Nebraska has reached the halfway point of the Big Ten season tied for first place with Penn State at 9-1 in league play and 16-4 overall. It begins the second half on Friday with a trip to No. 10 Michigan State.
“We start the second half of the Big Ten and feel really good about our first half,” Coach John Cook said. “Now the challenge always is to keep it going and play well each week. We start off the second half with probably the toughest road trip, the Michigans back to back, or the same weekend. We’ll be fired up.”
Cook said the Jenison Field House in East Lansing is one of the more unique arenas the Huskers will visit this season.
“It’s a weird gym in that it’s got a track around it,” Cook said. “It’s a field house, like double the size of Hawks [Championship Center] and put a track in there and a volleyball court in the middle and that’s what it’s like. It’s just a lot different than what we are used to, and it’s old, so it’s loud in there. We’ve had some great matches there so I think it’s a fun place to play.”
The Spartans are 15-4 overall and 8-2 in conference play, though the Huskers have already defeated them 4-1 them in Lincoln this season. After the match, the Huskers will head over to Ann Arbor to take on the Wolverines (14-8, 4-6) on Sunday afternoon.
“Michigan State’s right behind us in the standings and Michigan, it’s a tough gym to play in," Cook said. “You’re playing two really good teams back to back … I think it’s one of the tougher road trips in the conference. Obviously Minnesota and Wisconsin would be another one.”
The Huskers remained at No. 7 in the latest AVCA Coaches Poll as the top 25 remained the same for two straight weeks for the first time in the poll’s three-and-a-half-decade history.
At the halfway point, Cook offered an evaluation of where the Huskers can improve throughout the stretch run.
“I think our blocking can get better,” Cook said. “We’ve got to continue to be a great passing team. I don’t know if you say you’re getting better, but it’s easy to get worse this time of year and so we have to keep hammering those things; we have to be really good at them. I look at it as we’re trying to make improvement.
“Another thing would be our out-of-system attack could be better, especially when Kelly [Hunter] digs; that’s another area where we can get better, we’re not hitting for a great number on that. Those are things that we’ll be addressing and working on, which we always are. Those are areas where we can improve.”
Cook told Nebraska fans to buckle in for the second half of Big Ten play as it should just be more of the same.
“It’s a grind,” Cook said. “It will be a lot of big plays, a lot of big points, a lot of close matches and we just want our team to have fun and go for it. That’s kind of been our mantra all year: we’re going for it and attacking everything that we do. We’re not protecting anything. We just know it’s 10 more huge matches, not only for us but for everybody. There are going to be some epic matches down the stretch here, so it’s going to be fun. This is what the Big Ten’s all about.”
Cook was also asked about the RPI, which has the Huskers at No. 5 this week. He called it “flawed” and suggested an alternative metric to track.
“I look at it when it comes out,” Cook said. "I more look at the Pablo because that’s more of a true representation of how you're doing because that does home and away, it does point totals and it does wins and losses. I think if you ask any volleyball coach in Division I they’ll tell you the true NCAA RPI is flawed. It is not a great representation of where you’re at. Now, supposedly, the NCAA committee uses the Pablo in addition to the RPI. We’re two in the Pablo.”
Cook compared and contrasted how the basketball and volleyball committees use the various metrics to determine postseason berths and seedings.
“In basketball now, how many [metrics] do they use? Seven different deals?,” Cook said. “Volleyball, I don’t think they put enough importance in it yet, and of course that’s why sometimes, like in 2009, you’ve got four teams from the Big 12 in the same regional. They don’t pay attention to that stuff.”
Nebraska’s match at Michigan State on Friday will start at 7 p.m. on BTN. On Sunday, the Huskers and Wolverines will get started at noon on ESPNU and WatchESPN.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.