Tim Miles let his players go after the NCAA Tournament selection show. He watched the NIT bracket unveil alone in his office.
After a season marked by unprecedented program success — the Huskers won 13 league games this year, most in a season in school history — Nebraska failed to crack the 68-team NCAA Tournament field. A two-hour TBS special turned into a two-and-a-half hour wait to see whether they’d get to host an NIT game. Miles didn’t want to make his squad sit through any more.
“Just very disappointed,” the Husker head coach said Sunday evening. “What do you say? They’re disappointed.”
So, as the bracket began to unfold on-screen for the NIT, Miles watched as Nebraska came out a five-seed. Barring upsets elsewhere, Nebraska won’t host a game during the tournament. Sixteen teams, at least, were deemed better than the Cornhuskers. Wonder what Miles said when he found out?
“Well you know I can’t repeat that,” he said with this slight chuckle that felt more exhale than laugh. “I was surprised. I think the less I say, the better.”
A five-seed. The four-seed that will play host to Nebraska? Mississippi State (21-11, 9-9 SEC), the same Mississippi State team the Huskers beat in an exhibition in Starkville to begin the season.
“I really do feel like we got slapped in the face,” Miles said of the double-whammy Sunday evening. “It is what it is. We can still do something about it, I think that’s the good news. I hope we rally and respond and the guys feel the same way I do.
“If we just go with things as they are, that they think we’re the 17th-to-21st best team or whatever it is in the NIT and there’s 16 other teams ahead of us … I’d have a real problem with the committee on that. The chair saw us take one of the one-seeds [Kansas] to the final seconds and do some other things.”
Miles admitted he’s not sure how the seeding in the NIT works, if there are factors outside of a team’s basketball résumé that influence the decisions like facility availability or other administrative things, but when asked about nonconference scheduling, he said that’s something he’s going to look at.
“We’ve always scheduled fairly, to what we thought,” he said. “We just didn’t know what the league was going to look like, really, coming in. I think if you would have bet early in the year, I might have done the same.”
The Huskers’ nonconference strength of schedule ranked No. 296 out of 351 teams. The out-of-conference play proved to be a major point of emphasis with the committee. Nebraska did what it could, Miles just felt like there were things working against his team that were out of his control.
“We played plenty of Power Six schools — I don’t know how many but at least 23 or 24 I’m sure, and usually that’s kind of your number,” Miles said. “We had probably the fewest opportunities to win and we didn’t win. That’s what it all really comes down to.
“Essentially, by the time we played Ohio State at Ohio State there wasn’t another game we could have won that mattered until the Big Ten tournament. Nobody would have predicted that. You can’t.”
The Huskers had only seven Quad 1 games all season. North Carolina led the way in that regard with 21 and, among the six major college basketball conferences, seven was the fewest.
Miles was asked about motivating his team for a three-letter tournament when its heart has been set for over a month on a four-letter tournament and he said they’ll be ready to roll. But, he is concerned about the long layoff.
“I just don’t like not playing,” he said. “This will be our third game in 21 days, 22 days. Just the fact that we haven’t played at all, I mean, how much do you practice and still get better?”
Nebraska played 10 games in January. It played six in February. When the Huskers tip off against the Bulldogs it’ll be their third game since Feb. 25. There’s legitimate concern about getting everyone in game form, just not about being ready to play.
“They’ll be a very good team, there’s no doubt,” Miles said. “We’ll be ready to play.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.