On Tuesday afternoon, Tim Miles’ time as the head coach of the Nebraska basketball program officially came to an end, although in reality, it had been over for a while.
Once the season went off the rails early on in Big Ten play—aided by Isaac Copeland Jr.’s torn ACL—and Miles couldn’t find a way to get it back on track, his fate was sealed.
The late season run by what was left of the roster by that point—winning four of their last six—was certainly a fun ride and a good way for this group to go out, but it wasn’t anywhere close to enough to save his job. What’s a six-game stretch compared to seven full seasons?
When Bill Moos arrived in Lincoln, he did his homework. Football was obviously his focus when he took the job, and once he lured Scott Frost back to Nebraska, he moved on to the rest of the athletic department. He studied Miles’ track record.
Moos learned about the run to the 2014 NCAA Tournament and how the Huskers followed that up in the 2014–15 season. Moos extended Miles’ contract by one year after last season and gave him simple marching orders in order to earn a full extension: keep winning.
“Stability and consistency” was the phrase that Moos used. That’s what he wanted to see from Miles’ program as opposed to a repeat of 2014–15 when Miles brought back his core from the previous season yet couldn’t replicate the success.
“Bracket or Bust: With its core four back, the expectation is clear at Nebraska.”
That was the headline and subhead for my season preview in the November issue of Hail Varsity.
Nebraska busted. After an 11-2 start to the year, the Huskers full into a rut where they lost 11-of-13 games and finished the regular season at 16-15 and 6-14 in Big Ten play, good for 13th in a 14-team conference. Nebraska won two games in the Big Ten Tournament and that was good enough for a bid in the NIT, though that wasn’t the bracket that Moos likely had in mind.
In seven years at Nebraska, Miles’ record was 116-114 overall and 52-76 in conference play. The Huskers finished in fourth place in the Big Ten in two of his seven seasons and were 10th or worse in each of the other five. Adding to the overall poor record was the fact that Nebraska rarely closed the season strong. Under Miles, the Huskers went 19-29 (.396) in February and 11-23 (.323) in March. Rarely did the Huskers give fans a sense of optimism heading into the offseason, and the two times they did the team followed it up with disappointing seasons including this year.
No matter what the roster looked like, the same problems persisted throughout the Miles tenure, and those problems ultimately led to his downfall.
The biggest of those issues? Well, let me ask you a question. What would you say was the program’s identity under Miles? When I say “Nebrasketball,” what pops into your head when it comes to playing style or recruiting strategy?
Nothing coming to mind? Yeah, I couldn’t really think of one either. I posed that same question to someone who has been close to the program, and he didn’t have a good answer for me either.
Miles would likely cite “defense” as his program’s identity, and the Huskers have certainly been scrappy on that end over most of the last seven years. But they’ve been far from elite. According to KenPom, Nebraska’s adjusted defensive ranking over the past seven years is 69.4. They had three top-50 defenses with a best ranking of 31 and two years outside the top 100.
Defensive rating isn’t as kind to Nebraska’s defense with an average ranking of 138.7 over the last seven years. Nebraska has only had two top-100 defenses with a best of 73rd.
Either way, that “defensive identity” wasn’t enough to get it done because, oh man, that offense…
Nebraska’s average adjusted offensive ranking according to KenPom was 129.1 under Miles, and the team’s average offensive rating was 214.9. Miles’ teams ranked inside the top 200 nationally in 3-point percentage just twice, no better than 169th (34.7 percent). The Huskers were also outside the top 300 twice. Perimeter shooting and overall scoring efficiency was a constant problem for the Huskers. Miles’ first five teams also averaged more turnovers than assists despite being one of the best teams in the country in limiting turnovers year in and year out.
Lack of ball movement and poor shooting made Nebraska far too easy to defend as the Huskers relied too heavily on individual players trying to get their own buckets.
This season, roster management came back to bite the Huskers as well as Miles struggled to recruit, develop and retain talent from the high school ranks. Even when the Huskers were rolling this season, depth was an issue as the bench consisted of freshmen not quite ready to contribute, sophomores who barely played last year and a former walk-on. Meanwhile, former Huskers Ed Morrow Jr. and Michael Jacobson played in the NCAA Tournament this season with their new teams. Had at least one of those players stuck around, the Copeland injury might not have been so devastating.
At one point or another, all of those issues popped up this season—the most anticipated season in recent Nebraska basketball history—and the result was a 19-17 season and a trip to the NIT.
It wasn’t all bad, however. Regardless of what happened afterward, Miles pushed all the right buttons down the stretch of his second season in Lincoln and took the Huskers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. No-Sit Sunday happened before my time on the beat, but that game and the atmosphere at Pinnacle Bank Arena that day will go down in Nebrasketball history.
Speaking of the Vault, Miles was at the helm of the men’s program as the basketball programs moved into their new digs and played a large part in firing up the fan base and filling the place. Miles is a master of playing the PR game and did an outstanding job putting the Huskers on the map both locally and nationally. His personality drew fans in and his quirkiness appealed to national media types who might otherwise not have spent much time thinking about Nebraska based on its history.
Miles never quite figured out how to build Nebraska into a consistent winner, but he’s leaving the program in a good place. The facilities and fan support are top-notch, and the cupboard is not completely bare depending on who the next coach can convince to stick around in addition to who he can add to the program.
“Now’s the time for the future; I’m the past,” Miles told reporters after he left his final meeting with athletic director Bill Moos. “We’ve worked hard to elevate this brand and Nebraska basketball. I’m proud of what we’ve done and I look forward to future success and hopefully they hire a great guy.”
Miles was spot-on with his comment. If Moos can nail this hire like he did with the football one—and all indications are he’s well on his way to doing so—this change has a chance to push the program forward rather than setting it back.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. 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.