Hail Varsity Mailbag
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Mailbag: Huskers In The Rose Bowl And What Alberts’ Plan Is For The Men’s Basketball Team

January 26, 2022

You asked, we answered.

This week’s edition of the mailbag dives into the possibility of the Huskers playing in the Rose Bowl—hey, anything could happen—along with a question surrounding a certain high-profile volleyball player in the transfer portal who’s looking for a new home. Could that home be in Lincoln playing for John Cook?

That, and more great questions dealing with the football and basketball programs. Let’s get into it. 

I saw one journalist pick the Huskers to go to the Rose Bowl this year. Is he absolutely out of his mind, or could there be something to that? (@TwinTwisterDad)

Mike Babcock: Did not see that. Maybe someone else here did. I wouldn’t place a bet on it, regardless of the odds. Nebraska has landed some good transfers but there’s still plenty of work to be done. Again, don’t bet on it. That story should’ve come with a warning. 

Drake Keeler: I did see that, and it gave me a good laugh. There’s little reason to believe that a 3-9 team in 2021 will suddenly be worthy of a Rose Bowl appearance the next year, especially when many of the most productive players on both sides of the ball aren’t returning. There are reasons to be hopeful for improvement, but I struggle to believe that the team is prepared for that large of a jump.  

Jacob Padilla: I’m firmly in “I’ll believe it when I see it” mode with regards to this program making a leap of any kind at this point, let alone going from three wins to making the Rose Bowl. Could the offensive staff changes and transfer portal additions offset what the team lost? Perhaps. But a seven- to eight-win improvement would require something Scott Frost and this program haven’t shown they’re capable of to this point. 

Steve Marik: I saw it, but I don’t agree with it. Yes, there’s positive offseason momentum with the program right now. It’s been impressive to see this new staff recruit and convince these transfers to come to a program that just finished 3-9. But the key word here is “offseason.” I’ll want to see things turn around on the field first before I start thinking Rose Bowl. 

Greg Smith: I’d like to see Scott Frost lead Nebraska to any bowl before putting any stock in a Rose Bowl appearance. It was a funny Twitter moment though.

What are the expectations for the softball season? (@dmhusker1)

Erin Sorensen: Nebraska softball went 22-22 in 2021, which was a season made up of only conference games. The Huskers are back to a traditional schedule in 2022, which includes a trip to the UNI Dome Tournament in Iowa to get the season started. Nebraska will face Omaha, Northern Iowa, Iowa State, Drake and South Dakota State. None of those teams—including Nebraska—are listed in the 2022 preseason softball rankings but it’ll still provide a strong test for the Huskers. In fact, keep an eye on South Dakota State specifically. The Jackrabbits were 43-8 in 2021, Summit League champions and reached the NCAA tournament. As for Nebraska, the Huskers went 7-1 through their fall schedule. That included wins over Omaha, Nebraska-Kearney, South Dakota and Colorado State. They also split a doubleheader with Missouri. 

All of this to say that I’d expect a pretty good season from Nebraska in 2022. It’ll be the first “normal” season they’ve had since 2019. The Huskers saw their 2020 scheduled halted due to Covid, and then the 2021 schedule was moved to only Big Ten Conference games. Having the opportunity to play some nonconference games in 2022 and settle in through some tournaments should help the Huskers before they get to conference play. I think it’ll be a fun one to watch. 

I haven’t seen anywhere that Kaitlyn Hord has made a decision from the portal (staying at Penn State or going to another school). With Kayla Caffey’s status in the air for the fall, Kalynn Meyer with limited game experience, and two freshmen, is Hord a possibility for the Huskers at middle blocker? (@jlsd1003) 

Jacob Padilla: Based on what I’ve heard, I believe the plan was either for Caffey to return or for Nebraska to land a transfer middle with experience. Perhaps with Rylee Gray’s retirement both options might be on the table; we should know for sure before too long. It seems like things have been pretty quiet recently regarding Hord in particular, but she’s definitely the biggest name still in the portal. I have no idea what kind of interest she may or may not have in Nebraska at this stage, but I don’t think Cook is planning to roll with Kalynn Meyer and two freshmen as the only middles on the team if Caffey doesn’t get a waiver to play one more season, and with everything else the Huskers are bringing back Cook would have a pretty strong case to make for a talented transfer like Hord.

Can men’s basketball find its own version of Jaz Shelley or Alexis Markowski next year? (@dmhusker1) 

Drake: I’m not totally sure what you mean here, but I’m sure the men’s team would love to have players of that duo’s caliber on their own squad. If by Jaz Shelley, you mean a transfer that comes in and becomes a team-leading star, I think it’s possible. Alonzo Verge Jr. would be closest to Shelley when looking at statistical similarities, but doesn’t have the same efficiency. Either way, I’m not sure we’re asking the right question here. If the men’s team wanted to use the women’s side as a model for anything, it should be ball movement. In three fewer games, Nebraska women’s basketball has 45 more assists than the men. Having skill is important, but the women’s record has been a result of far more than adding a couple great players.  

Jacob: Piggy-backing off Drake’s answer, there’s no doubt that Shelley and Markowski have made a huge impact in their first season in that program, but they’re not the sole reason Nebraska has been so good. Amy Williams has built a deep and well-rounded team with contributors up and down the lineup, including the two newcomers that you mentioned. The more competent, well-rounded players you can put on the court that complement each other’s skill sets, the easier it is to share the ball and rack up assists. In a different situation, Bryce McGowens could easily have the same kind of impact or greater that we’ve seen from Markowski. But the roster Fred Hoiberg and his staff built just hasn’t clicked — there are too many guys with similar strengths and weaknesses. It’s not about finding stars at this point, Hoiberg needs to build a full team that fits together. Looking at the incoming class for next year, it actually does seem to be pretty well-rounded in terms of being a group with versatile positions and skill sets (Blaise Keita in the post, Ramel Woodyard as a ball-handler, Jamarques Lawrence as a perimeter shooter, Denim Dawson as an athletic 3-and-D wing). 

Steve: Drake and Jacob have great answers here, so I’ll just leave you with my quick thought: Amy Williams has built more of a team than Fred Hoiberg has, in my humble opinion.

What do you think Trev Albert’s plan is for the men’s basketball team? I know Fred Hoiberg has a huge buyout, but if things start next season with everything the same, people will riot. New assistants? Get out of the buyout somehow? Restructured contract? Get a team that could finish top half in the Summit? (@BetsBruce) 

Mike: I think his plan is to wait until season’s end and then make some decisions. I keep expecting the Huskers to put things together for a full 40 minutes, or close to that, and when the schedule finally lightens a bit, maybe the chances are better of it happening. I also question Kobe Webster’s remarks in the context of Nebraska’s football success under Osborne. Players held each other accountable without coaches having to step in. Osborne even created the unity council for that purpose. Different sport but the same dynamic. If players shirk holding each other accountable, that’s just one more thing to get settled for a turnaround. 

Jacob: We’re still a ways off from Alberts having to make that decision. Ideally, I’m guessing he’s hoping that with Trey McGowens’ return and the schedule lightening up somewhat that the team will be able to pick up some wins over the second half of the conference season and build some kind of positive momentum. Unless things get really, really bad — like, losing out the rest of the way — I don’t think Alberts will make a move this offseason. I’m guessing he’s hoping to see what happens with the football program next season before dealing with basketball. That doesn’t mean Alberts won’t lay down expectations for and address the program’s struggles with Hoiberg in the meantime, though, and who knows what will come out of those conversations in regards to contract tweaks or staff changes.

Is Scott Frost recruiting? I haven’t seen much activity on school visits or in-homes. (@TheRealSteveFox) 

Greg: Remember that Frost just got over Covid so he might have been quarantining last week. He has been out on the road this week. He also just doesn’t like a lot of publicity around his recruiting visits. You aren’t ever going to see photos or video of him at a prospect’s school or basketball game. We’ve seen other coaches active in that way like Nick Saban or Kirby Smart, but it’s not the way Frost wants to operate.

Any plans for football camps this summer? For the students and for us fans? (@lredeugene) 

Greg: Taking a look at the Husker camps website, it hasn’t been updated yet. I’m sure the usual camps will return this summer because they are popular and successful for all involved.

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