Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, 1.29

Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos (left) watches the Husker men's basketball team take on Wisconsin Jan. 29 at Pinnacle Bank Arena. 

There is plenty to think about right now.

Seems like a good time to go for a drive.

1. If Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos plans to fire Tim Miles -- which appears very likely -- he's taking a bit of a risk by allowing the rest of the Huskers' season to play out in the NIT.

Part of the risk, of course, is that Nebraska (18-16) makes a deep tournament run and Miles gains increasing support from the fan base. I personally know plenty of people who think the seventh-year Husker head coach should be retained. I respect that opinion, although I think it's misguided.

Let's say Nebraska does make a deep NIT run and Moos still makes a change. He would have to clearly explain himself to the Big Red masses -- and I don't think it would be difficult to do so.

Moos could go back to what he told the Journal Star in October. He said he wanted to see stability and consistency in Miles' program this season. Stability and consistency isn't losing nine of 11 games in the Big Ten during a five-week period in January and early February. Stability and consistency isn't following up last season's fourth-place conference finish with a 6-14 record this season, good for 13th in the 14-team league.

Nebraska was picked to finish fourth in a preseason media poll.

"We need to come back and win 22 again this year," Moos said in October. "That's not necessarily a mandate. But we need to have that kind of year. Let's see how we respond to being picked high in the preseason. It's one thing to get there and another to stay there."

Nebraska initially responded well to high expectations, taking a record of 11-2 into January. As expectations and pressure increased, the Huskers responded with a colossal display of weakness, losing 11 of its final 14 regular-season games. It marked the fifth time in the Miles era that the program faltered badly down the stretch of a regular season.

It's important to lean on facts in this conversation, as opposed to emotional pleas and sympathy.

Fact is, Nebraska came on strong in the Big Ten Tournament when the pressure was gone. It was a nice run. It felt good. Miles tripped over a cable and fans ate it up. Media also adores Tim. The Johnny Trueblood story was great theater. You had to be especially happy for fellow seniors James Palmer, Glynn Watson and Tanner Borchardt. They now get to keep playing.

But let's be clear about the expectations heading into the season: The prevailing wisdom was Nebraska should be a lock to make the Big Dance. This would be the season the Huskers would finally break through with the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament win. Those were reasonable expectations based on returning talent. One injury (to senior forward Isaac Copeland) shouldn't have waylaid the program to the extent it did. Strong programs don't let one injury derail them.

Seven years is enough time to build a strong program.

One other thing to keep in mind: Think back to September of 2017 when Shawn Eichorst was fired as Nebraska's athletic director. UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green and NU President Hank Bounds lauded Eichorst's work in the areas of student-athletes' academic performance, life skills and community service. But Green and Bounds sent out a clear message that day regarding Husker athletics in general.

More wins, please.

I don't think they meant more wins in the NIT.

2. National hoops analyst Andy Katz raised eyebrows Friday when he tossed out what he thinks should be the expectations for Nebraska's basketball program.

I'm not sure what to think about Katz's comments because what he said Friday was a stark contrast to what he told "Early Break" (93.7 FM) in January of 2017.

Here's what he said Friday: "Nebraska's never been a basketball powerhouse, and I don't know if they ever will. They'll be a program that, every once in a while, maybe can get in the NCAA Tournament. But they're not ever going to be a program that's going to consistently win the Big Ten. So know who you are. Know what you want at your university. Ethics and character certainly have to be at the top of the list."

Miles runs a clean ship. There's little doubt about that.

Now, here's what Katz said in January of 2017 when asked on "Early Break" if the Huskers can ever regularly finish in the top seven of the Big Ten: "I think there's no better place than Wisconsin for Nebraska to look for a comparable school in its own league. I went to Wisconsin when it was horrible in the 1980s. Wisconsin basketball was completely irrelevant."

That obviously has changed markedly.

"From the late 1990s pretty much throughout the entire 2000s, they've been consistently good," Katz said. "There's no reason why Nebraska can't mirror that. The state of Wisconsin doesn't have a lot of high-level Division I talent. Every once in awhile, you'll get someone out of Milwaukee or other parts of the state. Milwaukee obviously has a little bit more population to pull from (than Omaha), but not a lot.

"And the Badgers obviously are closer to Chicago. But Nebraska has the ability to find its (recruiting) niche. And you've obviously got a major football program like Wisconsin has, and you've got the Big Ten money coming in. Facilities and support are not an issue."

Wisconsin has reached 20 of the last 21 NCAA Tournaments. Nobody expects that level of consistency at Nebraska. But you get the point.

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Which of Katz's opinions jibes with yours?

For me, it's clearly the latter.

3. Another national analyst, Jeff Goodman, tweeted Monday that Fred Hoiberg "is expected to be the frontrunner for the Nebraska job when Tim Miles is let go." The Journal Star subsequently reported that Nebraska and Hoiberg have had serious discussions.

The Hoiberg-to-Nebraska possibility has been tossed around often. When it comes to the former Iowa State head coach, folks inevitably wonder about his relationship to college recruiting, and the comments he made a couple seasons ago.

“I absolutely ... hated recruiting,” he told the Office Show’s Keith Smith in 2017.

So, um, what about that comment, coach?

“There were a lot of things I didn’t like about recruiting; a lot of things are sometimes out of your control when you’re recruiting,” Hoiberg told Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register a month ago. "Some of the things I liked about recruiting were building relationships with the kid and building relationships with the family. I liked that a lot. I felt like I was pretty good at it. We had some really high-level players (at ISU) as transfers and also as four-year guys.

“It’s the most important thing you do as a college coach, I get that. If it is a college opportunity, I’ll go 100 percent at it and do the best job I can to build the program."

"It is a grind," he added. "You can talk to any college coach, and they’ll tell you the same thing. And if they tell you something different, they’re lying to you.”

If I were a college A.D., those comments would quell any concerns about Hoiberg's willingness to recruit with vigor.

Peterson's takeaway is that Hoiberg will coach again.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if it's at Nebraska.

4. If you haven't filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket yet, or you're planning to fill out several and haven't gotten all of them done, keep third-seeded Purdue in mind as a team that could make a deep run in the South Region.

So says both Seth Davis and Nick Bahe. It makes sense. The Boilermakers possess potency inside the paint and on the perimeter. They also have the relentless Carsen Edwards, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound dynamo from Atascocita, Texas. But he was only 14-for-66 from three-point territory in the last seven games (21.2 percent).

Great players step up on grand stages. Edwards will rise to the occasion.

Matt Painter has taken Purdue to the Sweet 16 four times (2009, 2010, 2017 and 2018), but never beyond.

This team is capable of breaking down that barrier.

5. If you can name last season's NIT champion, you're a better hoops fan than most.

Hint: It was a team that began Big Ten play this season with 10 straight losses.

That's right, Penn State.

The lesson? Don't get carried away if Nebraska makes a deep run.

6. I'm almost outta gas. I wanted to find some old NIT photos, but settled for this ...

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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