As rumors fly about Coach Tim Miles’ job status and a potential replacement this week, Miles and his team have a game to prepare for. The Huskers will open the 2019 NIT at home against Butler on Wednesday.
“I think what you try to do as a coach is you know the noise that’a out there, but you do your job,” Miles said after practice on Tuesday. “I’m never going to quit on this job. I don’t expect our players are ever going to quit. We’re going to fight until they tell us we can’t fight any more and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The Huskers’ run in the Big Ten Tournament came to an end on Friday and Miles gave his team the weekend off as they awaited their postseason fate. Since Sunday night, however, it’s been business as usual.
“Regular game prep for these guys,” Miles said. “We got two days off on Saturday and Sunday, and we hadn’t had two consecutive days off in a while so just getting them re-locked in. The thing you always worry about as a coach is now when they don’t have a regular routine and they’re in their spring break mode, you don’t want them playing in spring break mode. You need to keep it competitive. That’s what we’ve tried to do the last two days.”
The Huskers found themselves in the NIT last year after winning 22 games and came out flat in their first game, falling to Mississippi State 66-59 to end their season. Miles said he doesn’t want a repeat of that.
“The first thing I said was ‘What kind of life do you have in you? Are you going to be competitive?” I didn’t like last year’s mentality,” Miles said. “I felt like we were beating up a poor old dead mule. I’m going to coach them hard; this group has allowed me to coach them hard. I just brought it up. You’ve got to be in a competitive mindset or it’s not going to go well. I think it’s been solid. I don’t think it’s been outstanding, but it’s been solid.”
A big difference this year is that most of Nebraska’s team is made up of seniors. This is the last run for James Palmer Jr., Glynn Watson Jr., Tanner Borchardt and Johnny Trueblood.
“We’re just using it as another opportunity to play basketball,” Palmer said. “Any time you get to keep playing… There are plenty of other teams that aren’t playing at all. I think that’s to our advantage.”
“It’s important to me, just an opportunity to play again with these guys and just try to make the best of it,” Watson added.
The Huskers will be short-handed once again on Wednesday. Miles said neither sophomore Thomas Allen Jr. nor freshman Brady Heiman practiced the last two days. Allen has missed the last five games.
“He’s done more, he’s shot, he’s moved forward, but it’s more of a high-ankle sprain than it is a normal ankle sprain,” Miles said.
As for Heiman, Miles said he suffered a back injury in the last few days. If neither one can play, that leaves the Huskers with just seven available players including two walk-ons as sophomore Nana Akenten’s suspension will last until the end of the season and freshman Amir Harris’ knee injury he suffered on senior day against Iowa will keep him out for the rest of the year as well.
Nebraska students are on spring break this week, so Miles said he’s hoping for a good turnout from the fans to make up for their absence.
“I think the fans will come,” Miles said. “They’ve been great to us. You never know how it’s going to work out in the postseason like this on a short turnaround. Hopefully we get the fans because with the students off for spring break, you want that element of atmosphere and that home court advantage. It won’t be the same, we know that, but it can be really good in here either way.”
The Nebraska program is using Wednesday’s game as an opportunity to provide some relief to those affected by the flooding across Nebraska. They will be accepting donations for the Red Cross at the game.
“We were able to partner with the Red Cross which is important,” Miles said. “When you’re in a postseason event like this, it’s not always the easiest thing to do but thank goodness the Red Cross has stepped up because a lot of people were hit very hard. You look at the amount of livestock, land, bridges — how much infrastructure has been damaged, and roads? It’s going to be a long-term cleanup. I’ve been around floods when I’ve been at Mayville State and Fargo and they’re devastating, so I feel for all the families involved and we just want to be able to have a way for people to help and that’s what we’re doing.”
Once again this season, the NIT will test out experimental rules. The tournament used three of these rules last season and has added a fourth this year. The rule changes that carried over from last year are an expanded lane (from 12 feet to 16 feet), an extended 3-point line (to 22 feet, 1.75 inches, the same distance as the international arc), and the shot clock resetting to 20 seconds instead of the full 30 after an offensive rebound.
Expanded lane, extended 3-point line for the NIT.
(Also, a cameo by Coach Mo.)#Nebrasketball pic.twitter.com/XpAhwo3iUs
— Jacob Padilla (@JacobPadilla_) March 19, 2019
The new rule states that team foul counts will reset at the 10-minute mark of each half and one-and-one shooting will be eliminated. Instead, teams will shoot two shots after the fifth foul of each segment as well as on the second foul of the the final two minutes if the five-foul limit had not been reached.
“I was never a fan of quarters and I don’t love the [single] bonus going away and the reset of the fouls,” Miles said. “It’s hard to get to the bonus that way. That concerns me because that’s an element of offense when you’ve got drivers like James and guys like that that you can utilize offensively, it’s not quite as easy. I like the reset on the shot clock though where you’ve got to get it out and keep playing offense. I think that’s good for the players. I think everybody should have a shot clock, the high schools. I’m glad that they’re making us play more out of it even with the jump ball that stays at 20 and those things. I think it’s good. I’m not in love with the [expanded] lane; I’m just not in love with it. The 3, I don’t the 3 being pushed out a little bit. I don’t think it’s to our advantage at all. It changes the game a little bit.”
Butler went 16-16 this season, finishing in a tie for last place in the Big East with a 7-11 conference record. Junior guard Kamar Baldwin leads the way at 17.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists and is a tenacious defender as well. Senior guard Paul Jorgensen is second in scoring at 11.7 points per game and is shooting 38.3 percent from 3, also second-best on the team behind Junior forward Sean McDermott (39.7 percent from deep, 9.4 points per game).
“I like the guards matchup,” Miles said. “I think it’s going to be high-level guard play and we’ve got to make sure we get to their other shooters. And then Isaiah Roby and those other guys have to have good games. We’re going to need a productive day out of a kid like Isaiah.”
Roby had one of his best games of the season on senior day against Iowa but never quite got going in Chicago, scoring 38 points on 13-of-40 shooting in Nebraska’s three Big Ten games.
Tipoff at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Wednesday is set for 8 p.m. CT on ESPN2 with Jordan Bergenfield and Kevin Lehman on the call.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.