Even after adding to its best winning run in 15 years with Sunday's 76-57 victory over Purdue, Nebraska's morning started off as somewhat of a downer on Monday.
Despite averaging 27.5 points in wins over Penn State and the Boilermakers last week, sophomore forward Terran Petteway was beaten out by Michigan guard Nik Stauskas for Big Ten Player of the Week honors. While Stauskas, who has now won the award three times this season, certainly earned the recognition with his 25-point game to help knock off rival Michigan State on Sunday, it was understandable that some Husker fans felt a bit slighted for Petteway.
Then came all of the latest bracketology projections from various national sports media outlets. Though no one expected to see Nebraska jump into the NCAA Tournament predictions just yet, it was hard to ignore that teams like Minnesota (16-10 overall, 6-8 in Big Ten play and No. 57 in the latest RPI) were slotted ahead of NU (16-10, 8-6, No. 49 in RPI), especially considering the Huskers are two and a half games ahead of the Gophers in the conference standings and defeated them head-to-head 82-78 in Lincoln back on Jan. 26.
The good news for Nebraska is that a little extra motivation could be exactly what it needs to close out the final four regular season games as well as it's played during its current five-game winning streak. Head coach Tim Miles has used the theme of "avoid the noise" to keep his players focused on the task at hand and not getting caught up in the bubble talk hype. But while the underdog card may be close to running its course after the Huskers' recent run of success, Miles said coaches always use what they can to keep their players fired up.
"I think you have to tread lightly on all of that, you know what I mean?" Miles said during Monday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "You would be surprised how much you have to motivate and inspire guys in February and even March. I mean, they are tired. So you might try a few things. You've got a team to stimulate, but they've kind of seen through the revenge part at this point. You've played how many different opponents and this and that.
"But at the same time, these guys I think really have a will to put Nebraska on the map. I think that's truly what they want to do. So at different times a coach might use different philosophies, one being we're getting no respect and that type of thing would be something you would use. But it isn't anything you can do for long periods of time. I haven't even thought about it, so that tells you where I am with it."
Miles didn't comment specifically on Petteway not winning the league's player of the week award, but he did offer more praise for the Big Ten's scoring leader. With his 29 points against Purdue, Petteway tied Stauskas for the Big Ten lead with his 10th 20-point effort on the season, which marked the most an NU player has had since Aleks Maric had 12 back in 2006-07. Petteway has now topped 20 points in the past three outings and is averaging 26.2 per game over that stretch.
"Terran's been one of those guys where I think that he just cut down on turnovers and the amount of quick shots he takes, and it's allowed him to be more efficient," Miles said. "At the end of the day, he's a very hard, difficult guy to cover for any opponent. He can run the point, he'll play the two guard, he'll play the three man, he'll play the four, he'll guard the best player - whatever he has to do, he'll do it and he's athletic enough to do it. The other thing is he's really good in transition. His acceleration is as good as there is in our league. The kid can get it out, he's fast, and he's got a motor. He loves work, and those are all great characteristics."
Though it may seem like the Huskers are getting the short end of the stick in some respects, they're not being completely snubbed. For the past two weeks, Nebraska has received one vote in the USA Today Coaches Poll. Miles said he didn't know which coach gave them the vote, but he had one idea of who it could be.
"Does my mom have a vote?" Miles joked. "You know, she's an old newspaper gal. You never know. She didn't tell me."