Nebraska faces tough task in new-look Big Ten

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Nebraska faces tough task in new-look Big Ten

It's been asked about and anticipated for over two decades, ever since Penn State was invited into the Big Ten in 1990, leaving the conference's name inaccurate and its membership locked at an unwieldy prime number.

Well, even if the league moniker remains absurdly the same, a 12th member and divisional play are finally here. Nebraska will officially begin conference play in several sports this fall, most notably football. And the conference will inaugurate a title game when its divisional winners meet the night of Dec. 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in centrally located Indianapolis.

Those divisions? A typically complicated and pompous solution from Big Ten chieftains for what could have been one much more elegant, easy to grasp, geographically sensible and conducive to rivalries.

Anyway, they are:

The Leaders Division
Indiana
Illinois
Ohio State
Penn State
Purdue
Wisconsin

The Legends Division
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan State
Minnesota
Nebraska
Northwestern

If you get stuck, just remember the Ms and Ns are all together (with Iowa) and the one legendary coach is, um, in the Leaders Division. Makes perfect sense, right?

And those pretentious names. Apparently the My Daughter Just Received A Fellowship From Vassar Division and the I Abhor The Heat Of Monaco In The Summer Division were narrowly discarded.

To be fair to league suits, simply making it East and West divisions understandably wasn't preferable because they had to split up the four athletic revenue heavyweights. Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State all in the East and only Nebraska in the West wasn't going to work.

But a simple remedy to that would have been a NW-to-SE axis: Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Minnesota in a Lakes Division. Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Nebraska and Iowa in a Plains Division.

Love it? Of course, you do. Great Lakes? Great Plains? All the regional rivalries preserved. Competitive and fiscal balance maintained. A new sense of rivalry engendered with the geographic personalities of each division. You could even give the conference a sensible new name like The Great Twelve.

Hey, they didn't ask me. This is what we're stuck with.

As for the new guys, Nebraska's entry and immediate installment as a Legends Division favorite by a majority of media has, among others, much of the Cornhuskers' own media clucking. Many in the Cornbelt aren't buying it. And when you take a close look at NU, it's apparent why.

The Huskers are not and have not been a balanced team and their finish last season under combustible head coach Bo Pelini was less than assuring.

Nebraska's percentage of pass attempts from overall plays (.307) is something out of a time warp. The Cornhuskers managed 163 completions in 2010, ranking ahead of only UCLA and Georgia Tech (which runs the triple option) among 66 BCS-conference members.

NU's offense can't be expected to help much against better defenses. It's too dependent on the running of sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez, a speedy ground weapon and ordinary passer. Martinez wrenched an ankle in Week 8 against Missouri last year and three weeks later had to endure a sideline tirade from the delightful Pelini.

When Martinez was hobbled, Nebraska's offense essentially ran out of ammo. NU went 3-3 the rest of the way, including an OT win at Iowa State and an embarrassing 19-7 loss in the Holiday Bowl to unranked Washington, a team it had thrashed in Seattle in September.

A lot is heaped, then, on the defense. To win the Legends, they'll likely need a dominant performance from a resistance that, while very good, has never seen anyone on its conference schedule.

That's asking a lot. No matter how aggressive a defense, it needs to react reflexively to perform at optimum level. Unfamiliarity can inhibit such alacrity.

That said, the Nebraska defense is back in Black Shirts mode and has lots back including senior tackle Jared Crick and big-hitting linebacker Lavonte David.

Finally, there are those great expectations dovetailed with a very disadvantageous schedule. Lots of pressure on Pelini, a guy who doesn't handle it with much control. And he got no favors from his new league office, drawing road trips to Wisconsin (in a primetime conference opener at frenzied Camp Randall Stadium), Penn State and Michigan. The only soft touch on the league slate is Minnesota in Week 8.

As was true of Penn State's entry 18 seasons ago, Nebraska might have better success after a year of acclimation. Its inaugural season could be a rougher ride than many expect.

David Jones is columnist for The Harrisburg Patriot-News. Email him at djones8681@verizon.net. Follow him on Twitter @djoneshoop.

Delaware hires Martin Ingelsby as new head basketball coach

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Delaware hires Martin Ingelsby as new head basketball coach

Delaware has its new head basketball coach in Martin Ingelsby.

Ingelsby, a native of Berwyn, Pennsylvania, comes from Notre Dame, where he played from 1997-2001 and coached for 13 seasons, seven as an assistant.

Ingelsby played his high school ball at Archbishop Carroll and is the son of Tom Ingelsby, who played for Villanova from 1970-73.

Delaware is coming off a 7-23 season and 2-16 mark in CAA play, which led to the firing of head coach Monte Ross.

The Blue Hens, who announced the hire Tuesday, will formally introduce Ingelsby in a press conference Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Bob Carpenter Center Auditorium.

Josh Hart returning to Villanova for senior season

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Josh Hart returning to Villanova for senior season

Villanova’s chances at repeating as national champions just got much better.

Josh Hart is returning for his senior season.

The Wildcats’ leading scorer from last season’s title-winning team tweeted this Tuesday night:

Shortly after, Villanova officially announced the news.

Hart was in the midst of going through the NBA draft process, attending the combine in Chicago and working out for teams. By not hiring an agent, he was able to test the waters without jeopardizing his final year of college eligibility. Hart had until Wednesday to make a decision, which is coming back to the defending champs.

“I enjoyed the process and learned a lot,” Hart said in a statement released by the school. “It was definitely worthwhile. I look forward to graduating next year and coming back to play with my teammates.”

As a junior, the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field. He put up 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists in Villanova’s 95-51 Final Four win over Oklahoma, before following it up with 12 points and eight rebounds in the national title game in which the Wildcats thrillingly won at the buzzer, 77-74, on a Kris Jenkins three-pointer.

Hart and Jenkins, the team’s two leading scorers, return along with key pieces Jalen Brunson (9.6 ppg), Phil Booth (7.0 ppg), Mikal Bridges (6.4 ppg) and Darryl Reynolds (4.5 rpg).

“Josh Hart did a great job in this process,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “I’m really proud of the way that he showed himself. I am really happy for him that he is returning to play with his classmates and that he will graduate on time.” 

National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

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National champion Villanova to be honored at White House next week

It's been nearly two months since Villanova won the National Championship in one of the most memorable games in NCAA Tournament history.

Since then, the Wildcats have been honored by the city (parade), the New York Stock Exchange (opening bell), the Phillies (first pitch), the Flyers and the Union. Earlier this week, head coach Jay Wright addressed the Eagles.

But that will all pale in comparison to where the Wildcats will be next Tuesday, when they become the latest championship team to visit the White House and meet President Barack Obama.

The ceremony is scheduled to begin at 4:10 p.m. and will be streamed on www.whitehouse.gov/live.

In his pool, President Obama had Villanova finally advancing past the second round — "I know that eventually they're going to break through. They've had some bad luck over the last couple of years," Obama told ESPN.com — but had the Wildcats falling to Kansas in the regional semifinal.

He then had Kansas beating North Carolina to win the title.

After surviving the first weekend for the first time since their Final Four run in 2009, Villanova ousted Kansas, 64-59, before shocking Buddy Hield and Oklahoma in the national semifinal, winning by 44. The Wildcats then won one of the most memorable championship games in NCAA Tournament history when Kris Jenkins hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Tar Heels, 77-74.