It's been a couple months since Nebraska has actually had some momentum going into a week like it does right now. The Huskers are coming off a 67-53 win over Penn State on Saturday night, which marked their third Big Ten win and first season sweep of a conference opponent since topping Colorado twice in 2008-09.
Unfortunately for NU, it won't be able to sit back and enjoy its success much longer. The brutal grind of the Big Ten schedule kicks back up into full force this week, as the Huskers travel to take on No. 1 Indiana on Wednesday night and then play host to No. 8 Michigan State on Saturday.
Head coach Tim Miles was asked about the daunting week ahead during the Big Ten coaches' teleconference on Monday. While he would have liked to talk at least a little about his team's performance against the Nittany Lions, he was well aware of the challenge that lied ahead.
"I'd rather talk about Penn State, but I guess I can talk about Indiana and Michigan State," Miles joked. "Two premier programs in the Big Ten, both right on top of the league. It's going to be a really important week to play our best basketball and compete well. We're looking forward to going to practice today and taking that next step forward and getting ready for IU."
Up first are the top-ranked Hoosiers, who bounced back from a last-second loss to Illinois early last week with a dominant 81-68 win over then-No. 10 Ohio State on Sunday. Indiana comes in ranked second nationally with 83.2 points per game and fourth with a .502 team field goal percentage on the season.
Led by star junior guard Victor Oladipo, who's coming off a career-high 26 points versus the Buckeyes, the Hoosiers stand atop the Big Ten standings at 21-3 overall and 9-2 in league play.
"I was just thinking today, 'How you do slow these guys down?'" Miles said. "I think it might be easier to try and figure out which whack job is going to get Shelley Duvall next in The Shining. I mean, it's just one thing after another, and they're all nightmarish. They've got great athleticism, they shoot the 3 really well, they've got great interior play; Victor Oladipo is a potential Player of the Year, and you just look at all the weapons they have, they're an amazing team."
Nebraska is coming off a much-needed win, but it definitely didn't happen in the most aesthetically pleasing fashion. The Huskers emerged victorious over PSU after a game that featured a combined 51 fouls and 73 free throw attempts.
Even so, Miles said it was good to see his players fight through and match the intensity of a Nittany Lion team still searching for its first Big Ten victory.
"I thought it was important to come out and play with good energy, and the guys really did," Miles said. "I thought that we defended well the whole night. I thought our scout team gave us a really good look the last two days of the week, and I know we were prepared for what was going on, and the guys did a really nice job. Defensively we were really solid, and we're our own being on offense. But just the game the way it was, it was so many rebounds, so many loose balls and so many fouls consequently because of those, we were able to make our foul shots to at least have some consistent offense."
The Huskers are going from facing the Big Ten's last-place team to the first-place team in a matter of four days. While figuring out a game plan to shut down one of the most talented teams in college basketball will be a completely different task than preparing for Penn State, Miles said there would be a few constants he wanted to see carried over against the Hoosiers.
"Every approach is a little different, but we always want to do the same things: we want to play an extremely hard game, we want to give our guys a chance to win," Miles said. "That's what we'll do. As we game plan accordingly for Indiana, we'll look at what we think it's going to take to beat them. You can't let them play racehorse basketball; you can't let them get going.
"You have to do a good job of making them one dimensional, whatever that might be, and we've got to play. We've got to play great defense, great conversion defense, get back and we've got to be able to handle their pressure defense. I think their defense is better than people give them credit for."
Around the rim
***Miles said he's already starting to make his seniors realize that they only have eight more guaranteed games left in the college careers, and now was the time to make the most the chances they have left.
"We talked to those guys about the countdown," Miles said. "I mean, you're looking at nine games, then eight games, and pretty soon you're going to blink and your career's over. Hopefully that creates urgency in those guys."
***One senior who's seen a pleasant re-emergence over the past couple games is center Andre Almeida. Since NU's loss to Ohio State back on Feb. 2, Almeida is averaging 5.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks over the last two games.
"Andre has the personality of a really laid back kid," Miles said. "He's a great guy, everybody loves him, he's funny, he's fun to be around that way; and sometimes he plays to that personality, too. You have to get outside yourself when you cross the line, and you have to be a highly energetic and intense competitor, and I think we've seen that out of him the last few games. He's really been a key for us and has been very helpful. That size defensively really helps us, and it helps us end possessions with rebounds and helps us make it hard to score in the two-point area too."
***Miles was asked how much he's seen his team grow and develop over the course of his first season in Lincoln.
"I've seen a great deal of progress in terms of acclimating to the way we want to play," Miles said. "I've seen great buy-in by our guys. I think they've done a really nice job of just committing to, 'OK, let's do this,' which is a departure of the way they've played in the past in some ways. The guys have really bought in. We're not always pretty to watch. We don't have a great deal of offensive firepower, but we've been solid defensively."
***Shortly after Nebraska's win on Saturday night, Miles took a couple minutes to help film a short social media video with members of the Red Zone. The video was a spin off of the recent Internet craze, "The Harlem Shake", which apparently Miles had no idea even existed before being asked to take part or even a couple days after.
"No, I had no idea," Miles said. "They just asked me to stand there in front of them while they were jumping around. They said it was some sort of social media thing, and I'm the social media guy. That's my deal. So I just had to stand there for them. I still don't quite know what it is. I saw the Today Show had a Harlem Shake thing on, so it must be something catchy."