Tim Miles was emphatic about it at the Big Ten preseason media day two months ago.
Most of the experts were picking his Nebraska team to finish 12th out of 12 teams in the Big Ten this season, but the quick-witted second-year coach wasn’t about to agree.
“I'm a dreamer,’’ Miles said. “I really do believe in Nebraska. I really do believe in what we are doing and how we can do it … And I believe in our guys. So I don't think we're going to end up 12th.’’
It’s apparent he has found at least one believer in Fran McCaffery.
As the Iowa head coach prepared his 22nd-ranked team for tonight’s 6 p.m. Big Ten opener against the Cornhuskers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, he made it clear he doesn’t expect to be facing a last-place caliber team.
“This is year two so (Miles) has recruited pieces that fit and you can see they’re playing the way he wants to play,’’ McCaffery said Monday. “You can see it all coming together for him.
“I think he likes this group. He’s got some young guys who really battle and he’s got some experienced guys. Granted, some of his older guys are not necessarily experienced at Nebraska, but they’ve kind of been around the block and they’re playing that way. They’re going to have a team that is going to challenge everybody in our league without question.’’
Nebraska, which went 8-4 in non-conference games, bears little resemblance to the team that split a pair of games with the Hawkeyes late last season. Of the eight players in Miles’ primary rotation, five are new. He is starting two Division I transfers and a freshman, and bringing two junior college transfers off the bench.
Iowa fans may recognize senior Ray Gallegos, who knocked down seven 3-point field goals in a victory over the Hawks last season, and forward Shavon Shields, who averaged 8.6 points a game as a freshman.
Not as familiar are Terran Petteway, a gifted 6-foot-6 forward who transferred in from Texas Tech, and Florida transfer Walter Pitchford, a 6-10 center who has knocked down 16 threes in the first dozen games of the season.
Petteway, in particular, has caught McCaffery’s eye.
“I really like his game because he’s just sort of relentless and he’s multi-dimensional,’’ McCaffery said. “When you sort of have that attack mentality and you can get to the rim, that’s one thing. But when you can also shoot threes and you can also drive and dunk the ball, and you can play in halfcourt and you can play in transition, that’s a tough battle for any defense that’s going to prepare for him throughout the season.’’
Petteway is averaging a team-high 17.3 points per game and McCaffery said he will remind many of the Hawkeyes’ own Devyn Marble.
“He’s really crafty,’’ the Iowa coach added. “He kind of floats around and then he goes by you. Then he’ll float around, then you relax and he shoots a three right in your face. Then he gets a head of steam on the break and raises up and dunks the ball like any NBA all-star would do … He’s a handful. He plays the game, I think, at a great pace. He really understands how to play. He understands how he fits in Tim’s system.’’
Miles, who led the Huskers to a 15-18 record last season, has taken steps to instill a higher level of discipline into his program. Both Gallegos and reserve forward Deverell Biggs shave been suspended for a handful of games in the early part of the season.
Miles admitted back on media day that he expected there to be some ups and downs this year.
“Somebody said ‘Oh, they're going to be like a roller coaster,’’’ he said. “I said ‘No, we're going to be like an EKG.’’’
However, his message has gotten through to the players. They’re determined to show they’re not No. 12.
“We’ve got to prove that we’re not the worst team in the Big Ten night in and night out,’’ Shields said at the Big Ten event. “That’s the main thing, to show we’re not the worst team. We’ve got to come in with a chip on our shoulder.’’