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As Fred Hoiberg enters his fourth season, Nebraska faces another steep climb

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Big Ten basketball is due for a big-time makeover.

Player of the Year Johnny Davis is gone. So is Freshman of the Year Malki Branham and Sixth Man of the Year Trevion Williams. In fact, 20 of the 26 All-Big Ten selections from last season (including every first-team member) have either graduated or declared for the NBA draft (though Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis could still withdraw his name).

Such a power vacuum could benefit Nebraska, which won just four Big Ten games last season and has finished no higher than 13th in conference under coach Fred Hoiberg. But recent history suggests the Big Ten’s top teams are reloaders, not rebuilders. In other words, the Huskers must climb to compete with the conference’s elite. Their rivals won’t meet them in the middle.

Case in point: Four of the nine Big Ten teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament last season boast top 10 recruiting classes. Ohio State (fifth), Indiana (eighth), Michigan (ninth) and Illinois (10th). The Buckeyes and Illini boast top-15 transfer classes, too.

That’s without mentioning conference mainstays like Purdue, which returns center Zach Edey and has redshirt freshman forward Trey Kaufman, the fourth-highest rated recruit in school history, waiting his turn. Or Michigan State, which started 17-4 last season and could still return five-star sophomore Max Christie, who’s testing the draft waters.

Both Wisconsin and Iowa lost a lottery pick (Johnny Davis and Keegan Murray) and a program staple (Brad Davison and Jordan Bohannon), but neither has finished lower than sixth in the conference standings since over the last four years. Not even last year, when the Hawkeyes and Badgers were picked ninth and 10th, respectively in the preseason polls.

In fact, only three of last year’s top-seven Big Ten teams have finished outside the top seven during the last three seasons. Purdue, Michigan State and Rutgers did it once each. They all made the NCAA tournament the following season.

The Big Ten’s bottom has been similarly sticky during the Hoiberg era. Nebraska, Northwestern and Minnesota have finished bottom three for three straight seasons. Penn State has finished 11th in two straight seasons. And by the way, Minnesota and Penn State, along with NU, boast top-30 recruiting classes in 2022.

The lesson as always: Winning in the Big Ten is hard. As Hoiberg enters a pivotal fourth season, the Huskers face another steep climb. The last Big Ten team to climb from the conference’s bottom three to its top half, as the Huskers hope to do next season, was the 2019-20 Iowa Hawkeyes, who jumped from 12th to sixth.

The Big Ten’s faces may vary, but the contenders rarely do.

Brey's fresh perspective

Hat tip to Notre Dame coach Mike Brey for a refreshing perspective on the ever-changing world of college sports.

While speaking with reporters Tuesday at ACC meetings, Brey suggested that coaches complaining about the NCAA’s transfer portal and Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) rules should “shut up and adjust.”

“We got to stop complaining,” Brey said. “This is the world we’re in. Last time I checked, you make pretty good money. So everybody should just shut up and adjust.

“ … Just remember, man, we’ve had it pretty good here. And it’s a great job. It’s high risk, high reward, but we all know what we signed up for.”

Too often, coaches bemoan the portal as a vehicle for ducking adversity. Players aren’t tough enough to stick it out at one school, the thinking goes. They run at the first sign of obstacles.

Brey flipped the mirror on his profession. The portal and NIL have forced coaches to confront changes that made their jobs more difficult. Some of their beefs hold weight.

The portal is too crowded. NIL rules should’ve been introduced last summer. Coaches are juggling more responsibilities than ever.

But the rules aren’t changing (yet), so deal with them. Excel in your new role. That’s what coaches would tell their players, and it’s what Brey told his fellow coaches Tuesday.

Bravo.

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