Nebraska is down to six scholarship players as it begins the Big Ten Conference Tournament; Bradley faces a big spring; Former Husker safety dies
Before we delve into the steep challenge that awaits Nebraska as it begins the Big Ten Conference men’s basketball tournament on Wednesday, let’s revisit a track record of teams overcoming adversity to do the improbable: Win a tournament title.
Nobody expected last-place Georgia to win four games in four days in the 2008 Southeastern Conference Tournament, let alone three games in a 30-hour time period. Thanks to a tornado that forced the tournament to relocate and reschedule, that’s exactly what Georgia did. The Bulldogs played two games in one day before clinching the title.
In 2017, Michigan arrived the morning of its Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal game with Illinois in Washington, D.C., because its plane had slid off the runway on takeoff the previous day. While nobody suffered injury, Michigan couldn’t retrieve its belongings from the plane, so the Wolverines wore practice uniforms. They won the tournament.
As for the mere improbability of winning five games in five days? Well, Connecticut did it in 2011 in the Big East Tournament, albeit with a team ranked No. 21 nationally. The Huskies also won the NCAA Tournament that year.
So then, could Nebraska, with its depleted roster, maybe, well …
“You mean are we about to become a movie?” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said.
Hey, television shows documented the Georgia and Michigan dramas, so if No. 13 seed Nebraska (16-15, 6-14 Big Ten), with a mere six scholarship players, could win five games in five days and win its first conference tournament title since 1994…
“It’d make for a wild story if we pulled it off,” senior guard Johnny Trueblood said.
Trueblood is one of two walk-ons that will push Nebraska’s total roster to a whopping eight players heading into its play-in game against No. 12 seed Rutgers (14-16, 7-13) at the United Center in Chicago.
The Huskers have already played their last 11 games without senior Isaac Copeland, who’s out with an ACL tear. Freshman Nana Akenten remains suspended, sophomore guard Thomas Allen won’t play Wednesday because of an ankle sprain and freshman Amir Harris is facing knee surgery after damaging meniscus.
Miles said Harris, who scored the game-winning basket with 10 seconds remaining in overtime to beat Iowa on Sunday, isn’t certain when he hurt his knee. Miles remembers Harris coming to the huddle early in the second half and being “finicky” with his knee.
Whatever the case, the knee swelled overnight to the point Harris couldn’t straighten his leg, and an MRI revealed the injury. Harris will have surgery once the swelling subsides, Miles said.
“I feel horrible for Amir, especially coming off such a great game,” Trueblood said. “He was finally kind of finding his rhythm, and then that happens to him.”
Trueblood, who came off the bench to play a season-high 18 minutes against Iowa, will start in place of Harris, who was starting in place of Akenten. Miles was pleased with Trueblood, who contributed with four assists and six rebounds, saying he was in position on defense and made sure the ball moved on offense.
Nebraska, should it avenge its 76-69 loss to Rutgers in January, would play Maryland, and if it wins that game, would play Wisconsin in the quarterfinals.
“I think the guys are excited to play,” Miles said. “I think they’re ready to compete. Certainly, things have to go right. They have to fall in a certain order for us. I think we’re aware of that.
“I think there’s some adventure and fun to this, too. That’s the way the guys look at it, too. They want to keep playing.”