There’s an extremely compelling story brewing in Chicago.
Would you really count out Nebraska against 19th-ranked Wisconsin in Friday’s quarterfinal game of the Big Ten Tournament?
That would be foolish after watching Tim Miles’ crew — six scholarship players and two walk-ons — defeat Maryland 69-61 on Thursday afternoon at the United Center.
Three quick thoughts:
1. You have to give Miles a ton of credit right now. Sure, Nebraska’s regular season was awful. Extremely discouraging. But his coaching in the conference tournament has been excellent.
Nebraska’s defensive game plan limited Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith to a combined 11 points and 12 rebounds. That’s borderline remarkable considering the Huskers’ depleted roster and the fact NU forward Tanner Borchardt was in foul trouble in the second half.
Maryland slapped on a press with about nine minutes remaining. The Terps trailed by nine at the time. It seemed like the perfect time to try to rattle Nebraska and take advantage of its lack of depth. Credit the Husker players for their poise in handling the press. But also credit Miles and his staff for teaching the playershowto handle it.
Miles obviously outcoached Mark Turgeon. In fact, Turgeon cost his team badly by drawing a technical with 8:25 remaining. He apparently thought Darryl Morsell was fouled on a drive to the hoop. Glynn Watson responded with two free throws before Isaiah Roby’s basket made it 51-37 with 8:12 left.
From there, Nebraska handled the press well and made free throws. Ballgame.
2. Regarding the Huskers’ depleted roster, therearecertain advantages sometimes in this type of situation.
Having only eight players available — seven played against Maryland — offers a certain amount of clarity to those involved. Sometimes such clarity regarding players’ specific roles and expectations can be helpful. To wit: Before the tournament began, Miles told James Palmer and Watson that they have to combine for 50 points per game if the Huskers expected to have a good chance to win. Palmer had 24 on 8-for-13 field-goal shooting Thursday while Watson had 19 on 6-for-12.
There’s something else about having only eight players: Most players love it! They get to playa lot. That’s what players ultimately want. Trouble is, having only eight players reduces the head coach’s leverage if players are struggling. He can’t bench people as easily. But that’s not an issue right now. The Huskers are playing extremely well.
They don’t look tired at all. That’s a testament to the program’s strength and conditioning staff. It’s also a tribute to the players who work hard to get in such incredible physical condition.
It’s paying off. Yeah, this feels like a movie.
3. Ah, yes, the elephant in the room: Is this Miles’ last hurrah as Nebraska’s coach? I almost hesitate to raise the question right now as such a wonderful story plays out in Chicago.
But let’s be real, Miles’ situation is a big part of the story. He seems to handle everything exceptionally well. He stays in the moment, controls what he can control, smiles all the while. He’s asking his players to do the same. OK, maybe not the smiling part. Whatever. It’s inspirational to watch.
I’m guessing Miles’ boss, Bill Moos, somehow watched Thursday’s game while en route to Cal-Berkeley. The Journal Star learned Thursday that Moos left before the game to get to the Bay Area for son Ben’s appearance in the Bears’ spring game Saturday. Yes, the timing of Moos’ trip is curious. But I have admiration for people who make family the No. 1 priority if that’s what’s going on here.
It’s also possible Moos could meet with candidates while on the trip. Or maybe he already has a replacement for Miles locked up. If he plans on relieving Miles of his duties, it’s very possible Moos would wait until after the NIT. No way could Nebraska officials say “no” to the NIT now. These players are earning a reward.
Is the Big Dance a possibility (without a Big Ten Tournament championship)? I would say it’s remote. That 6-14 conference record is a killer.
Whatever the case, Moos is very careful in these situations to avoid doing anything to affect players’ readiness to compete. He was an athlete. He understands this stuff at a high level. He has to be enjoying it. We’ll get to the hard questions about Miles in due time.
In the meantime, enjoy the movie.