Steven M. Sipple: Abilene? Denton? NU’s number in Big Dance bound to come up soon

Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg (left) directs the Huskers on the court as assistant coach Doc Sadler looks on earlier this season at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Things I know, and things I think I know:  

If you’re a Nebraska men’s basketball fan, you might’ve caught yourself contemplating a couple of nondescript cities in the state of Texas this weekend — Abilene (population 117,000) and Denton (136,000).

They’re not exactly college hoops hotbeds. That’s football country.

Sort of like Lincoln, Nebraska.

You know where I’m going with this. 

Abilene Christian, a No. 14 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s East Region, nabbed the first NCAA Tournament victory in school history late Saturday night. The Wildcats have been playing at the Division I level for only eight years after an unspectacular Division II history. Even so, they already have something Nebraska doesn’t — a triumph in the Big Dance. 

Same goes for North Texas, located in Denton, 45 miles north of Dallas. The Mean Green, a No. 13 seed in the South, picked up their first NCAA Tournament win in program history by beating fourth-seeded Purdue on Friday night. North Texas was the aggressor. It played with the confidence of a favorite even though it was a decided underdog.  

Abilene Christian somehow defeated third-seeded Texas 53-52, forcing 23 turnovers. This game was an example of the magic of March Madness. The Longhorns are deep and talented. They possess ample size in the paint, experience in the backcourt and at least two or three legitimate NBA prospects. Yet the little school from 150 miles west of Fort Worth never once backed down. 

Denton and Abilene. Hoops meccas.

Nah. Not really. 

This isn’t the local columnist hammering on Nebraska for being 0-for-7 all-time in the NCAA Tournament with only one appearance this millennium (2013-14). In fact, this column is more about hope than anything. 

As Wildcats coach Joe Golding said, “We were the worst DI team in the country, and we just beat the University of Texas.” 

Abilene Christian isn’t a better team than Texas. Not even close. But it was better Saturday night. That’s all that mattered. 

Nebraska fans long for the chance to have the nation’s sporting attention, as Golding’s team did late Saturday. It can happen. Of course it can. It should’ve happened by now, obviously. NU’s athletic department pours a lot of money and energy into the program, hence Husker fans’ frustration. 

It’s odd, really, the fact the Huskers haven’t broken through in the Dance, the last Power Five team without such a win. 

It’s really one of sports’ strange statistical facts. After all, a relatively mediocre team can get hot on a single night and make it happen. That’s the essence of March Madness.

Purdue is a basketball school. So it was interesting watching North Texas, appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010, play so well that you could see fear in the eyes of the Boilermakers by midway through the second half. 

You saw the same fear in the eyes of Illinois players in the second half Sunday. If Loyola Chicago can make deep runs in this tournament, surely Nebraska can.

It will happen someday, probably soon. This oddity can’t last forever, right? It’s too weird. Fred Hoiberg is too good of a coach. NU’s futility gets that much stranger watching Abilene Christian and North Texas do magic in the Dance.

“If I told you that we didn’t plan to do this, I’d be lying. Those guys in that locker room came here to play in the NCAA tournament and win,” UNT coach Grant McCasland said. 

It’s largely about believing, especially this time of year, a joyous time for hoops fans.  

My heavens, this past weekend was a hoot.

Your time is coming, Nebraska fans. If it can happen in Denton and Abilene, it surely can happen in Lincoln, USA.

* Texas’ brass have a decision to make on coach Shaka Smart. He has zero NCAA Tournament wins in six seasons at UT. That’s incredible. It reaffirms that there are no guarantees in sports. Yeah, I know, Nebraska hoops fans are well aware of that. And, yeah, it’s sort of scary for even Husker football fans to ponder. 

Remember when nine wins in a season were seemingly a guarantee?

I’m talking about football wins, by the way.

* Yeah, coaching matters. How badly did Loyola Chicago’s Porter Moser take Brad Underwood to school? Yikes. 

* Received the following email Sunday from Clark G. regarding Nebraska football’s plight under Scott Frost: “Quit being so negative and get off their a**. When you are at the bottom it takes awhile to rebuild the RIGHT way!”

Point taken. I do have to remind myself of that sometimes. But I balance that thought against what many fans tell me. That is, they had hoped to see more progress by this point. Much more progress. 

* It was interesting to hear Nebraska defensive line coach Tony Tuioti say he believes the Huskers’ nutrition program gives them an advantage in that area over the vast majority of major college teams. “Not a lot of schools have the type of resources and money to put into nutrition,” he said, noting NU’s spending on nutrition is on-par with Alabama’s, or close to it.

“Everybody has a weight room. Everybody runs,” he said. “What you put into players’ bodies can be a big difference. That’s why certain teams are built a different way than others.” 

* I’ve developed a ridiculous weakness for McDonald’s fries. I don’t think that’s what Tuioti is talking about.