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NU men's hoops vs. Penn State, 2/25/18

Nebraska head coach Tim Miles (front) and assistant coach Michael Lewis shout instructions during the first half against Penn State on Feb. 25.

This feels like an OK time to give Tim Miles too much credit.

Stay with me on this.

Think back to Dec. 9. The sixth-year Nebraska men's basketball coach was blank-faced and somber — surprisingly somber, I thought at the time — following his team's 75-65 loss at Creighton.

Think back to Dec. 16. I covered the Nebraska volleyball team's NCAA Tournament championship match that night in Kansas City, Missouri. But I'm told Miles seemed almost devastated by the 73-72 loss to then-No. 13 Kansas in Pinnacle Bank Arena.

My theory is Miles' devastation — at least part of it — was because he saw all this coming.

By "all this," I mean his team's excellent season, which continued Sunday with a 76-64 triumph against Penn State in the regular-season finale for both teams.

By "all this," I mean Nebraska getting its 22nd win of the season (tied for second-most in school history) and its 13th Big Ten Conference win (the most conference wins in a season in school history).

By "all this," I mean Nebraska going undefeated at home (9-0) against league opponents for the ninth time in school history, and the first time since the 1965-66 season, when Joe Cipriano's team often pressed full court and led the Big Eight in scoring.

My theory is Miles knew clear back in mid-December he had an excellent team, a team with nice chemistry, a team that could make serious noise in an unusually manageable Big Ten. Nebraska did make some noise. In fact, it caused the sort of stir this winter that led to the raucous environment created by a crowd of 15,539 Sunday at PBA.

But right now, it's probably not enough. You know the quandary to which I refer: Nebraska has only one Quadrant I win (72-52 against Michigan Jan. 18). Consequently, the Huskers are on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Before the Penn State game, Joe Lunardi of ESPN had NU among his "next four out." For heaven's sake, he had Penn State (19-12, 9-9) in his "first four out." Yes, ahead of the Huskers. Go figure.

Yeah, maybe Miles saw this whole conversation coming. Maybe that's why he looked sick after those losses to Creighton and Kansas, especially KU. Put it this way: Had Nebraska beaten the Jayhawks (now 23-6, 12-4 Big 12), we're talking about the Huskers right now as a shoe-in for the Big Dance. Maybe we'd be saying the same if the Huskers had beaten the Bluejays (20-9, 9-7 Big East), which just knocked off third-ranked Villanova.

Point is, Miles perhaps knew he had an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. He also knew those losses could come back and haunt in an excruciating way.

He was right. Nebraska apparently has work to do in the odd world known as "NCAA bracketology."

All the metrics can feel a little ridiculous.

"Like tonight, it's a Quad I win for Penn State, and a Quad III win for us," Miles said. "OK. Sure."

When Miles mentions "bad luck with the conference schedule," he maybe means Nebraska, with new faces in key roles, needed time to gel. But because of the Big Ten's odd scheduling this season, the Huskers played at then-No. 3 Michigan State on Dec. 3 (an 86-57 loss). A month later, Miles' squad was playing better, but not good enough to win at then-No. 13 Purdue. 

But Nebraska found its stride, no doubt about that. It's won 10 of its last 12 games. Bruce Rasmussen, chairman of the NCAA Tournament selection committee, was seated court-side as Nebraska jumped on Penn State to the tune of 34-17 at halftime.

Rasmussen respects Nebraska's talent and potential, that I know. After Creighton fought off Miles' crew, I spoke briefly with Rasmussen. He told me Nebraska was good enough to beat Kansas in Lincoln. Now, think about Rasmussen's comment — clear back in December — in the context of Lunardi having Kansas as a No. 1 seed last week.

Nebraska passes the eye test when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Watch them. You know the Huskers belong.

But they come up short in the metrics part. 

Of course, that could change this week in New York, where Nebraska likely will face Michigan, winner of five straight games, on Friday in the Big Ten Tournament. The Wolverines (24-7, 13-5) have back-to-back wins at Penn State (72-63) and Maryland (85-61).

I'm totally in favor of teams earning their way into the Dance. With another win against Michigan, especially considering the way the Wolverines are playing at the moment, Nebraska surely would earn a bid. Right?

Right?

It's got to be gut-wrenching for Miles' team, listening to all the bracketology speculation.

Yes, it's very possible Miles saw it all coming.

By the way, I don't mind giving him too much credit right now.

His team's had a great season — but Husker fans want great to become special.

It's up to you, New York. If Nebraska can make it there ...

You know the rest.

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

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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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