For many Nebraska basketball fans, Wednesday night's regular season home finale against Minnesota will be somewhat of an emotional and bittersweet experience. The game will be the program's last ever inside the Bob Devaney Sports Center, where the Huskers have called home since the 1976-77 season.
While there's plenty of excitement over Nebraska moving into the brand new Pinnacle Bank Arena next this fall, it will also be a little sad to leave an arena that brought 37 years of memories for Husker hoops fans.
Head coach Tim Miles is in a bit of unique situation with the move, as he hasn't even coached a full season in the Devaney Center after taking over at NU this past spring. Despite his brief experience at "The Bob", Miles was quickly able to recognize and appreciate the 13,595-seat facility, where the Huskers have won more than 75 percent of their home games over nearly the past four decades.
"It's an exciting time for our program to move to Pinnacle Bank Arena," Miles said during Monday's Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "We're going to have state-of-the-art facilities for any major college basketball program and any professional franchise when you look at our practice facility and our game day facility.
"But at the same time, it's a sentimental time because there's so much historical value to Devaney in men's and women's basketball. It's a new chapter in its life to with volleyball moving over there full time, so I'm sure it's going to be a big day. Hopefully we can get a huge crowd and we can find a way to get a victory against Minnesota."
With one home game still to go, Miles has gone 10-7 at the Devaney so far in his first season at Nebraska. In those 10 victories especially, Miles said one of the Huskers' biggest advantages has been the electricity the arena can build up when the team gets rolling.
"I just think the game day experience when the crowd gets going and the way it carries us in some ways is very cool," Miles said. "I think it's a great advantage for a home team when the crowd is loud and proud and really into the game and our play is worthy of that. It just seems like it gets so loud that I can't hear the guys and they can't hear me, I think that's great stuff, and that's what college basketball's all about."
For Miles personally, though, Wednesday night's game will be more special because it will also be Senior Night for guard Dylan Talley, forward Brandon Ubel and center Andre Almeida.
"You look at our three seniors on Senior Night: Andre Almeida had an up and down year with injuries. That's a big evening for him," Miles said. "When Andre has played well, the Huskers have always played well. Brandon Ubel, he's been rock sold. Just kind of a pillar of what you want your program to be about and one of those guys I'm proud to have just been able to coach for a year. He's been a lot of fun, and I'm excited about watching him finish this strong."
As for Talley, few players have been more valuable for Nebraska all season and especially down the stretch than the former junior college transfer. The native of Camden, N.J., leads the Huskers with 14.4 points per game and 71 assists and is third with 5.1 rebounds and second with 26 steals.
He's been especially good over the past six games, averaging 20 points and leading the team in scoring five times during that stretch.
"Dylan's done an exceptional job I think the last handful of games just being able to step into the role of point guard, understanding when to facilitate, understanding when to score, getting the ball where it should be," Miles said. "I'm just very proud of Dylan and the progress he's made. He's taken every role I've ever thrown at him unquestionably, just 'Yes sir, I'll do it. We can do it. Don't worry about it, Coach, we're in there.' He's been a real joy to coach that way."
Around the rim
***Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports published a great feature story on Monday on Nebraska assistant coach Chris Harriman and his son Avery, who is battling his second round of leukemia. This is what Miles had to say about his relationship with the Harriman family.
"Well it didn't take long to form a friendship with Chris and gain immediate respect for his wife Cheryl and their family, and especially Avery," Miles said. "I knew at the time Avery was just about at the end of his first battle with leukemia, and when he had a relapse this fall, to see his family go into action and see their strength and perseverance through this has been incredible. I don't think there's enough superlatives to talk about the way the family has handled this situation, and we're just praying for the best and hoping that Avery stays strong and it all has a happy ending."
***Once again, Miles made it clear that it will be the NCAA Tournament, NIT or bust for Nebraska as far as post-season play is concerned. Miles said there still hasn't been any discussion between him and NU administration about playing in a lower tournament such as the CBI or CIT, and it's looking like there won't be any in the future.
"I've not discussed that with any of our administration," Miles said. "I've been pretty consistent with I don't know that another Big Ten team has ever played in an event other than the NIT or the NCAA, and I don't think I'd want to be the first."
Asked to expand on that stance, Miles thought his first answer was fairly clear:
"It is what it is. I mean, there's really no further explanation, I don't think."
***Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith couldn't be happier with the production he's been getting of late from Nebraska native and sophomore center Elliott Eliason.
"Elliott has been invaluable," Smith said. "You can teach a lot of things, but you can't team 7-foot. He's given us, the whole year, when he comes in he gives us energy, he takes up space under there. He's an excellent passer, and he's really helped us turn the three or four games around, especially against Indiana. He came in and held his own and really gave us a boost. We feel real confident in him. He gives you energy, he's can score inside and he can block shots and he can run the floor.
"He's been a crucial component for us this season, and for the next two or three years he's going to be. I think his upside is very, very good. He's just got to keep working and get stronger. We've got a lot of basketball to play, and Elliott is going to be a very important part of that."