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Padding the Stats: Hoops Power Rankings, Fan Day and Nicklin Hames’ Fifth Year

July 27, 2022

Power Rankings

The final piece of the Nebraska men’s basketball nonconference schedule fell into place on Tuesday with the release of the ESPN Events Invitational bracket.

Nebraska will face Oklahoma in the first round, with either Memphis or Seton Hall to follow in round two. The Huskers will get one of Florida State, Stanford, Ole Miss or Siena in their final game of the MTE.

All the other nonconference games are set, which means it’s time to power rank them from most to least interesting (KenPom ranking in parentheses).

1) At St. John’s (55): I’ll start with Nebraska’s Gavitt Games matchup, even if it is a rematch. St. John’s will be the first of up to seven (depending on how the ESPN bracket shakes out) high-major opponents Nebraska faces as it is the third game of the season. The Red Storm lost the Big East’s leading scorer in Julian Champagnie (19.2 points per game) but returns Posh Alexander, a dynamic defender at the point of attack and talented playmaker. They also add former Illinois point guard Andre Curbelo, and I’m fascinated to see how that backcourt will work considering neither one of them can shoot.

2) ESPN Events Invitational in Orlando: I’ll follow with the MTE, scheduled for the week of Thanksgiving (Nov. 24-27). Nebraska’s side of the bracket has a chance to be pretty strong as the three other teams were the top three teams in the whole field according to last year’s KenPom rankings (Memphis at 24, Oklahoma at 30 and Seton Hall at 52). The Sooners lost three of their top-four scorers but return big man Tanner Groves and add Nevada transfer Grant Sherfield (who scored 19 in a win against Nebraska in 2020-21). Memphis and Seton Hall should both be pretty solid as well.

3) At Creighton (50): Creighton is a consensus top-15 team (as high as top-five for some) and should be the best team the Huskers play in the nonconference by far. This game always has a little extra juice because of the proximity of the two schools, but Nebraska will likely be a heavy underdog in this year’s game which will take place in CHI Health Center Omaha.

4) Boston College (114): Boston College went 13-20 last season but gets the nod over Kansas State because it returns its top five scorers from last season.

5) Kansas State (61) in Kansas City: Kansas State went 14-17 last season, which led to a coaching change and the departure of the team’s best player in Nijel Pack (who scored 15 points in the Wildcats’ win in Lincoln last season). 

6) Omaha (344): Omaha is coming off a rough season, so rough that new athletic director Adrian Dowell made a coaching change. Omaha alumnus Chris Crutchfield is running the show now (which, coincidentally, created the opening on Dana Altman’s staff at Oregon that Armon Gates left Nebraska to fill) and hit the JUCO ranks hard to fill out his roster. Bellevue West graduate Frankie Fidler had a terrific freshman season and will be back in a featured role for the Mavericks as a sophomore.

7) Queens University (NR): Queens just made the leap from Division II to Division I after winning 30 games last season. This gets a slight bump above the teams below because of the curiosity factor (how competitive can a good D-II team be at the D-I level?) and also because it’s part of an event at Pinnacle Bank Arena (Battle at the Vault) that will include other games featuring teams from multiple levels.

8) Maine (354) and Arkansas Pine Bluff (352): Maine and Pine Bluff were two of the 10 worst teams in the country last season.

For the Fans

I’ve seen some speculation that, with the growth of NIL, events like Wednesday’s football Fan Day would become a thing of the past. Student-athletes are now free to sign their own autographs and make their own appearances while profiting from them, so why would they do so for free?

That’s a pretty cynical take, and I certainly hope it never becomes reality. There’s more than enough room for free events like Fan Day as well as money-making NIL activities for college athletes, and anecdotes like the one below are why it’s important for the old-fashioned coach/player-fan interactions to continue.

Athletes can have an immense impact on young fans, whether they know each player by name or simply understand that they’re somebody “famous,” the student-athletes can benefit from the interactions in multiple ways as well.

In fact, not only has football Fan Day not gone away, the volleyball program has decided to hold its own Fan Day for the first time this season. The Huskers will be signing autographs from 10 to noon on Aug. 20th, the same day as the Red-White Scrimmage.

Making the Most of an Opportunity

Speaking of volleyball and NIL, Nicklin Hames shared on Tuesday that she is one of 15 female athletes (and one of just three volleyball players) chosen by Adidas to serve as brand ambassadors.

This is just another way that Hames is getting the most out of her fifth season of eligibility. 

After four seasons as the starting setter, I find it pretty impressive that Hames was willing to return to play a different position. However, Hames saw an opportunity to prepare for her future while still playing the game she loves with her teammates, and she was willing to make that sacrifice.

Hames wants to be a coach, and she’s already preparing to step in as a graduate assistant for the Huskers once her eligibility runs out following the 2022 season. If there’s ever been an athlete at Nebraska who seems perfect for the coaching world, it’s Hames. And although she’s been a setter her whole life, I’m willing to bet she’ll be terrific in her new role as well (most likely that of a defensive specialist). 

So by choosing to return for a fifth season, she gets to continue to play for the Huskers alongside her friends while raking in NIL money, working towards her masters and preparing for her future under the best coach in the country.

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