Impressed with the effort Nebraska’s basketball team gave No. 22 Michigan State on Sunday, despite its short bench?
If so, you’re not alone.
Tom Izzo, the dean of Big Ten coaches who’s led Michigan State to seven conference titles and six NCAA Final Fours, was heaping praise on first-year Nebraska coach Tim Miles and the work he’s done with a depleted roster.
Izzo, on Monday’s Big Ten coaches’ teleconference, was explaining how Big Ten basketball is the best it’s ever been this season, mostly because of excellent coaching from top to bottom.
He pointed to Nebraska – now 9-8 overall and 0-4 in the Big Ten after Sunday’s 66-56 loss at Michigan State – as a prime example.
“Here’s a team that hasn’t won a conference game, and yet I don’t think any team wants to play them any place, home or away,” Izzo said. “They’re going to be a tough team to play on certain nights, I can promise you that.”
Izzo said Nebraska coached better and played better in a game that was much closer than the final margin of 10 points.
“They really played well against us,” Izzo said. “I don’t know if it was part them or part our ineptness, but I think Tim’s done an incredible job there already. Even at the beginning of the year, they’ve always been good defensively this whole season.
“They’ve struggled to put the ball in the hole at times, and if they ever get the Gallegos kid to where he’s shooting a high percentage, this is going to be a serious team.”
Ray Gallegos is averaging a team-best 14.2 points in Big Ten games, but is shooting just 9-of-44 (20.4 percent) on three-pointers. He was 32-of-93 (34.4 percent) on three-pointers in the nonconference.
For the first time this season, Nebraska started a game without 5-foot-9 point guard Benny Parker, and Miles said the new-look lineup will likely stick.
The bigger lineup, featuring 6-7 David Rivers and 6-6 Shavon Shields, with senior Dylan Talley handling the point, helped the offensively challenged Huskers on Sunday produce their highest point total in four Big Ten games.
Rivers and Shields combined to shoot 12-of-16 from the field and score 27 points.
“We’ve tried to get it on the floor as much as we could at different times,” said Miles, who first toyed extensively with a Parker-less lineup in the second half of a Dec. 23 loss at UTEP. “I think David Rivers probably got more time, but he earned more time, and I thought it was a fairly productive lineup for us.
“It challenges us in some areas, but at the same time, I think it gave us the best chance to win.”
What were Izzo and Miles discussing at length after Sunday’s game?
Here’s guessing the coaches weren’t reminiscing about their flight together last summer, when Miles invited Izzo aboard his private plane on a recruiting trip.
While the conversation looked pretty serious, both coaches insisted after the game it wasn’t anything contentious.
Izzo said he apologized for a lob dunk in the final seconds of the game – “I hate that,” Izzo said – while Miles wanted to make sure that Izzo knew that Gallegos didn’t intend harm to MSU guard Branden Dawson, when Dawson’s knee buckled and he crashed to the court on a layup attempt, with Gallegos close behind.
“There was nothing there,” Izzo said. “He wasn’t even touched when he went down.”
Gallegos, though, was called for a foul.
As for the last-second dunk, Miles said it didn't upset him.
"We were running around pressing them," Miles said, "so why not?"
* Only two weeks into the Big Ten season, and already, seven games have featured a team that’s failed to score 20 points in the first half -- and in two of those games, neither team cracked 20 points before halftime. One of llinois coach John Groce’s theories? “There’s a lot of really good coaches out there,” he said, “and everyone’s trying to take things away.”
* Last year, three Big Ten teams went 13-5 and tied for the conference title, and Michigan coach John Beilein said he wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s league champion had six losses. “Great conference,” Beilein said, “and I expect the wins and losses to be very difficult challenges for everybody all year long.”