, including the play of Beasley.

The similarities between 1988 and 2008 are incredible. In ’88 Kansas played the opening round in Lincoln. If they advance through Omaha, they’ll play in Detroit. Back in ’88, they played the Sweet Sixteen in Pontiac, Michigan, and faced (guess who?) Kansas State in the Elite Eight. It could happen again.

Thought to leave with:

Is Kansas the best team to ever play at Qwest Center?

Prelude to a Dance
Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Maybe it wasn’t the biggest game of the week. Maybe the Jays are being shown up in their own house by temporary tenants. But Tuesday night, Creighton was determined to extend its season, just as the NCAA Tournament is about to set up shop.

The 7,948 fans who attended the game (including members of the Kansas Jayhawks) were treated to a dandy at Qwest Center Tuesday night. The Jays trailed by 17 points in the second half before staging a late furious rally, capped off by a three-pointer from Cavel Witter with 3.2 seconds left. The bucket gave Creighton a 74-73 win over Rhode Island, a team that outplayed the local boys for most of the game.

On the last play for Creighton, it seemed the play was designed for P’Allen Stinnett to take the potential game-winner. He thought about driving, then was cut off by a triple team. He rose for a shot, then passed to a wide open Witter in the corner. Something tells me that an early-season Stinnett would’ve launched that shot, despite the air-tight defense. The more mature “P” found the open man with the game-winning assist.

After the game, coach Dana Altman was as excited as I’ve ever seen him. He looked like he just saved a boat-load on his car insurance by switching to Geico. He was “woo”ing as he shook hands with the Rams. He ran off the court and high-fived fans like he had just made a 45-foot birdie putt at the final hole of the US Open. You could just see the excitement and relief pouring out of his face.

Now, it’s time for the Big Dance.

Not a bad way to get us ready.

Time to Dance
Sunday, March 16, 2008

The field is set, and Omaha is getting ready to party.

Here are the matchups at Qwest Center:

1 Kansas vs 16 Portland State

8 UNLV vs 9 Kent State

6 USC vs 11 Kansas State

3 Wisconsin vs 14 Cal State Fullerton

This is not one of the most compelling groupings for the first and second round of the NCAA Tournament. I nearly yawned when seeing the word “Wisconsin” appear.

That being said, having USC and Kansas State square off in the first round is Omaha’s prize. Honestly, I can’t find a better first round matchup in the entire tournament. Freshmen phenoms (and next year’s NBA millionaires) O.J. Mayo and Michael Beasley taking center stage at Qwest Center will be quite a sight. There will be a lot of money dribbling the basketball in that game.

Quick question: Will Cal State Fullerton fans still hold their get-togethers across the street from Rosenblatt Stadium? Welcome back, Titans.

Kansas will be fun to watch. Although the enjoyment will be zapped when you’re sitting in your seat watching your NCAA office bracket crumple before your very eyes in Saturday’s second round. Of course I kid. They should have no problems advancing.

Kent State will be a fan favorite, carrying the mid-major banner into Omaha. And finally, only two years after being called to the Qwest Center scorer’s table, Jim Christian will actually be there.

UNLV made a run to the Sweet Sixteen as a 7-seed last year. Can they recapture the magic as an 8?

What do you think of the teams coming to Omaha? Two teams will survive. Pick’em.

I think this bracket will hold true to form, although a motivated Kansas State team could be dangerous.

Moral Victory
Saturday, March 15, 2008

Some sports fans don’t like hearing that phrase. But I’m here to tell you that’s exactly what Nebraska earned Friday night in the Big XII Tournament. The Huskers may have lost 64-54 to Kansas, but they have plenty to hang their collective hat on going into the postseason, and next season.

Using a never-back-down mentality and a physical toughness they’ve lacked against Kansas, the Huskers matched the Jayhawks shot for shot in the first half, taking a 27-22 lead into the intermission. Ade Dagunduro’s first-half block of a Darrell Arthur dunk sent a strong message to KU: we can play with you. That dunk should be included in next year’s pregame pump-up video.

Did you think the Huskers would hold on to win? Probably not; you can only poke a hibernating bear with a stick for so long before it wakes up.

Make no mistake, though: this year’s Big XII Tournament was the most promising conference tournament in 10+ years for Nebraska. The win over Missouri coupled with a hard-fought loss to one of the best teams in college basketball should have Husker fans excited about Sadler.

This team will only get better, the talent will only get stronger, and the guys will only play harder.

Now, onto the NIT.

You would think.

Signs of Progress
Thursday, March 13, 2008

I asked Coach Sadler this week if his team needed to gain a postseason bid for any sort of season validation. He said that was more for the fans, that his team had accomplished a lot.

The Huskers are no doubt feeling a little more validated after Thursday night’s win over Missouri.

Nebraska beat the Tigers 61-56 in the first round of the Big XII Tournament.

Winning a game you’re supposed to win in a pressure situation shows your program is in good hands.

For only the second time in the last nine seasons, the Huskers won a game in the conference tournament.

Afterwards, Sadler was asked how big the win was for the overall momentum of the program. “Each time we do something we haven’t done, it’s gotta help us. This was just another step. It’s hard to sit there and listen to you guys on tv talk about seven out of the last eight years we haven’t won down here… it starts messing with people’s heads… I was conscious of that. We were fortunate enough to get the win, and hopefully it will help us.”

Next up: Kansas.

Can the Huskers keep it close?

Sadler admitted to there being mixed emotions with the win over Missouri. “My question is do you (media) have any suggestions, because what I’ve done hasn’t worked. We’ll have to play near-perfect basketball. It’s a tough matchup for us…. We’ll give them effort for forty minutes. We have the last four times we’ve played them, but the scores have been out of whack. I’m happy and sad I guess.”

Shooting From the Hip
Monday, March 10, 2008

But not when I play basketball… I actually have a textbook shooting style.

Depending on what country you’re in.

Center of Attention

Sunday was appropriately dubbed “Senior Day” for the Huskers. There was only one senior to be honored. Aleks Maric had yet another double-double in his home-court finale for Nebraska. The Aussie took apart the Buffaloes (like most teams have done this year) at Devaney Center, going for 17 points and 16 rebounds.

Fans have been known to pile on Maric. But they may not appreciate him until he’s gone.

Maric said after the game that he’s going to take this team as far as he can take it. Otherwise known as Friday. If the Huskers beat Missouri on Thursday, they’ll have round three with Kansas the following day. Ouch.

Kansas leads the season series 2-0 in games, and 163-107 in points.

Tough Weekend for Jays

The Creighton Bluejays have to wait a week before learning their postseason fate. That’s the downside to the Missouri Valley Tournament schedule. It’s played a week before the rest of the conference tournaments, giving it some national exposure (title game on CBS). But win or lose, you have to wait ten days to play another game. That makes as much sense as teams waiting a month to play another football game.

The Jays put up a good fight against Drake on Saturday. But when the opposition is just flat-out better than you, there are only so many strings a two-time Valley coach of the year can pull.

Leading up to Arch Madness, a few colleagues told me they didn’t think Drake could win the conference tournament. I wondered aloud if they had watched any college basketball this season.

I believe the Bulldogs can make a serious run in the NCAA Tournament. Anything short of a Sweet-16 would be a big disappointment for this bunch. Honestly, I don’t think we’ve seen this good of a Valley threat in quite a few years. But as Altman says, it’s all about matchups.

For all the ups and downs of this Creighton season, Altman did a heckuva coaching job. Getting that many new faces to step on the court and play together is a task unto itself, not to mention when you’re dealing with an ego or two. As long as these younger guys learned from the vets about how to go about their business, the next few years of Creighton basketball should be exciting. But as Altman says, “Just because you’re a year older doesn’t mean you’re a year better.”

Staying Alive

The UNO hockey team survived the longest game in the program’s 11-year history, beating Alaska 2-1 in triple overtime Sunday night at Qwest Center. The Mavs’ season lives on; they’ll face Michigan in the next round of the CCHA playoffs.

After tidying up following the 10 o’clock newscast, I grabbed a camera and headed over to Qwest to try and catch the game-winning goal. I walked into the building just as the horn sounded.

I have no one to blame but myself. And that egregiously long light on 10th and Dodge.

And our hour-long newscast.

Sit Down and Shut up
Thursday, March 6, 2008

According to an article by Andy Boyle in the Daily Nebraskan, a chunk of student seats will be moved from the Memorial Stadium sideline to the skyline.

Here’s a snippet:

Fewer students will have front-row seats in the south section of Memorial Stadium starting on the date of Nebraska’s first home game against Western Michigan. In addition, block seating will be eliminated.

Athletic Director Tom Osborne confirmed the changes Tuesday.

Some of the changes include making all student tickets general admission, with priority for upperclassmen to sit in the east stadium. Students wishing to sit in a block will now have to show up early enough to claim their seats before others.

And about 2,000 students in several sections of the front portion of south stadium will be displaced to cheaper seating in the top portion of Memorial Stadium’s southeast corner. Season ticket holders who previously sat there will fill the vacated front seats.

If the athletic department decides to charge ticket holders the same price as nearby front seating, it could bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars more annually than it did with students sitting there.

However, “(the change) was not done for financial reasons,” Osborne said. “We have no idea whether there will be an increase in revenue or not. We’re sure the seats will be sold.”

Osborne said one reason for the change was because students have a tendency to stand on their seats throughout the game, and it wasn’t fair for the season ticket holders who sat behind them.

“We’re doing what we can to be fair,” Osborne said. “But I just have to tell you, people who buy a ticket are entitled to see a game, so it wasn’t happening. That’s why this move has been made.”

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So, students are being moved because some people cannot see? The fee-paying “Greatest Fans in College Football” are now being sent to their rooms for showing support for their football team.

When I attended my first Husker game at Memorial Stadium back in 2000 (I made the trip as a Colorado student) I was shocked at the low number of student seats. Of course, it was different back in Boulder, where nearly the entire south end zone is available for student use. Sure, it was rarely full, but for better or worse students are a big part of the atmosphere. And you could snap up an entire home season ticket package for $35. At Nebraska, it’s nearly five times that amount.

Now, some of the students who are fortunate enough to get into the hallowed grounds of Memorial Stadium will have to sit as high as some of the luxury suites, only without access to the micro fridge and air conditioning.

Have we forgotten why universities exist in the first place? For the students, right?

Something tells me that those season ticket-holders with the student-obstructed views might be contributing a few more pennies to the university coffer. Cash equals clout.

Years ago, students sat at midfield. Then it was the southeast corner at field level. Now a couple thousand are being airlifted. In about ten years, they may just have to watch from an overflow room.

I’ll be honest, after graduating from college I could not stand (pun intended) sitting behind students who wouldn’t plant their keisters during a game. But it seems there’d be a better alternative than to punish the proudest supporters.

Here’s hoping students are at least given a box of Kleenex in case of nosebleeds.