It's been pretty much all smiles around the Nebraska basketball program over the first month of the season, but come Thursday night, the ante will get raised tenfold for the Huskers.
After getting off to a 6-1 start with wins over Valparaiso, Wake Forest and Southern Cal, head coach Tim Miles' squad will face one of its most difficult and high-profile tests of the year when it hosts in-state rival Creighton on Thursday at 7 p.m. CT.
As much good as the Huskers have done thus far, Miles said it won't mean anything if they don't put up the same effort against the No. 16/13 Bluejays.
"I don't think we'll raise any eyebrows unless we win on Thursday," Miles said.
Despite the large disparity in the national rankings, Nebraska comes into the annual showdown with better odds than some might think. The home team has won the last seven games in the series, with the Huskers taking the past three meetings at the Devaney Center.
Add that to a team that has largely overachieved from its preseason expectations, and a good portion of the momentum appears to be in NU's favor. However, Miles said he's not taking anything for granted against a Bluejay squad that's 7-1 with wins over Wisconsin, Arizona State and Saint Joseph's.
Led by All-American forward Doug McDermott - who comes in averaging 21.3 points and 7.1 rebounds a game - Creighton ranks 12th nationally in scoring at 82.6 ppg and second in field goal percentage at 53.1 percent under head coach Greg McDermott.
"We're just going out and try to win every possible game, and the next one is Creighton," Miles said. "We know that's an important game with the state rivalry. We know they're nationally ranked. They've got a team, a great team. A team of a lifetime when you look at all the pieces of the puzzle they have. Greg's a great coach, Doug's a great player, but there's plenty of pieces to go around, too."
For the players, this game is always a special occasion because of the rivalry implications and the bragging rights around the state between the two fan bases. As of Wednesday afternoon, there were only about 1,000 tickets remaining for the game.
"Everybody's excited," junior guard Ray Gallegos said. "They're a ranked team, and it's been a rivalry for a while. Everybody's real excited. We can't wait."
The match-up will be especially big for senior forward Brandon Ubel, who will get the task of guarding McDermott the bulk of the time they're on the floor together. In their previous two meetings in 2010 and 2011, McDermott averaged 17 points and nine rebounds, including 24 and 12 last year in Omaha.
"It's always fun," Ubel said of taking on McDermott. "Going against (USC's Dewayne) Dedmon, McDermott, I've played against (Ohio State's Jared) Sullinger, Cole Aldrich, the Morris twins (at Kansas). So I've kind of been through the gauntlet already. It'll be fun."
Creighton is currently being pegged as a 10-point favorite over the Huskers, but assuming Nebraska truly is better than most everyone had expected, it could very well be a toss up when the ball is finally tipped on Thursday night.
This will be Miles' first taste of what the Nebraska-Creighton series is all about, but he said he's already gained a good enough appreciation for its meaning in the state to fully embrace it as a rivalry.
"Of course. How could you not?" Miles said. "They've got a marquee program right now, and we're trying to get to that level. We're not there, but can we do it? Absolutely we can do it, and the sooner the better."
Around the rim
***The Devaney Center ticket windows and gates will open at 5:30 p.m. and fans are encouraged to arrive early to avoid traffic delays around the arena.
"The most important thing is we want to encourage fans to arrive early so they are in their seats for tipoff," Nebraska Executive Associate AD Marc Boehm said. "There is a lot of excitement for this match-up and we want to make sure that fans plan accordingly."
***Less than 1,000 tickets remain for Thursday's game and can be purchased for $20 at Huskers.com or by calling the Nebraska Ticket Office at 800-8-BIGRED. Tickets will also be sold, if any remain, at the Devaney Center Ticket windows beginning at 5:30 p.m.
***Fans who have bought single-game tickets are STRONGLY encouraged to enter the parking lots coming along Salt Creek Roadway to avoid excessive waiting.
From the North, enter from North Fair Park Drive (29th and Cornhusker) and stay on that road to the public cashier entrance.
From the South, the best way to enter the public lots is to stay on Salt Creek Roadway to the public cashiers after 14th Street (as the Military Drive entrance is primarily for donor/season ticket parking).
***Fans will have a chance to sign the last steel beam which will be hoisted into Lincoln's Pinnacle Bank Arena prior to (5:30-6:50 p.m.) and at halftime of Thursday's game. The beam will be located in the main lobby of the Hendricks Training Complex and fans will need a game ticket to enter the Hendricks Training Complex to sign the beam. The beam will be used the topping off ceremony next week.