Last week, the NCAA made official something that John Cook hinted at a while ago — the entire 2020-21 NCAA Tournament will take place in Omaha, following in the footsteps of the men’s basketball tournament which moved to Indianapolis in its entirety.
The entire tournament will take place in the span of 12 days, and Cook said he’s OK with that. His concern is for the set-up at the CHI Health Center and Convention Center.
“I think it’s great they’re going to Omaha; it will be a nice deal,” Cook said. “They’ll be able to put up all the teams and do a great job. My concern is there’s one arena and then you’ve got this convention center. What’s the NCAA going to do to make it not a club tournament where they just throw out some sport courts and have these guys play on cement? I hope they’re going to build a stadium, I hope they’re going to bring some wood floors in to put sport court — or they should put Teraflex over it and make mini little arenas in there.
“I was figuring out, you have 16 matches the first day, so you’re going to have to stagger them and you probably need three or four mini arenas in there to make it really nice. That’s what I hope they do, and Omaha will take care of the rest if he NCAA can step up and do a good job with that.”
The tournament is still a long way off for the Huskers, however, and they have plenty of obstacles to overcome before they have to worry about that. In addition to navigating through the toughest conference in the country, the Huskers also have to deal with everything that comes with playing sports during a pandemic. Nebraska’s already seen one schedule interruption because of a positive COVID-19 teat within the Northwestern program, but the Huskers have been able to move forward otherwise.
Cook’s been communicating regularly with the other coaches throughout Nebraska’s athletic department looking to glean any information that might help keep his team safe, healthy and competing.
“I know on the women’s side with Amy [Williams] and Heather [Brink] and Pablo [Morales] a little bit, we’ve all had Zoom calls throughout the whole year,” Cook said. “We’ve probably interacted more than we ever have in a normal year. With the men’s sports, everybody’s in their bubble so you don’t see anybody. But I’m paying attention to what’s going on, I follow football, I’m asking questions every week in the football program, how they were doing things, what they were doing, how they were approaching breaks and keeping the guys here and safe and all that. I just try to study and learn. We’ve had a few coaches that share ideas on the best way to do this stuff. Basketball was ahead of us and of course football was ahead of everybody. I want to listen and learn as much as I can so we can avoid potentially making any mistakes.”
Cook spoke with Fred Hoiberg about what the basketball team had to deal with while missing nearly a full month as COVID-19 ravaged through the program.
“There were several things we talked about, but I think the big thing was there’s a lot we can’t control,” Cook said. “You try to do your best but there’s a lot we can’t control. That’s the way it is and we try to make it as safe as we can.”
The next step forward for the Huskers is a road trip to Rutgers (1-5) this weekend. The Scarlet Knights beat Indiana 3-1 in week two for their lone win. In 2019, Rutgers dropped its first nine conference matches before making down Northwestern in five sets. Rutgers went 2-18 in Big Ten play last year after three straight winless seasons. Senior opposite hitter Beka Kojadinovic is leading the offense with 2.75 kills per set on .276 hitting.
Cook has a few things he’ll be focusing on as the Huskers head into their third weekend of competition.
“Just continue to raise our level of play, make less errors, trust our training more and improve their communication,” Cook said. “Those will be the four things at the top of my list in practice today.”
In week one, Nebraska played at 6 p.m. on both Friday on Saturday. This past weekend, the Huskers played at 6 p.m. on Friday and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. The schedule changes dramatically this weekend, however, as both Friday’s and Saturday’s matches are set for 3 p.m.
“I like having a night game because I love the day routine,” Cook said. “Playing at Rutgers, it’s 4 o’clock Eastern which will be 3 o’clock here which is when we practice every day, so that’s good. The thing that throws it off is you have to go in the morning and test, so you have to get up early and that’s the one thing I don’t like about this. Because we’re getting up early, playing earlier is, I think, OK. So I don’t think it will be that big of a deal, you just don’t have as much time to sit around and stew about things or work out. That’s the negative.”
Both matches all be available on BTN+ and the Husker Sports Network will have the radio call with John Baylor and Lauren West. The Big Ten also pushed back Nebraska’s match at Minnesota set for Sunday, Feb. 21, from noon to 11 a.m. to accommodate basketball schedule changes.
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.