Basketball has never been the apple of Nebraska’s eye. According to two of my friends who are Nebraska natives, the state’s rooting interests are very defined:
- Nebraska Football
- Creighton Bluejays Basketball
- Nebraska Women’s Volleyball
- Nebraska Women’s Basketball
- The Bubonic Plague
- Nebraska Men’s Basketball
In the recent years, administrators at the University of Nebraska have made a concerted effort to make men’s basketball relevant. The movement coincided with the school’s shift to the Big Ten Conference — the university broke ground on its brand-new, 15,147-seat arena just three weeks before the Cornhuskers’ football team played their first conference game as members of the Big Ten — and as the team continued to struggle, it only seemed fitting that the team should have a new coach to open its new arena in a new league.
It was a pretty easy decision to fire coach Doc Sadler, who went 12-18 in Nebraska’s first year of Big Ten basketball. He managed to post a winning record in Lincoln (101-89) , but the majority of his victories came while Nebraska was in the Big 12 Conference. Even then, Sadler never won more than eight conference games in a season and never made the NCAA Tournament. The Huskers always seemed to fall a game or two short of the Big Dance; they were the classic “beat everyone you’re supposed to beat, and lose to everyone you’re supposed to lose to” team.
Enter Tim Miles.
Who is he? He’s the coach that will lead Nebraska back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
Miles has a lengthy history of turning around low-lying programs. He took over Southwestern Minnesota State in 1997 after the Mustangs went 13-14 prior to his arrival, went 16-11 in his first season and had SMSU in the Division II Elite Eight in his fourth season.
From there, he was hired in 2001 to coach the North Dakota State Bison as they transitioned from Division II to Division I for basketball. After a transition year, he posted a winning record in each of the next five seasons — during that time he beat the No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers in Madison and the No. 8 Marquette Golden Eagles in Milwaukee — and a year after he left NDSU, the Bison made the NCAA Tournament with a team full of players he recruited and developed.
The Colorado State Rams were able to pry Miles away from North Dakota State in 2007, and Miles worked his usual magic despite inheriting a roster with just two returning players. The first two years in Fort Collins were predictably messy — Miles played guys that made the team through an open tryout — but CSU finished 16-16 in year three and made the NIT in year four under Miles. Then, while Doc Sadler was on his final legs in Lincoln, Miles led Colorado State — which hadn’t been to the Big Dance since 2003 — to the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
It’s clear that Tim Miles is a quality coach who knows how to build basketball programs into winners. Miles, 47, has finally made it to a power conference school and is on record stating that he would like to end his career at Nebraska. He has already begun turning the program around. Nebraska went 15-18 last season and beat both NCAA Tournament participant Minnesota and NIT Runner-up Iowa; this year the Huskers finished non-conference play 8-4 and beat 2012 tournament members Florida Gulf Coast and Miami in Lincoln.
Judging by Tim Miles’ track record, it will likely be at least another year or two before Nebraska truly threatens to make the NCAA Tournament. Nebraska has built a basketball Field of Dreams, and with Tim Miles coaching the Cornhuskers, the wins will come.