LINCOLN, Neb. — It hardly surprised anyone that Nebraska scored less than 48 points in each of its first three Big Ten contests.
The Cornhuskers opened league play against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan, then followed with 56 points against Michigan State. It was a gauntlet of a beginning for a program picked last in a preseason poll by 23 members of a media panel.
Only one person selected Nebraska higher than last, and that was 11th. And why not? Nebraska tied for last place in its Big Ten inaugural season and fired Coach Doc Sadler immediately afterward. New Nebraska Coach Tim Miles saved two scholarships, gave two others to transfers sitting out this season and red-shirted a junior-college recruit. He uses just eight scholarship players, including a 7-foot-1 Serbian center who has played in just eight games.
Still, Nebraska has competed despite its down numbers. The Cornhuskers (12-14, 3-10 Big Ten) are one behind last year’s league win total and already have equaled the 2011-12 season total of victories.
“I think the resiliency has been impressive,” Miles said. “This is a group that hasn’t flinched the entire season. When we started the year, we sat on two scholarships. We red-shirted three guys, two of them we had to. No matter what news you deliver them, ‘Guys, we only have 11 scholarships. Guys, we’re only going to play with eight. One of them is a young, project big.’ They just haven’t flinched.”
Senior guard Dylan Talley has become the team’s on-court leader. He plays more than 35 minutes a game, averages a team-high 13.8 points a game, leads Nebraska in assists, ranks seconds in rebounds (5.1) and has 23 steals. He also has knocked down 40 3-pointers this year.
“It’s been a difficult year for Dylan mentally because we ask so much of him,” Miles said. “He’s had to essentially change positions from a scoring wing to a play-making point guard. I feel like as a coach you put a lot of pressure on your quarterback, if you’re a football coach. You have to make this decision, you’ve got to think for everybody else. Dylan’s been in that position, but I think he’s really performed well.”
Three Cornhuskers average more than 32 minutes a game. Along with Talley, senior Brandon Ubel (11.4 points) and junior Ray Gallegos (12.6) are scoring threats. Gallegos drilled 12 baskets — including six 3-pointers — against Minnesota and leads the Big Ten in 3-pointers made with 63. He’s sank six 3-pointers three different times this year. Ubel ranks 22nd in scoring, seventh in rebounding and sixth in free-throw percentage.
“I think Tim has done a terrific job of putting that team together,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “His experienced guys are producing, his young guys are playing well. He can go a couple of different ways. I think Talley has really impressed me. I’ve always been a Ubel fan, Gallegos, he’s a guy, as we saw against Minnesota, he can go for 30 seemingly every time he takes the floor.“They’ve got some weapons and they’ve got some other guys who have accepted their role. I think that’s why they’re playing well.”