Now that the NCAA Tournament is over, and the dust has settled, let's take time to reflect on this new Nebraska basketball phenomenon and what it means for Lincoln. As a relative newbie to Nebraska, it didn't take long for me to get caught up in the excitement that is Husker football. Having no prior allegiance to any football team, college or otherwise, it was easy to drink that red Kool-aid and shout "Go Big Red!" The same rang true as 'Nebrasketball' swept over the city this season, and I was hooked.
Before I get started, though, I want to get one thing out of the way. Pinnacle Bank Arena ... have we decided what to call it yet? Personally, I prefer The Vault to PBA, so that's what I'm using in hopes that it will gain traction.
Before Coach Miles, I only attended one UNL Men's Basketball game. It was well-attended, but for someone who knows nothing but the basics about basketball, it wasn't very fun. I couldn't tell you who we played or whether we won. It is no secret that Coach Miles was brought in to build this program, but I don't know anyone who expected the kind of season we experienced this year to happen so soon. My first basketball experience at The Vault was when we beat Illinois. To say that the atmosphere was exponentially more intoxicating would be an understatement.
I love Nebraska football as much as the next guy, but there is something in the air at The Vault during a basketball game that cannot be rivaled. Does a roof make that big of a difference? Or is it the inherent excitement that comes with being the under-dog who keeps coming out on top? I'm putting my money on the latter because Devaney didn't have the same magic. Whatever the source, there is an intimacy and enthusiasm at The Vault that I have not experienced at other college sporting events. That excitement is not merely contained by The Vault, though. It spills over into the quickly developing West Haymarket area without abandon.
It is a little known fact that early in the season, if you were to approach the entrance to The Vault after half-time, you could get in for the remainder of the game without a ticket. For the last home game, we met some friends for dinner across the street from The Vault, waited until after half-time and made our attempt with no luck. Disappointed, but not defeated, we made our way over to Canopy Street. We spent the remainder of the game outside with hundreds of other fans who watched, screamed, cheered and chanted as though we were court-side. It was an amazing experience I am eager to repeat
So, what happens now? As we settle into the post-season for basketball, heading into the Spring Game and impending football season, Nebrasketball seems so quickly forgotten. Is it already a thing of the past? I think not. I think Coach Miles and his team of underclassmen are just getting started. In his unfortunately titled piece on BTN.com, senior writer Tom Dienhart writes, "With this coach, with this fan base and with those sparkling facilities, Nebrasketball appears to be on solid footing for the future. It’s going to be fun to see how far Miles can take this program." This newly converted basketball fan couldn't agree more.
Photo credit: Sarah Frederick