Last Saturday, Husker basketball fans thought Nebraska basketball had made the breakthrough in upsetting Texas Tech in double overtime. Something to build on? Maybe a reversal of fortune?
Hardly. Nebraska built on that victory with a comatose performance against Colorado on Senior Night, and now are getting blown out by Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Nebraska will finish the season in the cellar of the Big XII, and the grumbling has begun about Doc Sadler. Is it time to pull the plug on Sadler?
No, though the concerns are valid. First things first is to put this season in perspective. Nebraska basketball was predicted to finish 11th. The roster was full of new names and faces... and the Big XII is a monster this season. Kansas and Kansas State could be #1 seeds in the NCAA tournament, and seven teams are currently projected to get NCAA bids.
Frankly, it's what we should have expected. We're now feeling the effects of Steve Pederson's starvation of the Nebraska basketball program. In 2006, the failure to extend or terminate Barry Collier's contract sent a bad message to potential recruits that Nebraska didn't care about basketball. Nebraska never had a chance to get those players...and four years later, those players are now upperclassmen at other programs. That vacuum is now hitting the Husker program hard.
Doc Sadler didn't help himself much with his early recruiting. Hired late in the summer of 2006, he got a late start on recruiting for the 2007 class ... and misfired. (Shang Ping, anybody?) Add in some misadventures in administration (Roburt Sallie, anybody?), and you've got a huge hole to dig out of.
I admit I haven't watched Nebraska basketball closely this season; it's been painful to watch at times. They've been in a bunch of games, but failed miserably in the closing minutes to turn "competitive" into "another loss". In the second half, they led both Kansas (at Allen Fieldhouse, no less) and Kansas State (in Manhattan). Tempted us with top 25 Baylor. Got disemboweled by the Longhorns, then blown out this week. They lack solid guard play, and get owned inside. (Jorge Brian Diaz looked pathetic at times inside today against Oklahoma State.)
But I have seen little flashes of potential. Christian Standhardinger could become a playmaker if he grasps a more disciplined system. Injuries to Toney McCray and Christopher Niemann limited the depth before the season Evan began. The Big XII shouldn't be so stout next season.
Pulling the plug on Doc Sadler would be premature at this point. I'm not saying that Doc Sadler has proven that he's the right coach, but he did show potential his first three seasons. He's got to upgrade the talent level, and I think he recognizes it. But it's not as bad as it seems; prior to today's game, Sagarin had NU #100 in the country. Not nearly as bad as another program in this state that some people feel has surpassed the Huskers. (Well, we've always questioned the BrieJay and BratJay fan...)
So Nebraska will likely face Mizzou in Kansas City to close out the season. The Tigers should be p-o'ed about getting run out of their own building by the hated Jayhawks; not a good combination for NU unless they can find some more lightning in a bottle. Postseason is now pretty much out of the question; the Huskers next loss will be the last game of the season.
All I can say is you've got to have hope. Two years ago, Missouri fans questioned Mike Anderson and the future of the Tiger basketball program. Things worked out for them. Could they work out still for Doc Sadler? The jury is still out...but I don't see any reason to stop those proceedings at this time. Not yet, anyway. Nobody should be happy with this season, but nobody should hit the panic button either.