Shatel: CU and NU, make room for the Mavs! - Omaha.com
Published Sunday, December 8, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 12:44 am
BASKETBALL
Shatel: CU and NU, make room for the Mavs!
NEBRASKA AT CREIGHTON
When: 5:07 p.m.
Where: CenturyLink Center
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 1110 AM, 1620 AM

Sunday afternoon at 5:07, basketball fans in Nebraska will drop their microscope on the center court at CenturyLink Center.

Well, all except one.

Derrin Hansen will be some 60 blocks away, coaching practice at Sapp Fieldhouse.

The UNO basketball coach is used to going down to catch Creighton vs. Nebraska hoops. But NCAA rules say Division I coaches cannot watch other D-I games live. It's a scouting thing. In case those teams play at some point later in the season.

How about we get these teams together at this point in the season? How about we get Hansen back to the CenturyLink Center?

Today is the annual holiday for area hoop heads. Red vs. Blue is always a fun December shindig, and with Nebraska now boasting a new arena, and Creighton wearing Big East threads, it seems we're only headed for bigger and better and more compelling days.

It still feels like we can do more. Like it can get better. Bigger.

How? Glad you asked. Here are some suggestions:

1. Invite UNO to join the party. Then find a fourth.

Over in Des Moines, they call this idea the Big Four Classic. It's sponsored by Hy-Vee. Got a cool logo. All that.

They held the Big Four on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Iowa State played Northern Iowa, followed by Iowa vs. Drake.

This event reportedly was born when Iowa and Iowa State said they no longer would play at UNI or Drake. So organizers came up with a sponsor and a neutral site. It's good for the fans, good for hoops in Iowa.

Now that the Mavericks are Division I, that's the sort of thing that could happen here. The tricky thing would be finding a fourth. You'd have to rotate in a fourth, maybe Iowa State one year, maybe Kansas State, maybe Colorado State, etc.

This is a great idea. It's also a bit of a pipe dream.

For one thing, when it comes to scheduling, schools in major conferences are usually trying to find ways to play at home, not travel to beautiful downtown Omaha in December.

And then there's this little Rubik's Cube: getting Nebraska and Creighton to actually play UNO.

It's not that they don't get along. I saw Hansen, CU coach Greg McDermott and NU's Tim Miles all at a Coaches vs. Cancer event in Omaha last summer, and they interact famously.

It might have something to do with the Mavs' start to their second year in D-I: eight-point losses at Iowa and Drake and a three-point loss at UNLV.

The Mavs, 6-3, have an RPI of 157. In college hoops circles, that's called good enough to beat you, and bad enough to hurt your RPI.

Anyway, I bounced the idea off all three coaches, and the responses were predictable.

“Yes, we'd have an interest in that,” Hansen said.

“We evaluate our schedule every year and we're going to schedule what fits Creighton best,” McDermott said. “If UNO fits that, it's something we would consider.”

“They're an up-and-coming team and Darren has done a great job,” Miles said. “It just kind of depends. I wouldn't say it's unlikely, but I wouldn't say it's likely.”

This issue probably will come up again in two years, in 2015-16, as UNO opens its new arena (and is eligible for the NCAA tournament). The Mavs will be looking for a big name. Guess who will get the first two phone calls?

Instead of playing Alcorn State or South Carolina State, wouldn't playing “Omaha” be good for local hoops?

It's never that simple. But you know what? It's up to the Mavs to change that. UNO has had a nice start, Hansen looks like he's building something. But the Mavs haven't really earned status yet. Sell out their arena, win their league, make the NCAA tourney. They need to do something to force the others to take them seriously.

“I get that,” Hansen said. “We can't go Division I and expect everything to flip 180 degrees. We'll get there, slowly but surely.”

2. I love the idea of having an annual basketball event in Omaha. I love the idea of doing it around the holidays. What about a Nebraska and Creighton doubleheader against two nonconference opponents?

You'd have to pay the two guests, and that's where a Mutual of Omaha or Hy-Vee or First National Bank would come in. Aren't I nice to mention the corporate names? I'm also good at spending other people's money.

One small hitch: As Miles points out, “With Pinnacle Bank Arena, I'm not sure we want to stray far from there at this point in time.” Translation: No way we're giving up home court or home game revenue. If we're playing a big nonconference game, it's gonna be in Lincoln.

3. Pump up the Creighton-Nebraska series. How?

The Huskers and Jays played twice in the 1986-87 season, Danny Nee's first year coaching against Tony Barone. Barry Collier didn't want to play Dana Altman's Jays once. (his Butler Bulldogs will play Creighton twice a year now.) Doc Sadler played CU but was quick to say it was the 50th most important game of the year.

There won't be a home-and-home, and it has everything to do with the Big Ten and Big East. Miles and Mac are going to manage their nonconference schedules as follows: a couple of games against major conferences, a neutral-site tourney and then a bunch of teams they can beat before the demolition derby starts in January.

In other words, once will be enough.

The good news is, Miles has a completely new and refreshing attitude toward Creighton. It will serve the series well. The NU coach even wants to find ways to promote the event. Good idea. With CU in the Big East, this game will always be on national TV (Fox Sports 1), even if the Big Ten Network chooses to ignore it.

Here's a thought: get a sponsor for the game and hold some pregame fan activities. Have a Creighton-Nebraska series in all the sports that the two schools play, with basketball being the centerpiece. Add up points, declare a winner at the end.

Maybe I've been around the Big Ten too much, but how about a trophy? You don't often see that in a basketball series, but most of the rivalries are home-and-home. For a one-game rivalry, it would be fun to watch the winner carry off a traveling trophy. It would add meaning to the game.

Don't ask me what kind of trophy. What does a Jay-Sker look like?

4. This is my final proposal. I think this will work.

We'll get a corporate sponsor — paging John Hildenbiddle of Mutual of Omaha — and have a Holiday Hoops event in downtown Omaha every year, before or after Christmas.

One year, Creighton plays. The next year, Nebraska. The third year, UNO. I don't expect Duke or Arizona to sign up for Christmas in Omaha. But I would think schools in the Big Ten or Big 12, even a Colorado State, would be willing to listen to the sound of money talking. Hey, doesn't Rick Pitino at Louisville have a player from Omaha Central? You bet.

We'll call it the Jay-Mav-Sker Classic.

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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