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Wednesday, Feb. 21
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

Parallels between Nebraska, early Tom Crean teams evident

The Nebraska team that will compete in Assembly Hall tonight bears little resemblance to the one that completed its inaugural Big Ten season last year.

Instead, the Cornhuskers bear a handful of similarities to some teams that took Branch McCracken Court a few seasons back.

With an enthusiastic new coach — Tim Miles is in his first season with a power conference team after relocating from Colorado State — and many new players in prominent roles, Nebraska is similar this season to some of the early Tom Crean teams.

Much like past Hoosier teams, Nebraska has a penchant for contending with favored teams. While the contests may not end in upsets, they are often much closer than anticipated.

Nebraska has three losses by 10 or less against currently-ranked Big Ten teams.

“This Nebraska team has gone into some environments like Michigan and Michigan State and played really, really well,” Crean said. “We just showed (the team) the last five minutes of the Michigan State game. It was a game really up until the last minute and a half.”

Nebraska lost that Jan. 13 game in East Lansing, Mich., by a 66-56 score. The final margin was inflated by missed jump shots and several late Spartan free throws.

Nearly four years earlier, during Crean’s first season, IU experienced its own near-miss against a highly ranked Michigan State team. IU lost 64-59 to the then-No. 8 Spartans in March 2009.

While Nebraska’s circumstances are not as dire as IU’s were that season, the Cornhuskers were still forced to break in four new starters this year while also adjusting to Miles’ more balanced offensive system.

Having entered the program in Crean’s second season, senior guard Jordan Hulls has seen the total rebuild of a program first hand.

“That’s why we came here,” Hulls said. “We had faith in what Coach Crean and the staff were doing. We knew they were going to get the kids to come in and play basketball the right way and work just as hard as the guys before him. I think we always had faith. It was definitely challenging at some points. In the end, we’re glad to be where we’re at.”

After the fanfare of IU’s last few contests both home and away, Crean acknowledged that the same level of enthusiasm might not be in the building for Nebraska. However, he said excitement could also be key in keeping the game from being closer than it should be.

“We need tremendous energy,” Crean said. “I thought in the Penn State game it got started too late, the energy from the crowd. We’re down to four home games. The energy’s got to be the best in the country.”

IU has at times played to the level of its opponents this season. Crean stressed the importance of focusing on what the team can control in avoiding an unpleasant surprise in Wednesday’s game.

“It’s not about playing as well as you did against Ohio State,” Crean said. “There’s no guarantee that’s going to happen. You can be as locked in. You can be as mentally ready. You can play with an edge during the game.”

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