LINCOLN — No one is quite sure who wrote the word “Minnesota” on the whiteboard immediately after Nebraska’s win over Illinois on Sunday.
No one really seems to care. Because the message is clear.
“I know we’re not peeking ahead,” said coach Tim Miles, whose team hosts Creighton on Saturday. “I know that our sights are firmly on Minnesota.”
And they should be, Miles said. Though the Gophers are coming off a 79-59 loss at Ohio State on Sunday, they’re still 6-2 and they do some things well, like getting to the foul line. They’re also becoming more of a threat from 3-point range. Though Nebraska is eighth in the country in 3-point defense, Illinois shot 40 percent from 3 in Nebraska’s last game, and Minnesota averages six made 3s per game.
With 6-foot-7 Jordan Murphy, who averages 14.6 points and 12 rebounds per game, and 6-foot-8 Amir Coffey (14.3 points), this game will be a fight in the paint, Miles said.
“This is an important game for us. Minnesota is going to be aggressive,” Miles said. “They’re coming off of two of three losses and haven’t played at home for a long time, so our guys will have to be ready to meet that challenge.”
Miles said his team has handled the past few days well, even with the new ranking in the AP poll. After weeks on the outside looking in, the Huskers are ranked No. 24. They’re No. 25 in the coaches poll, though they were No. 24 a few weeks ago. It’s Nebraska’s first ranking in the AP poll since 2014. Wednesday will be the first time under Miles that the Huskers will be ranked in a conference game.
Practice and film sessions over the past few days have been excellent, Miles said, and he likes his team’s state of mind. The Huskers practiced with loud music on Tuesday to get ready for the noise of Minnesota’s Williams Arena.
On film, senior point guard Glynn Watson said, Minnesota looks to be an aggressive team that has no problem getting out in transition.
“We gotta make sure we take care of that a lot, and take care of them on the 3-point game,” Watson said.
The Gophers have two guards who shoot better than 50 percent from 3. Gabe Kalscheur scores 11.9 points per game and shoots 53 percent from deep.
But maybe most important against Minnesota will be staying out of foul trouble, something Nebraska’s not done well this season. Especially junior Isaiah Roby. He’s called for 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes of play this season. He’ll be down low with Minnesota’s Murphy, who draws 7.7 fouls per game, and Coffey, who draws six per game.
“The first or second thing in the scouting report today was talking about playing without fouling,” Miles said. “They force the issue. We gotta be really strong in the paint.”
With Roby in particular, Miles just wants to cut back on the reach fouls. The small stuff that gets him on the bench with three fouls early in the second half, a trend that seems to happen more and more.
Nebraska will be riding on a James Palmer who seems to have gotten over his early-season slump. The senior has scored at least 20 points in each of the past two games, getting to the foul line more often and shooting a higher percentage from 3-point range.
“I like where he is right now,” Miles said.
With Nebraska’s hot start, the Huskers are becoming a trendy pick to make a run atop the Big Ten and rise steadily in the polls the rest of the season. But that’s all talk, Miles said. It’s way too early to say the Huskers are where they want to be. They have to go out and fight to prove it.
“You still gotta go out there and get punched in the mouth, discover if you like the taste of your own blood or if you want to spit it out on your opponent,” Miles said.
Nebraska at Minnesota
When: 7 p.m.
Radio: 1600 AM, 105.5 FM