Nebraska coach Tim Miles is not short on enthusium. (Eric Francis / Getty Images)
If there was an award for the coolest coach in the Big Ten, odds are Nebraska’s Tim Miles would win in a runaway.
The second-year head of the Cornhuskers is as affable as he is talented, and in rather short order, he at least has the Nebraska program headed in the right direction and pointing toward finally ending an NCAA Tournament drought that dates back to 1998.
That might not come this season, but there is little doubt among the conference’s other coaches that Miles has the Cornhuskers on the right track.
“They’re very talented,” said Ohio State coach Thad Matta, whose team lost at Nebraska last week. “Tim’s doing a great job of putting those guys in position to be successful.”
And the place they have been the most successful is at their sparkling new home, the Pinnacle Bank Arena. It’s the first year playing there, and through three conference home games, the Huskers have knocked off both Ohio State and Minnesota and fell one point shy of upsetting Michigan, missing a layup in the final seconds.
“They really should have beaten Michigan at home,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “It’s a great home-court advantage. They are rallying around that building and have a newfound enthusiasm for that program.”
Miles, who has been successful at virtually every level of college basketball, believes the new arena has played a large role in his team’s early success.
“It’s been a blessing for us,” Miles said. “It’s a great place to play and has got a really neat vibe. It’s a basketball place, not a hockey arena where the first 30 rows are flat and then there’s the stands. It’s a basketball arena and it carries noise really well, and our guys like it. They spend a lot of time in there and enjoy it.”
As much as the new arena has created a tough place for opposing Big Ten teams to play, the Huskers have put together one of their most talented teams Sophomore forward Terran Petteway, who sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech, is third in the conference in scoring at 18.2 points a game and scored a career-high 35 in the victory over Minnesota.
“He’s fearless; he’s absolutely fearless,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean, whose team faces Nebraska on Thursday. “He plays both ends of the floor extremely well, very aggressive, very good skill set, very good size. He plays extremely hard, but more importantly than just playing hard, he looks to be extremely competitive.”
Added Miles after Petteway’s career night, “He’s a machine. He really is.”
That production, combined with a home environment not seen at Nebraska in years, has made the Huskers a tough out in just their third season in the Big Ten.
Biggs off team
Not all the news is great coming out of Lincoln. On Monday, the Omaha World Herald reported that junior guard Deverell Biggs was dismissed from the team for repeated disciplinary issues. Biggs was averaging 9.9 points a game and declined to comment after contacted by the Herald.
Biggs is a former two-time All-Nebraska high school pick who led Omaha Central to three straight Class A state titles and was a first-team junior college All-American in 2011-12 at Seward County (Kan.) Community College.
He has had plenty of issues, however, including a charge of driving while intoxicated in 2012-13 that led to a two-game suspension. He did not travel with the team to Cincinnati on Dec. 28 for disciplinary reasons after missing a film session and did not play Sunday against Minnesota.
Miles did not comment on Biggs during the Big Ten’s weekly conference call on Monday.
Illinois fighting slump
Things have truly gone off the rails for Illinois, which entered the national rankings just after the first of the year only to lose six straight, the latest a 10-point setback at Indiana on Sunday when the Illini managed only 46 points.
But coach John Groce has not been deterred.
“I love our guys’ fight right now,” he said. “They continue to fight through adversity.”
One positive sign for Illinois is the resurgence of leading scorer Rayvonte Rice. He was held scoreless in a loss to Ohio State but responded with 20 points in the loss to Indiana.
But Groce knows it will take more than Rice to turn things around.
“He needs some help,” Groce said. “We need some guys to be a little more consistent with their shot-making and their scoring. There’s a lot of pressure on him on that offensive end. We get some guys to step up and make some wide-open plays, that will make things easier on him.”
Toughing it out
Few have ever questioned the toughness of Bo Ryan’s teams, and after the past week, the same can be said for the Wisconsin coach. He said in 42 years he’s never missed a game or practice, and a little flu bug wasn’t going to stop him Saturday at Purdue.
That’s not to say it was easy, especially for players like Frank Kaminsky who feared the coach might lose his lunch during a timeout.
“He said, ‘Keep the trash can ready,’ ” Kaminsky said, “and then I kind of took a step back because I didn’t want him to throw up on me.”
By Monday, Ryan wasn’t feeling a whole lot better but could at least have some fun with reporters.
“I average six or seven hours (of sleep) a night,” he said. “Saturday night, went to bed at midnight when we got back, and woke up at 11:30 on Sunday. I was afraid it was Monday. And then (went to sleep at) 9 last night and slept all the way through until 8. So you might say I’m well-rested.
“Forty-two years, never missing a practice or a game. That’s the only reason I’m here today; we have practice. Not to see you guys, no.”