In Tim Miles’ first season, the Nebraska basketball team exceeded most pundits’ predictions.
With a depleted roster which featured two of the top nine scorers from the previous year and just eight recruited scholarship players, many experts thought the Huskers would be lucky to reach double figures in wins.
Just as he had done at his previous coaching stops, Miles began the Huskers’ turnaround in his first season at the helm. Nebraska showed improvement throughout the year and finished by playing at a much higher level, posting wins over postseason qualifiers Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue in its last seven contests. When the dust had settled, the Huskers improved their win total from 12 to 15, while playing one of the nation’s most difficult schedules.
Equally important as the wins and losses was establishing a culture around the program, and as the second season dawns for Miles, the culture has started to be ingrained in the veteran players.
“There is no doubt that the guys who have been in the program are clearly ahead of the guys in year one,” Miles said. “They play harder and longer and are able to push themselves to the degree necessary to be successful. You can see an effect and a very positive one when it comes to playing hard and competing well. I’ve been pleased with our returners so far.
While the Huskers return three starters and nine letterwinners, the biggest anticipation around the program is for the eight players who will don the Husker uniform for the first time in 2013-14. Over the last 18 months, Miles has completely retooled Nebraska’s roster, and of the 12 scholarship players on the Husker roster, 10 are in their first or second year in the program.
“We have a group of guys who have been through it, but we have a group who may be our most impactful guys that have very little experience at this level. I think it will be interesting how quickly we can overcome that inexperience factor.”
Miles believes his 2013-14 Huskers would be poised for a leap similar to his second North Dakota State team which improved from 11 to 20 wins, but also understands that the strength and depth of the Big Ten makes it an exceptional challenge.
“It is hard to gauge how big a spike we can make because it is going to come down to if we are healthy, how well do we execute in critical times, how well we defend and rebound in critical times because only three or four mistakes can really cost you a game in the Big Ten,” Miles said. “It is going to come down to a lot of little things for this team, and attention to detail is really important.”
With such a young team, finding leaders will be vital for both short- and long-team success. Developing individuals who can step into the leadership void left by Brandon Ubel and Dylan Talley will be one of the early focal points. During the summer, senior Ray Gallegos and sophomores Shavon Shields and Terran Petteway started to emerge.
“Leadership is a lot easier to recruit than to develop and it is better when you have guys with those innate abilities coming in and taking charge of a situation,” Miles said. “Ray, Terran and Shavon were voted captains, and it shows the players believe in those guys to be the voice with their coaches and that is a good start for leadership. Those are three guys that have stood out, and we know now we can foster and nurture their leadership skills.”
Despite being undersized in the frontcourt, Miles believes that this group will be more similar to his later Colorado State teams than the Husker team that struggled to put points up.
“I think this group will be able to make plays. Last year, we weren’t able to make plays,” Miles said. We could not score consistently, and we didn’t get to the foul line. We need to be on the attack and be aggressive, but there is also a lot of risk as well. It should be a fun year, and I think it will be a group that people like watching.”
The other change around Husker basketball is the facility itself, as Nebraska moves into the 15,000-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena in downtown Lincoln. Season tickets sold out in May, smashing school records in the process and building anticipation for the 2013-14 campaign.
“We are truly excited about moving into Pinnacle Bank Arena,” Miles said. “It is going to be a state-of-the-art, unbelievable environment. Fans are going to love the experience of being in the arena. It is our job to put a product on the floor that is exciting to watch and easy to root for. We need our fans. Our fans have stepped up and bought tickets, and now we need them to show up, be loud, be proud, stand up and don’t worry about the ushers telling you to sit down. We want to make this a difficult place for every opponent to play in.”