Ask any college basketball pundit a few weeks ago and none of them would have predicted this. Three straight wins for Nebraska to kick off the Big Ten schedule. Many (this writer included) believed their shocking upset of Indiana was an aberration. But with wins over Maryland and Iowa since then, this Huskers team has defied the odds.
This Huskers team is young. The future is bright for Tim Miles’ squad but the present was supposed to be difficult. But three-and-oh is changing that perception.
After getting beat up in the nation’s seventh-toughest non-conference schedule (according to the RPI), the Huskers have battled and matured in real time. This team is capable of beating anybody on any night. That in itself is a far cry from the feeling surrounding this program on December 18th, when the Huskers lost a home contest to the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs.
Whatever Tim Miles said in that locker room after that loss must have been special. Because what this Nebraska team has done since then certainly has been.
The Cornhuskers still have holes. With three freshmen and three sophomores seeing extensive playing time the squad the team can be erratic on the court at times.
Defensive tenacity has been one key to the Huskers recent success. Miles attributes that to a “blackshirt mentality” on the defensive side of the ball.
“The idea of wearing a Blackshirt is that you are a special defensive player with a certain mentality that sets your team apart," Miles said to Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star. "Quite frankly, why not adopt the same idea basketball-wise?"
The team has also received veteran leadership from program cornerstone Tai Webster, as well as sophomore forwards Michael Jacobson and Ed Morrow.
The Iowa win wasn’t the most impressive of the team’s three Big Ten victories to date. But with the team running on fumes, the toughness of the Huskers ended up being the difference in the double overtime thriller. That’s what needs to happen in Big Ten play. That’s what needs to happen for a team to be tied atop the conference standings. It was a win that had Miles ecstatic in the post game press conference.
“I don’t know that there could be a person at the game that didn’t just love being a part of this game, win or lose,” Miles said to the Lincoln Journal Star. “Watching those guards go back and forth, Tai Webster doing his deal, I thought it was just really fun to be a part of.”
Glynn Watson’s 34 points helped the Huskers win their first three conference games for the first time in 41 years. The shooting duel between Watson and Big Ten leading scorer Peter Jok was one for the ages. The guards matched each other, basket for basket, with Jok also scoring 34 points. Watson hit seven of eight three point attempts. And when he fouled out with 2:11 remaining in the second overtime the Huskers did all they could to hang on.
Fans in Lincoln should be excited. This season has turned around completely for the Huskers. Nebraska now hosts Northwestern on Jan. 8 in a game that will certainly be winnable. Then it’s off to Ann Arbor to take on a Michigan team that looks vulnerable after being pushed to the limit by Penn State at home. Following that up with games against an underwhelming Ohio State squad and a Rutgers team that looks very much like the Big Ten’s cellar dweller and this Nebraska team could play it’s way into NCAA tournament consideration.
If Glynn Watson can continue to play like he did against Iowa and in that upset win over Indiana the Huskers have a legitimate number two scorer to compliment Tai Webster. The Huskers troubles in mid-December were largely tied to offensive inefficiency. But if they continue to play solid defense like they have in Big Ten play and get scoring depth from players like Watson and Horne this Huskers team could have thirteen wins when Purdue comes to town on Jan. 29.