Short-handed Huskers hoping for memorable Big Ten tournament run
CHICAGO — Glynn Watson, finally, will compete in a Big Ten Tournament in his home city.
Nebraska’s senior guard, a Chicago native, has played tournament games in Indianapolis, Washington, D.C. and New York City during his time as a Husker. This week he’ll play at the United Center, about 12 miles from where he grew up in Bellwood.
He’s excited for the chance, he said last week. Plenty of family and friends will be there Wednesday when Nebraska takes on Rutgers.
“It will be like a home game for me,” Watson said.
They should get a good, long look. Watson might just play every minute against Rutgers, and every minute after that should Nebraska stay alive.
The Huskers landed in Chicago on Tuesday afternoon with eight available players — six of them with scholarships, and two walk-ons. It’s all NU has left after a season of injuries and suspensions has stripped the roster to its bones.
To put it another way: If Nebraska is to win its first conference tournament title since 1994, the Huskers will have to do it by winning five games in five days with eight guys.
“It’d make for a wild story if we pulled it off,” senior Johnny Trueblood said. “So hopefully we can.”
There is at least some precedent for this sort of thing happening. Just two seasons ago, Michigan won the Big Ten Tournament wearing its practice jerseys after the team plane skidded off a runway in high winds while trying to get to Washington, D.C., in a terrifying incident that left many in the program’s travel party shaken.
And in 2008, a Georgia team that finished with a league-worst 4-12 record in SEC play won three games in about 30 hours, including two on the same day, to take home the SEC Tournament championship in Atlanta after a tornado ripped through the city during the tournament.
Are the Huskers the next sequel?
“You mean are we about to become a movie one way or another, bad or good?” Tim Miles joked Tuesday before the team left Lincoln. “Here’s what we told (the players): We know who our next three opponents are, so let’s prepare accordingly and go with it.
“Obviously we’ve got difficulties with each of them. But at the same time ... I think there’s some real adventure and fun to this, and I think that’s the way the guys look at it, too. They want to keep playing.”
Coincidentally, the same three teams Nebraska faced in Indianapolis in Watson’s freshman year are the same three teams NU would face this year, should they win their first two: Rutgers, Maryland and Wisconsin.
The who doesn’t really matter, though, if NU doesn’t win the first one. Nebraska held a 13-point lead midway through the first half at Rutgers before losing 76-69. That defeat happened with a full complement of players that included Isaac Copeland and Thomas Allen in the starting lineup.
Copeland is out for the year with a torn ACL. And Allen is out for Rutgers and doubtful for the remainder of the tournament with an ankle sprain, Miles said Tuesday.
Throw in the torn Achilles that sidelined Karrington Davis in October, the meniscus injury Amir Harris suffered against Iowa, and the indefinite suspension of Nana Akenten, and Nebraska will have more guys in suits on its bench Wednesday than guys in uniform.
“Nobody’s really threatening anybody to say, if you don’t make that shot, you’re coming out. Because that’s not the way it works,” Miles said. “But at the same time, I think there is some freedom to that. And there is a little bit of, let’s just let our hair down and let it roll.”