Few new head coaches in Big Ten basketball ingratiated themselves better than Tim Miles did when he took over at the University of Nebraska. However, he is entering year five of his tenure in Lincoln, Neb. with just one appearance in the NCAA tournament to speak of.
Some believe this is a make-or-break season for Miles, but in order to make it beyond this season it appears even more like Miles is going to need to hit the reset button with his team. Over the course of this summer it has been nothing but bad news for the Huskers basketball program.
First it was the news of Andrew White III transferring from the program, and on Tuesday a potential replacement from White III, Isaiah Roby is out six to eight weeks to address some pain he has been experiencing in his pelvic area.
While losing a freshman player that has never seen a minute on the court and having him miss time during the summer months may not seem like a big deal, those very summer months that few fans ever get to see are actually the most important.
It’s how teams with potential work to reach it and those with it and fail often times look back on missed opportunities to hone their craft away from the pressures of school, media and fans.
The loss of White was a massive blow to the hopes of Nebraska’s team making a run in the deep and terrifying Big Ten basketball landscape. However, a team hoping to make it to the NCAA tournament in the Big Ten is often made up of more than just one really good player.
For the Huskers, that also should hold true except for in Miles’ system of basketball that position on the wing is of utmost importance.
Outside of 6-2 guard Ray Gallegos back in Miles’ first season at Nebraska, every player to score in double figures has been 6-4 or taller. In fact, the losses of Terran Petteway (after 2014-15) and Shavon Shields (after 2015-16) gave a big clue as to the importance of wing play in Miles’ system.
Shields and White were both 16.0 points per game players last season, and the combination of those two on the wings were deadly at times. They just had little help on the defensive end of the court (and one could argue little interest in the defensive end of the game at times).
The worst news of all? Even with the 16-points per game scorers, Nebraska couldn’t muster a winning overall record the last two years following a surprise trip to the NCAA tournament in 2013-14. Apparently that was a major concern for White, who flirted with the NBA Draft this offseason before announcing his return to college, but not exactly a return to the Huskers program.
Now, on Tuesday everything has been laid to bare in White’s interview with MLive.com, where he basically openly talks about how he doesn’t believe the Huskers are going to be any good:
According to White, he met with Miles prior to making his decision and expressed concern both in his role on the team and the Huskers’ chances to compete and win in 2016-17. The fallout, he says, turned sour.
“It was interpreted as a slap in the face, as if I was saying I didn’t believe in the program, my teammates or the coaching staff,” White said. “Really, I was just thinking about best-case scenario and worst-case scenario for everybody. I think that’s something a lot of people do.”
It appears White believed his veteran status on the team had earned him the right to freely speak his mind and Miles clearly wasn’t on board with him questioning himself and the rest of the team.
“When I was expressing those concerns, I thought that being one of the older guys (on the Nebraska team) would kind of put me in a place where I could talk about those things. So I talked to Tim Miles and he expressed his thoughts about me. We’re grown men and we had the right to have some differences in opinion.
“Ultimately, that’s what kind of sparked my decision. I didn’t want to be in a situation where there was a bridge burned and I wouldn’t be able to do what I dreamed of doing. So I thought it was best for both parties to move on in another direction.”
Those are all certainly words of a player and coach involved in a heated and ugly situation, no matter the sides of the story.
But, the flip side of that is Miles could readily use White’s questioning of his team and his coaching of said team as motivation and as a way to hit the rest button for a program completely in transition.
It’s a program in transition, as four of the five true freshmen on the Huskers roster got at least one start and averaged double-digit minutes per game for the 2015-16 season.
Molding and reshaping a roster around that group instead of hanging on to a player that seemingly didn’t believe may be the route to go. It also seems to be the only path forward and the reasons we’re likely to find out exactly what kind of teaching chops Miles truly has.
Losing White’s production and watching a potentially key player go down to a tricky pelvic injury in the summer certainly hurts. But, it may be for the best of the program heading forward.