By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Of the Big Ten’s dozen schools, a full third of them now feature a shade of red as their dominant color. There’s Ohio State with its scarlet (and gray). There’s Indiana with its crimson (and cream). And there’s Wisconsin with its cardinal (and white).
And then there’s conference newbie Nebraska, which simply bills itself as “Big Red,” although its official school colors are an Ohio State-Indiana amalgam of scarlet and cream.
Whatever the hue, Nebraska basketball will have Illinois seeing red at noon today when the Fighting Illini (13-3 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) welcome the Cornhuskers (8-6, 0-3) to campus for the schools’ first meeting in a major men’s sport since Nebraska joined the league.
This fall, the Illini and Huskers dodged each other on the gridiron and won’t meet in a Big Ten football game until 2013 when the Illini travel Nebraska. But, as the Land of Lincoln prepares for its first visit from the boys from Lincoln, I thought I’d offer up a little primer about Nebraska’s basketball program.
Or, perhaps, its lack of one.
An Empty ‘Dance’ Card
You know all about the powerhouse Nebraska football program with its Blackshirt defenders, its legendary coaches and its five national titles.
Nebraska basketball, though?
Well, let’s just say it’s less powerful than its pigskin counterparts. You know, by just a tad. Fact is, Nebraska carries the ignominious distinction of being one of just three BCS-conference basketball programs to have never won a single game in the NCAA Tournament.
The other two? South Florida and, yes, fellow Big Ten member Northwestern, which still hasn’t even made it to the Big Dance.
Kernels Of Success
Neither NU (Northwestern University) nor UNL (the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) has won an NCAA Tournament game, but at least the Huskers have reached March Madness, doing so for the first time back in 1986.
Since then, Nebraska returned to the tourney for four consecutive seasons from 1991-94, but since then it has made only one appearance (1998).
Nee’s Ups And Downs
He wasn’t exactly Tom Osborne or Bob Devaney – the Huskers’ legendary championship football coaches. But Nebraska’s all-time best basketball coach was undoubtedly Danny Nee, who led the hoops program from 1987-2000.
During that span, Nee compiled a 254-190 record, five NCAA Tournament appearances, six bids to the National Invitation Tournament and even won an NIT championship in 1996 with future NBA players Erick Strickland and Tyronn Lue in the backcourt.
After leaving Nebraska, Nee bounced around at Robert Morris, Duquesne, Rutgers and Townson until 2010 when he was named the head basketball coach at the United States Merchant Marine Academy.
Yes, apparently, it has a team.
Fighting The Illini
In football, Nebraska leads the all-time series with Illinois by a mark of 7-2-1. In basketball, however, it’s flipped, with Illinois leading the overall series 7-2.
The Illini and Huskers haven’t met on the hardwood since the semifinals of the 1990 San Juan Shootout when Nebraska rolled to a 100-73 victory. In Champaign, the Huskers have never won, going 0-5 overall with the most recent game a 67-63 Illini victory on Dec. 11, 1976.
Dr. No (Tourney Victories)
Today, Nebraska’s basketball coach is Kenneth “Doc” Sadler, who said upon taking the Huskers job in 2006: “Someone asked me why I would come to Nebraska. It’s pretty simple. I’ve got a chance to coach at a place that has had (252) academic All-Americans. I’ve got a chance to coach at a place that has won (23) national championships …
“You do not have that kind of success just because of wanting it. You’ve got a lot of people working for that to happen. Because you’ve got everybody working together, you’ve won (23) national championships. What more could a coach want than that? I can’t think of anything else.”
Well, an NCAA Tournament victory might be nice, I suppose.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.