With NCAA tournament future hazy, Nebraska basketball starts preparations for ‘whoever’

With NCAA tournament future hazy, Nebraska basketball starts preparations for ‘whoever’
World-Herald News Service

LINCOLN — The word of the week for the Nebraska men’s basketball team is uncertainty.

The Huskers know there are more games to play after going 22-10 overall and tying for fourth in the Big Ten at 13-5.

But in which tournament they’ll play, where they’ll play, when they’ll play and whom they’ll play remain a mystery, which makes for one of coach Tim Miles’ weirdest preparation times ever.

“The guys said let’s just pretend like we’re in and practice like we’re getting ready for a game,” Miles said Wednesday. “But you still don’t have an opponent, so I’m going to try to give them a visual to prepare for ‘whoever.’ ”

NU held a regular practice Monday, did shooting drills Tuesday, then did a hard practice Wednesday after watching film. That’s the general routine until the NCAA’s 68 teams are announced at 5 p.m., Sunday, with the 32 NIT teams revealed later in the evening.

Miles said the mindset has been good about dealing with NCAA/NIT uncertainty.

“The guys want to be in the NCAA,” he said. “We all feel it’s 50-50 — you could make a case for us or against us. It’s pretty simple. The minutiae don’t matter.

“We’ve got something to play for. We’re going to be in a postseason tournament, and we’re going to have a chance to go there and win. The scary part as a coach is how you keep getting better with this much up in the air.”

One Husker has missed practice since returning from the Big Ten tournament.

Senior co-captain Evan Taylor has had the flu the past five days and won’t return to workouts until Friday or Saturday. Keeping him away, Miles said, is for Taylor to get healthy and to not infect any of his teammates.

One benefit to the open week is a head start on recruiting as Nebraska pursues a big guard and a forward/center.

Karrington Davis, a 6-6 guard who plays for the nation’s No. 1 prep school, Montverde (Florida) Academy, made an official visit to Nebraska during the Penn State weekend.

The Huskers also are keeping tabs on a 6-10, 240-pound community college center offered last fall — Antun Maricevic of Casper (Wyoming) CC. The native of Croatia averages 15.5 points and 7.9 rebounds and shoots 67.2 percent from the field and 83.7 percent from the foul line.

A Husker who signed in November — point guard Xavier Johnson of Arlington, Virginia — was named player of the year in the Washington Catholic Athletic Association, a league that includes longtime powers DeMatha High, Paul VI and Georgetown Prep.

Johnson led Bishop O’Connell to a runner-up finish in the Virginia Independent School Athletic Association state tournament. Bishop O’Connell finished 26-8 and ranked No. 8 in the Washington Post poll of all public and private large schools.

The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Johnson averaged 18.4 points, 4.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds, while making 184 of 229 free throws (80.3 percent). O’Connell split its two regular-season games with No. 1 DeMatha (29-5), with Johnson scoring 27 points in one and 21 in the other.

“Xavier is an exciting player.” Miles said. “For him to be the player of the year in a league like that with a lot of high-major players tells you about the impact he made.

“I can’t wait to get him here. He’s a playmaking guard who delivers the ball, and a great athlete who is a disrupter on defense.”