Last Saturday, I went to the Nebraska-Iowa game at the Devaney Center on a whim. It was the third Nebraska basketball game I've been to this year, In all cases, I have wanted to care about going more than I actually wanted to go. And even after the game, I felt like I didn't learn anything towards whether or not Tim Miles will be the right coach long-term, only that he'll have one nice conference win on his resume for this year.
Fittingly, the opponent was a team that I wanted cared more about beating than I actually did care. I want to rout against the Iowa Hawkeyes, as they are Nebraska's blood rival. But, for whatever reason, they haven't seemed to be that, in football or otherwise, maybe because beating them has come easy. When I stopped for a quick lunch at Runza, there were numerous Iowa fans there, and as I made my way into the arena, the generous number of black-and-gold clad fans made me upset. But given the product that Nebraska's put on the court over the last year, it wasn't like I had a right to be mad at my fellow Husker fans.
There were plenty of Iowa fans up in the rafters and throughout the arena, although not close to the Nebraska-at-Northwestern ratio in football this past year. But it was embarrassing in terms of how much noise was made in the first half. As a whole, it was nowhere close to the sellout it was said to be with blocks of empty cushioned seats across the arena, the apathy Nebrasketball has become known for. Given the abrupt change in date from Thursday to Saturday, there were bound to be some no-shows.
In typical Devaney Center fashion, I didn't pay attention early in the game. It was obvious Iowa's roster, while not vastly superior, was better. All of their players were thicker, and were looking to step out and shoot. Nebraska's roster is full of tightly muscled guys who wish to do nothing more than cut to the basket, except none of them are good enough to do it consistently. While Nebraska got behind by the number of free throws they missed, I worked on my to-do list for the upcoming week and took a few pictures. With Iowa leading by 18 at halftime, I went out to the concourse, sat writing in a corner, and didn't realize that the second half started until they were two minutes in.
I went back to my seat, wondering when Husker fans would start exiting the building. (Answer: the first did so around the ten minute mark). Eventually, the Huskers made a run and got the game back to about ten points, and I thought, Okay, this will be a nice memory of the last time the Bob kind of rocked.
Except that Miles' crew didn't stop with just getting the game back to about ten. They got it to seven, and at that point, people started getting out of their seats when Iowa brought the ball to the other end of the court on offense. As the duel carried on, I never expected Nebraska to come back, but I didn't think that they were not able to come back either. Turns out, they got the better of Iowa, and the nothing-but-net three ball to give Nebraska was a fitting final great moment.
I grew up when Nebrasketball was a viable team every year. Not great, but at least they were making the postseason every year in the 1990's and had shots at the NCAA's. Success in college basketball at Nebraska wouldn't be as meaningful as the football success, given how college basketball has been watered down. Leaving the Bob last Saturday with the silenced Iowa fans, it was nice moment, but it will be a while until any Nebraska fans know if it was the start of anything. I'm not even going to judge how good of a coach Miles is off this year, because of his history suggests he takes more overlooked, great plains players who takes time to develop. But early signs suggest it's not a disaster.
As far as the rivalry with Iowa, I don't know if it's going to get chippy just because some Iowa fans from Omaha were disappointed for driving an hour to see their team loose on the road. Yes, Nebraska's dominating Iowa in all sports, but I think Nebraska fans assumed this. (As someone who occasionally has to stand Des Moines sports radio, I know whose standards are higher.) I don't know what is going to have to change to make this a better rivalry or make me care more about it, but then again, maybe nothing needs to change. Maybe it just needs to give us final minutes like on Saturday.
With ten minutes to go, I moved down to some of the cushioned seats that were a few rows up from the exits. Even with the late game drama, there were still fans who made their way to the exits right after Dylan Talley made the go-ahead three, and left as soon as Ray Gallegos made the free-throw to put them up four with 2.3 seconds to go. I hope that tradition of leaving early ends with the move to Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Derek Johnson is a Seward Nebraska native who works for his family's organic farm seed company, Blue River Hybrids, and is a freelance writer and commission photographer. He has been a contributor to Husker Max since 2013, and is a former contributor to the website Husker Locker. Visit his blog, derekjohnsonmuses.com, and follow him on twitter @derekjohnson05 for regular updates.