This reaction probably wasn’t too uncommon Sunday: “Nebraska beat Michigan State?!?!?”
But once you get past the surprise of that general statement — realize the Huskers had never beat the Spartans as a member of the Big Ten and hadn’t beat them at all since 1994 — it’s important to note that Nebraska, a school known for having a weak basketball program, is having a very strong season.
The win moved the Huskers to .500 in the Big Ten, improved their overall record to 14-10, gave them their sixth victory in their last eight games and was their third straight conference win, the first time that’s happened since 2011.
And, oh yeah, they upset one of the top 10 teams in the country.
“I’ve only been here a year and half but for us, obviously, it’s a marquee win. It’s really important,” head coach Tim Miles said. “I think there are certain moments in time that you have to define yourself. I really believe in this group. We’re coming together, and we’re figuring things out as a group more and more every day, even in practice.
“This is a great win.”
The question now has to be asked: Is Nebraska capable of making the NCAA tournament?
The Huskers haven’t appeared in the Big Dance since 1998, and they’re one of those few major-conference teams that’s never won a game in the tourney, too. But don’t let that history tarnish their resume. Of their 10 losses, six have come against teams currently ranked in the top 25 (Creighton, Cincinnati, Iowa, Ohio State and two against Michigan). Another came against a team that spent a good deal of time in the top 25 (UMass). Plus, the Huskers have wins over Ohio State and Michigan State.
Earlier in the conference schedule, it was the Huskers’ awesome home-court advantage that was the story. But their road woes were a problem. They’re still 11-1 at brand-new Pinnacle Bank Arena, and they’ve won two straight road games against Northwestern and Michigan State.
Plus, Nebraska has one of the Big Ten’s best players in Terran Petteway, a high-scoring guard who won’t go under the radar for much longer. Petteway won Big Ten Co-Player of the Week honors Monday, and he ranks second in the conference with 17.7 points per game. He scored 23 points against the Spartans on Sunday.
So, about that NCAA tournament, coach Miles?
“Our standard, like anybody in college basketball, is you want to get to the NCAA tournament,” Miles said. “Everybody’s got this hopeful optimism at the beginning of the year that they want to be able to play in the largest event of college basketball. I’m doing a disservice to my team if that’s not unconditionally our goal. It’s always our goal. Now when we were 0-4 in the league, how are you going to get there, right? At the same time, I think we just worry about our process of getting better every day. Can I be a better player today? Can I be a better teammate today? And just stick with the process and good things will happen. After the conclusion of the season, it’s still out of our control unless we win the Big Ten tournament.”