We continue our countdown of the best Big Ten programs of the past decade. Prior articles in this series can be found here:
As a reminder, we’ll be looking at eight categories for each program. The first four are the only ones that had any bearing on the ranking
- Big Ten regular-season winning percentage
- Number of teams finishing ahead in the Big Ten standings
- Big Ten regular season titles
- Big Ten Tournament titles
- Team of the Decade
- Player of the Decade
- Regular Season Win of the Decade
- Regular Season Crushing Loss of the Decade
In the Big Ten in the 2010s, the eleventh-best program was the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska is an enigma to me. Yes, their basketball team is always going to take a backseat to their historical football program, but Nebrasketball has some of the best fans in the Big Ten. On a per-win basis, they probably have the best fans in the Big Ten. However, if you start typing “Nebraska Cornhuskers” into Wikipedia, the men’s basketball team is the fourth recommendation that comes up, behind both the baseball and women’s volleyball team. I’m pretty sure you could do that same exercise for every other Big Ten team and basketball would be no lower than second. (In fact, I tried it for Minnesota, and men’s basketball is still ahead of men’s hockey.)
Big Ten Winning Percentage
Nebraska spent eight seasons of the past decade in the Big Ten after decades in the Big 12. In that time, the Huskers put up a .384 winning percentage, which is about par for the course historically for their program. (They spent their last 12 seasons in the Big 12 without an above-.500 record in conference.) That said, since the conference change, they’ve upgraded their arena, their coach (twice now!), their budget, and their fan support. I expect the 2020s will be a much better decade for Nebraska basketball.
Teams Finishing Ahead of Nebraska
Sixty-nine teams have finished ahead of Nebraska in eight years. Scaling that up to a ten-year basis, it’s 86. The only three team that’s finished ahead of Nebraska every season is Michigan State. Michigan finished ahead every year but 2018, when they tied the Huskers at 13-5. Everybody else finished below the Huskers at least once, mainly during the inaugural season in Pinnacle Bank in 2014, when Nebraska only lost once at home (by one point to Michigan).
Big Ten Regular Season Titles
Big Ten Tournament Titles
Team of the Decade
This past season was the top-rated Cornhusker team on KenPom, but the injury to Isaac Copeland, subsequent collapse, and subsequent firing of Tim Miles precludes it from being the best. (Though you could argue that hiring Fred Hoiberg is the biggest win in school history.) That leaves 2018 and 2014 as the main contenders. The 2018 team had a better record and was ranked higher in KenPom, but the 2014 team made the NCAA Tournament and had that great home-court record. I’ll go with the ‘14 team, led by sophomores Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway. In fact, that team started four sophomores most games. How in the world Nebraska didn’t take a step forward in 2015 and 2016 is a mystery.
Player of the Decade
The most talented player to lace ‘em up for Nebraska was Isaiah Roby, but he wasn’t the most productive or assertive. James Palmer and Terran Petteway only played two seasons apiece in Lincoln, and Glynn Watson was never the go-to guy on any of his teams. That leaves Tai Webster as the (underwhelming) choice. The Kiwi played limited minutes as a freshman on that great 2014 team, and by 2017 he was the Huskers No. 1 option and fourth in the Big Ten in minutes played.
Regular Season Win of the Decade
February 16, 2014.
In a season best-remembered for an excellent home record on a new home court, the definitive win for Nebraska came on the road in East Lansing. Terran Petteway led the way with 23 points as the Huskers led for pretty much the entire game. They weathered an 11-0 Spartan run in the first half and a second-half push that cut the Husker lead to 3 and came away with a win that—at the time—looked like it might foretell a resetting of the pecking order in the Big Ten. That obviously didn’t end up happening, though the Huskers wouldn’t lose again to the Spartans until 2017.
Regular Season Crushing Loss of the Decade
December 16, 2018.
With the possible exception of Penn State, no team in the Big Ten has looked like it was about to break through only to fall short more than Nebraska. There’s no better example than the 2018 season. The Huskers would finish the year at 22-9 and 13-5, their best overall record since 1991 and their best conference record since 1966. But alas, no NCAA Tournament. Tim Miles’ squad lacked a signature win against a good opponent, a win that it had the opportunity to pick up at home against Kansas.
They would have the ball with a chance to win with 23 seconds left. A win would announce to the world that Nebraska was a force to be reckoned with in basketball, that there was, at least for this season, a new premiere state flagship on the Great Plains.
Kansas 73, Nebraska 72.
Fake Internet Quote That Puts It All In Perspective
Nebraska my ass. The only good thing called ‘Nebraska’ is the Springsteen album, and have you ever listened to it? It’s all about New Jersey! Keep your Willa Cather; we’ve got the f*cking Boss.
—Steve Pikiell, BTN halftime interview, 2019 Big Ten Tournament