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Mailbag: Nebraska or Iowa, and Plenty of Nebrasketball Talk

January 23, 2019

The entire Hail Varsity is back for another mailbag to answer your Husker questions. Let’s get right to it.

Who is the Hail Varsity staff rooting for in the Super Bowl and why? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

Erin Sorensen: I’m rooting for the Rams. I’m a Chiefs fan, so I have no interest currently in cheering for the Patriots or Touchdown Tom.  

Derek Peterson: The Patriots and Tom Brady constantly crushed my teams when I was younger and more invested in the NFL. While I don’t hate the Pats as much as others, I’ll root for the Rams just because.  

Brandon Vogel: I’ll go with the Patriots. After their win over the Chiefs I stopped to kind of overlay New England’s dynasty with my life (which I then saw became a common thing to do on Twitter). Anyway, I remember watching the first Patriots-Rams Super Bowl as a college student at one of those classically disgusting college houses. A few months after that game, I graduated, moved to Boston, worked as a doorman at a downtown Boston bar during another Patriots Super Bowl win, moved away from Boston after nearly a decade, worked a handful of different jobs, lived a few more places and here I am still watching the Patriots make Super Bowls. It’s pretty remarkable for any team to do. It just happens to be the Patriots here. And, because I don’t hate the Patriots (inherently or because of their success), I choose to root for excellence in this case. 

Greg Smith: The answer is always whoever is playing the Patriots.  

Jacob Padilla: What Greg said (unless that happens to be the Bears or the Vikings). 

You find a magic lamp and inside is a Husker genie! What three wishes are you making? (@IBeLionsBeats) 

DP: The first wish would be for this football coaching staff to stay together for the next decade. That kind of continuity is pretty unheard of in today’s football landscape, especially when programs get up and rolling like Frost expects Nebraska to, but there is something undeniably special about this group of coaches and keeping them all together for as long as possible would result in the best possible Nebraska football product. Second would be a Blackshirt alternate football uniform. Third would be for Nebraska athletics to switch to Coke products. 

GS: What a great question. I’m going to be somewhat selfish and say I’d wish for a run of recruiting classes like Alabama has been on because it would be pretty interesting to cover Nebraska making that type of jump. Second wish would be for John Cook to coach another 20 years because I never want this volleyball run to end. Third wish would be that every Saturday is stadium food day with cheeseburgers and hot dogs. I am simple, really.  

Is Miles out? And would Lue be interested in coming back as head coach of the Men’s Basketball team? (@MrKyleByers) 

DP: The Rutgers loss was bad, but there’s still time to recover. Now, if that’s an unraveling point for this team, things get interesting really quickly. But I don’t think Bill Moos is going to decide to fire or retain his basketball coach over a road loss in January. The expectations this season were to make it to the NCAA Tournament and win a game. If Nebraska does that, I still think Moos would have a hard time firing the only coach to win a tournament game in program history. And because of the construction of the roster, you’re looking at another four or five years of Tim on the sideline. Just a week ago, Miles said he had a good relationship with Moos; I can’t imagine that suddenly turned sour because they had a dud in New Jersey. While the hill looks steeper now, the carrot is still there at the top of it.  

BV: Not at the moment, but the closer Nebraska cuts it with making the tournament the easier the decision becomes. Not making it is not really an option in my opinion, at least as it pertains to Miles’ future. Whether Nebraska storms into the tournament or limps in, I think this season and the future of the program probably come down to how the Huskers play there. Lose, even if they lose close, and I think there are too many factors coming together (no long-term extension last year, losing a good chunk of the roster, a season likely viewed as disappointing) for Moos not to make a change. 

JP: It’s entirely in his (and his team’s) control. Moos can’t really fire him if they make the tournament and have a good showing there, right? That is and always has been the expectation for this year — make the tournament and play well once it gets there. Fail to live up to that expectation and Moos will have all the reason to act if he truly doesn’t think Miles is the guy. As for Lue, I don’t see that happening; not sure if he has any interest in coaching in college. 

Is it realistic to think Nebrasketball will be better than what it is? Should just extend Miles contract and be OK with a few upsets a year and knocking on the Tournament’s door. The basketball program feels like what Oregon State football was like under Mike Riley and that’s all it is. (@btran0524) 

DP: Here’s the problem, Nebraska basketball has limited visibility, a horribly tough path to recruiting and I’d argue it’s third in terms of what Husker fans care about most, behind football and volleyball. Those are all very real limitations. But I think saying “We’re fine being mediocre because of those limitations,” would be a fatal blow to the program. There are ways to field a high-level basketball team at a football school. Kansas State?  

Some of the challenges Miles and company face with the basketball program are the same challenges Scott Frost has on the recruiting trail (minus the national championships, obviously). Frost’s answer has been to cast the widest recruiting net in the country and offer/evaluate more kids than anyone. That might be the best path for the basketball coach moving forward. 

BV: I don’t think there’s any reason to think that Nebraska can’t be what some other non-basketball-powers in Power 5 conferences are. That includes occasional runs to the tournament and wins there. Virginia Tech is 6-10 all-time in the tournament. TCU is 5-8. Washington State is 6-6. Mississippi is 5-8. Those schools all have more appearances than Nebraska, but you’re telling the Huskers can’t hit at least that level over the next 20 or 30 years? It’s not that high of a bar. With the right coach your best teams should have a chance in the tournament. It’s sort of shocking –– and probably the source of this question –– that Nebraska hasn’t been more like the lower-run Power 5 teams out there. I guess that’s my short answer: I view the Huskers’ 0-7 record in the tournament as something of a quirky anomaly. But if that’s how this program is currently defined, yes, I think its ceiling can be a little higher. 

What does Nebrasketball's record need to be to A) get into the NCAA tourney, and B) allow Miles to keep his job? (@Sal_Vasta3) 

DP: Moos said he wanted Miles to improve on their 22-11 record last season. So, I’d be curious what Moos does if Nebraska goes something like 19-14 but earns a tourney bid and wins a game. As it stands, the Huskers are 13-6 and 2-5 in Quad 1 games. The NET ranking has been kind to the Huskers, which is good because they’ve been so bad on the road. With seven more Q1 chances left, if the Huskers finished anything like 6-8 in those games, you’re good considering how strong the Big Ten is. Last year it was all about how many wins can you rack up because the conference was lacking; this year, I really do think it’s more about what kinds of wins can you get that will distinguish yourself from the pack. With road wins over Clemson and Indiana and home wins over Seton Hall and Creighton, if the Huskers hold serve at home and win one of those game at Purdue, Michigan, or Michigan State they’ll be in good shape. Because the six remaining home games represent chances to avenge road losses.  

JP: Unfortunately for Nebraska, those road wins over Clemson and Indiana aren’t exactly holding up with both teams struggling mightily in conference. Moos said he wanted to see Miles sustain success and have a similar season to 2017-18. If Nebraska can do that (get to the 20-win area), it should be good enough for a tournament berth, and it would be tough to fire a coach after making the tournament at Nebraska. But Nebraska still has a lot of work to do. It still doesn’t have a signature win that will hold up and, like Derek said, it doesn’t have many Quadrant 1 wins period. There are plenty more opportunities on the schedule, but Nebraska has already blown those chances at Maryland and Iowa and at home against Michigan State, and now it has a bad loss on its resume as well. At a certain point, Nebraska is going to have to start winning these games. 

Without sounding like a hater, what is the most money you think Moos would throw at a basketball coach… let's assume Nebrasketball runs the table and Miles takes the Lakers head coaching job? (@TheWeeksy) 

GS: Hey, wait a second! I’m going to ignore that we have fired Luke Walton and that Tim Miles just inherited Lebron in this scenario. Would $3M/year be outrageous for the basketball coach? I could see that being what Moos would go to but it’s hard to say.  

DP: Says the guy who every week says, “I’m done with Walton.” Calling you out Greg. But $3 million feels about right. 

JP: I believe Miles is making $2.25 million, which is eighth in the Big Ten. Chris Holtmann is making over $7 million (jeez) while Tom Izzo and John Beilein are both over $3 million. Illinois got Brad Underwood for $2.75 million and Mark Turgeon is in that neighborhood as well. If Moos thinks he can upgrade on Tim Miles, he’s going to have to be looking to pay north of $2.7 million in my opinion. 

Which coach on the Huskers' staff will be the first to be a head coach somewhere, anywhere? (@Corn_Huskers) 

ES: I assume you’re talking about football, so I’ll answer with that assumption in mind. I feel like the most likely is Troy Walters. I know when the Colorado job opened up that there was some small talk (and even a mailbag question) about whether or not the Buffs would look at Walters. I felt it was too soon for him (or any coach for that matter) to leave, but that he would gain some interest soon. That’s especially true if Nebraska’s offense performs as expected, which yes, has a lot to do with Scott Frost but you can’t eliminate Walters from how it works either. With all of that said, my backup selection? Ryan Held. 

DP: I agree with everything Erin said so I’ll just float one more name: Greg Austin.  

GS: Walters and Held are the two safest bets. I think it ends up being Walters first.  

I read in a 2007 article that Bill Calahan awarded 21 walk-on scholarships in four years. How many walk-ons have earned scholarships since BC? (@CoryHonold) 

JP: I’m not going to go all the way back through the Pelini years because I wasn’t covering the program at that time but I counted 15 over the last four years: Lane Hovey, Ross Dzuris, Dylan Utter, Trey Foster, Ryker Fyfe, Austin Rose, Brett Classen, Gabe Rahn, Connor Ketter, Tyler Hoppes, Luke McNitt, Cole Conrad, Jacob Weinmaster, Wyatt Mazour and Bryan Reimers.  

I made a $100 bet with my uncle that Nebraska has a better year than Iowa this year. Good or bad bet? (@tklim2430) 

ES: I think you made a good bet. Iowa has lost a lot (and we talked about that last week) so it’s going to be a bit of an interesting 2019 for the Hawkeyes. As Derek noted in that roundtable I linked, it might be a rocky start for Iowa to start the season as things get sorted out. If Nebraska can just come into the season and play its game behind Adrian Martinez, I think you win that bet. Because remember, you simply said a better year. You didn’t quantify it. Even if Nebraska has one more win, you take the money.

DP: You should win that money. This feels like a 7-5 Iowa team. 

GS: Derek is being nice, this feels like a 5-7 Iowa team. I’d start thinking of ways to spend that $100. Iowa is not equipped to deal with the amount of losses they had this offseason and they are due for a slump year where their fans question Ferentz’ job. 

JP: Iowa still has its quarterback and a stud pass rusher and it churns out good linemen on both sides of the ball every year. I’m not ready to say Iowa falls off a cliff like Greg did, but I definitely think it’s a bet you could win and one worth making. 

BV: I think it’s a good bet, but I’m not predicting a big Iowa drop off either. I know they lost some key pieces on both sides of the ball, but do we think the Hawkeyes are going to suddenly stop playing defense, which is the most important part of their entire approach? Iowa has finished with a top-20 scoring defense in five the past six years. Unless we’re all catching the Hawkeyes in a year when they’re merely average at preventing points (2014 was the last time, also NU’s last win in the series) they’ll be better than .500-ish. Most everyone watched Nebraska’s 2018 season and said, “this isn’t a 4-8 team.” One of my favorite measures for that sort of discussion showed the Huskers were probably 1.71 wins better than that (so round up to 6-6). That was the sixth-largest gap going into the bowl games of any team in the country. Seventh? Iowa at 1.63. The Hawkeyes were in all likelihood better than their record showed to the same degree. Iowa’s departures did dim my 2019 view a bit, but I wouldn’t count on things going south in a big way. I’d take Nebraska if presented with the same bet, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if there was a lot on the line in the regular-season finale. 

Why is there a travel roster limit? Visiting team should be able to bring all 105 if they want to pay the extra expense. (@lxachillesxl) 

ES: Great question, and I’ll do my best to answer what I can from my limited research on the topic. Most roster limitations were created for financial reasons. They were designed to help programs that couldn’t afford to send more than a certain number of players on the road be on equal footing to those that would have no issues sending a maximum number on the road. It’s like scholarship limits in that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Anyway, conferences also set their travel roster limits and the Big Ten made that 74 in 2018 to accommodate the redshirt rule.  

If you were offered a job covering the NBA, but it was a team you hate, would you take that job? (@CoryHonold) 

DP: I want to cover an NBA team before I retire. So yes, just not right now. 

GS: This is tough. You are basically asking if I’d want to cover the Celtics. I don’t think I could do it. 

JP: The problem here is if I was hired to cover the Lakers I’d probably turn all my publication’s readers against them with my trolling and thus get myself fired. 

BV: Do the Lakers and Suns count as NBA teams? If yes, I don’t like either but I would cover them.

If you submitted a question this week but don’t see it here, don’t worry. Recruiting analyst Greg Smith will be publishing a separate mailbag later in the week that will hit on those recruiting-focused questions.

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