LINCOLN, Neb. — Maybe Tim Miles really is a miracle worker.
Men’s basketball is still relevant at Nebraska in March, the time of year when spring football typically dominates the sports conversation in the Cornhusker State. Instead, it’s all hoops, all the time right now and all eyes are on Miles.
The energetic, quick-witted 47-year-old was hired in March 2012 and sold the dream of someday leading the Huskers to the NCAA tournament and winning when they got there.
Monday, Miles was named Big Ten coach of the year by his peers. The media chose Michigan coach John Beilein.
Skeptical fans, accustomed to disappointment, said they would believe it when they see it. Well, the time might be coming sooner than anyone imagined.
Nebraska (19-11) heads to Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament after winning 10 of their last 12 games to finish fourth in the conference. The court-storming student section was, in a word, nuts during Sunday’s 77-68 upset of then-No. 9 Wisconsin. The rest of the sellout crowd showed up loud and proud, too, and responded favorably to Miles’ plea to stand and make noise the whole game.
Miles has connected with students and the rest of the fans like no other new Nebraska coach has before. He shares in-game thoughts with some 62,000 followers with his halftime tweets.
He high-fives students as he enters the arena and poses for pictures on the court after games.
Of course, good will lasts only so long. Fans want to see results, and Miles is succeeding on that front, too. The Huskers’ 11 conference wins are two more than the total of the last two years and the most by a Nebraska team since 1965-66.
“I really thought if this team could get to .500 in the league, it would be a special accomplishment,” Miles said. “For us to go 11-7 in this league, which is (ranked) one or two in the country, is really an amazing performance by our guys.”
The Big Ten announced Monday its year-end awards, which had a hint of Indiana and Purdue flavor.
Hoosiers center Noah Vonleh won the conference’s freshman of the year award. Coaches and media made teammate Yogi Ferrell a unanimous selection to the all-conference second team.
Vonleh, the 10th Hoosier to win the award, averages 11.4 points and a league-best 9.1 rebounds. He also was named to the all-league third team.
Purdue wing Kendall Stephens, tied for second among Big Ten freshmen in scoring behind Vonleh, was named to the all-freshman team. Stephens has made 63 3-pointers.
Purdue center A.J. Hammons made the all-defensive team. IU forward Will Sheehey was an all-conference honorable mention.
Michigan forward Nik Stauskas was named player of the year. Also on the all-conference first team are Gary Harris, Michigan State; Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa; Terran Petteway, Nebraska; and Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin.
Ohio State point guard Aaron Craft was named the defensive player of the year.
Hammons, who averaged 2.6 blocks in conference, is the first Boilermaker to make all-defense since JaJuan Johnson in 2011.