Top five moments
1. No-Sit Sunday. They’ll be talking about No-Sit Sunday for years to come. A school-record crowd officially announced at two fans shy of 16,000 literally stood throughout Nebraska’s 77-68 season-ending victory against No. 9 Wisconsin that essentially clinched an NCAA Tournament bid. The Husker coaching staff earlier in the week pleaded with fans to stand throughout, and they obliged, creating one of the most electric atmospheres in recent memory of any Nebraska athletic event.
2. NCAA Tournament berth. The Huskers’ NCAA Tournament drought that dated to 1998 officially ended in front of some 2,500 fans who watched Nebraska’s name pop up on the Pinnacle Bank Arena four-sided video board. A national TV audience saw a live look-in at Nebraska players and coaches who jumped, hugged and high-fived in jubilation, with a raucous, relieved crowd behind them.
3. Winning at the Breslin Center. Nebraska had virtually no NCAA Tournament hopes until an unexpected Feb. 16 victory at No. 9 Michigan State. Nebraska snapped a 21-game losing streak in true road games against ranked teams, and collected its first true road victory against a top-10 team in 17 years. The 60-51 victory, in which Nebraska led the entire second half, pushed the Huskers’ Big Ten record to 6-6 and came during a stretch in which they won eight of nine games.
4. Opening night. The only game at Pinnacle Bank Arena that was more electric than No-Sit Sunday was the very first game played in the Huskers’ new home. The pomp and circumstance included a performance from the Cornhusker Marching Band, singer Tommy Lee spinning tunes on the north concourse and a sellout crowd cheering Nebraska to a 79-55 victory against Florida Gulf Coast.
5. Ohio State court storm. Students stormed the court twice in Pinnacle Bank Arena’s first season — after the season-finale victory against Wisconsin, but first on Jan. 20, after Nebraska ended its five-game losing streak (including four straight losses in Big Ten play) with a 68-62 victory against No. 17 Ohio State. The Huskers had lost by 31 points to the Buckeyes only 16 days earlier.
Top five things to work on
1. Staying disciplined. Tim Miles warned fans before the season that his team might resemble an EKG because of its drastic ups and downs. Some of that inconsistency was blamed on lack of maturity and discipline, which led to foul trouble and/or defensive breakdowns. Yes, the Huskers made strides, but look no further than the season’s final two games, both on a big stage, for proof that work remains in those areas.
2. Better body language. This falls in hand with the aforementioned youth and immaturity. Players, at times last season, would react poorly to mistakes or unfavorable calls, and those actions were on display for all to see. Some say that’s a sign of weakness or defeat, neither of which are true indicators of this team or program. But it can be a negative perception, something a more mature and more experienced team aims to fix next season.
3. Handling success. Let’s make the obvious assumption Nebraska won’t be picked last in the Big Ten in a third straight preseason poll. This team used that as motivation. Now, here come the expectations. Miles welcomes expectations. How will his players handle them? Rest assured Nebraska won’t be sneaking up on Michigan State again anytime soon.
4. Find a big man. News flash: Nebraska needs a big man in the middle, somebody who can eat up space, protect the rim, rebound and, on occasion, score. Could that man be Georgetown transfer Moses Ayegba? The 6-foot-9, 247-pound fifth-year senior is eligible to play immediately, and visited Lincoln over the weekend. Whether it’s Ayegba or another immediately eligible player, Nebraska would like an experienced big man to help ease 6-10 incoming freshman Jacob Hammond into the fold.
5. Improve point-guard play. There’s little argument that Tai Webster didn’t meet lofty and unwieldy expectations as a true freshman. Case in point: He didn’t score in Nebraska’s final five games. With a commitment from prep point guard Tarin Smith, it’s possible Webster will assume more of an off-guard or combo-guard role next season. Whatever the role, it would behoove Webster to stick around Lincoln this summer and nix any thoughts of returning to New Zealand to play on his country’s national team.
Top five things to look forward to
1. The growth of Terran Petteway. The best part about Petteway’s breakthrough sophomore season is that he’s not come close to reaching his potential. It’s also why talk of the NBA, based mostly on one favorable midseason mock draft, was far too early. The strong, slashing guard who's known for his strong work ethic and big motor led the Big Ten in scoring and earned first-team all-conference honors. He also gives Nebraska a headline player, something this program had sorely missed.
2. More fun at 'The Vault.' Nobody could’ve scripted Nebraska’s first season at Pinnacle Bank Arena any better. Fans helped create a decisive home-court advantage — the Huskers were 15-1 at home, with the only loss by one point to conference champion Michigan — and if No-Sit Sunday is any indication, they’re hungry to do more of the same in 2014-15. Visits from Creighton and Cincinnati in the nonconference, and from new visitors Michigan State and Iowa in Big Ten play, should stoke that fire.
3. New blood. Don’t underestimate the loss of assistant coach Craig Smith, the right-hand man through all of Miles’ rebuilding coaching stops. Now head coach at South Dakota, Smith is a brilliant X's and O's coach with a bright future. However, welcoming a 33-year coaching veteran to the program can’t be a bad replacement. Jim Molinari, 59, is known for his strong defensive principles and ability to teach, and he’ll serve as a strong bench coach whom Miles will trust entirely.
4. A trip to Hawaii. Christmas in Hawaii is always something to look forward to, right? That’s especially true with the opportunity that will await Nebraska in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, Dec. 22-25. Colorado, Wichita State, DePaul, George Washington, Hawaii, Loyola-Marymount and Ohio are also in the tournament, which could potentially boost Nebraska’s nonconference resume. Because of the long trip, Miles said he’ll likely postpone a summer exhibition tourney, originally set for Australia, for one year.
5. More time in the national spotlight. Nebraska is already ranked as high as No. 17 in some national publications’ ridiculously early top 25 polls. An also ridiculously early Joe Lunardi Bracketology report has Nebraska as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Of course it’s all lofty and premature. It’s also national exposure that Miles isn’t about to discount, and who can blame him? Having a target and catching folks’ attention is better than being an afterthought — or not thought of, period.