This past 2013-4 men’s basketball season has seen a tremendous change in Nebraska basketball. Coach Tim Miles has turned around a program that has never been a consistent winner into an exciting penetrating basketball team. Miles has tremendous young talent that this year was a growth year for multiple reasons. The team grew together and bonded as only the good teams can and will do. They learned to rely on each other and build on their ability to defend. Defenses do win titles. Every championship caliber team has a great defense.
Just to give you a bit of understanding where I get my experience and understanding of basketball and how I view the great game of basketball. My father was a basketball coach and started me playing basketball when I was able to walk and bounce a basketball. I remember being on a basketball court bouncing the ball before I started kindergarten in Belgrade, Nebraska where we lived. The first time I played organized basketball was at age eight. I played organized through high school and concentrated on football and track in college. After an injury playing baseball I took a brief three year hiatus in the US Army and returned to college on the GI Bill and worked my way through college in Lincoln, Nebraska officiating football, basketball and softball. From that point I had worked football and basketball for over twenty-five years from the little kid games to college games. Utilizing my engineering education I grew to know and recognize winning strategies for football and basketball and understanding what teams do enabling them to win games and the differences in the mental makeup of winning players and how they behave once they become consistent winners from a non-partisan perspective. I did not care who won and only recognized the difference in the players that won and those that lost. How they behaved and what they did to ensure those victories. In other words, I watched to see what the winners did to become the consistent winners they are. How they behaved when they lost and what they did to ensure that they learned from their mistakes enabling them to take that experience and win their next time in that position.
Now when I see a team compete I watch many behavior patterns to see if the teams are going to compete and what they will do when the “crunch” time happens.
Recently the only real team that I have watched over the last forty years, Nebraska Cornhuskers joined the B1G Conference. At first I was a bit unsettled by the loss of long-time football antagonist Oklahoma. All my life the Boomer Sooners were a football thorn in my side. It seemed they always won when they did not deserve to win the game and were lucky more than not. It was a lifetime of an opponent that I thought was worthy of my beloved Huskers. Yet when the Big-12 Conference was created the Boomers gave up their games with Nebraska every year in favor of their game with the Texas Tinhorns.
So it was that I knew that the departure from the Big-12 was the best thing from the perceived destruction of the Big-12 Conference by one team that felt they could and did bully their way onto the other conference members. It turned out that the conference commissioner had to go to prevent favoritism that allowed that bully to force its way on everyone else for the conference to heal and now looks to expand into a conference that will occasionally be competitive on the national college scene.
Meanwhile the B1G Conference knew that to make their basketball teams competitive they would have to play the best teams face-to-face and mature the talent in the conference learning how to first play at the national level and then to grow through the learning curve to win at the national level. When Nebraska joined the B1G Conference in 2011 the conference was playing the Atlantic Coast Conference face-to-face in early season matchups knowing that the teams would benefit from the national level exposure and grow into better basketball teams short-term and long term. Validating this assertion is that last year 2012-3 men’s basketball season the B1G had five teams in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Dance. This year the B1G Conference has three teams in the Elite Eight level playing excellent basketball with all their teams playing like experienced winners at this level.
Back to the Huskers
This past season the Men’s basketball Huskers were picked to finish last in the B1G Conference. The Women’s Basketball team was expected to compete and won their first ever Conference tournament once again going to the NCAA Women’s Dance. Another reason for our Husker Pride to grow and recognize what a solid coach that can teach players to hustle learning to play against national level competition can do for the team. It has taken Connie Yuri a few years but she has worked hard and reached a level where the Lady Huskers compete at that national level annually. The second year men’s BB coach had taken his teams at Colorado State to the NCAA Men’s Dance and was hired by Dr. Tom Osborne to take the men’s BB program to the same level as Yuri has done with the women. Something that Nebraska basketball has never done consistently.
As stated the team was not expected to compete and to well this year. They started the season losing more than they won. Miles changed the line-up and team chemistry was built allowing the team to start winning. They play excellent defense and the B1G Conference scoring leader is one of the best defenders always reaching out and switching and double covering with his teammates. They are a team effort defensively doing excellent work hustling making the effort to learn and get to the next level.
Getting to the next level and staying there is going to be their challenge this off-season. At the end of the season they lost to first Ohio State in the B1G Conference Tournament and then to Baylor in the NCAA Dance mostly due to their lack of tough game experience that is required to play in the “playoff” environment. In other words the teams do step up the competitive level when they get to tournament-time. It is a mental state they reach and to get there they have to learn how to reach that mental game and what to do to stay there mentally and physically.
When the final 3 minutes in the Ohio State game the OSU team that played in the NCAA Dance last year and advanced took control and performed as experienced winners. Our Huskers lost their focus and did not play up to their potential. They let OSU take them out of their game. During the Baylor game it was the Baylor defense that prevented the Huskers from driving the lane that they had done so well all season and took the game away from the Huskers. Both games with playoff experience could have been won. They are very close. They beat Wisconsin in Lincoln playing great Husker basketball. Wisconsin is still playing basketball into the Elite Eight this year along with two other B1G teams.
Our beloved men’s basketball team reached that level and did not win their first ever NCAA Dance game. Let us hope that Coach Miles will be able to coach the team and let them grow to that national competitive level for years to come. The Husker fans have proven they support the team with the season tickets were sold out last season for a team that was expected to finish last and finished fourth. The Wisconsin game was a standing only room crowd and the new Pinnacle Bank Arena was an exciting place to be.
Mike Babcock at Hail Varsity tells his readers that Husker fans should expect more from the Huskers and they should. The team has set our expectations and theirs at a higher level.
Go Big Red!