Published Wednesday, February 19, 2014 at 9:53 pm / Updated at 6:22 pm
basketball
Huskers tuning out NCAA 'noise,' focusing on Penn State
Penn State at Nebraska
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln
TV: ESPNU
Radio: 1110 AM KFAB

NEBRASKA (14-10, 6-6)
F Walter Pitchford, 6-10, So., 9.0
F Shavon Shields, 6-7, So., 11.8
F David Rivers, 6-7, Jr., 2.2
G Terran Petteway, 6-6, So., 17.7
G Tai Webster, 6-4, Fr., 4.7

PENN STATE (13-13, 4-9)
F Donovon Jack, 6-9, So., 7.1
F Brandon Taylor, 6-7, So., 9.7
G D.J. Newbill, 6-4, Jr., 17.4
G Graham Woodward, 6-0, Fr., 3.0
G Tim Frazier, 6-1, Sr., 15.9

LINCOLN — Nebraska basketball fans who have consumed too much NCAA tournament nectar the past few days might want to consider the following about Penn State, Thursday's opponent:

Ľ The Nittany Lions (13-13, 4-9) won at Ohio State, a place where NU lost by 31 points.

Ľ They beat St. John's, which beat Creighton, a team that built a 30-point lead in a win over NU.

Ľ They beat NU four weeks ago 58-54.

Yet since the Huskers (14-10, 6-6) upset then-No. 9 Michigan State on Sunday, you can find carts hitched in front of horses across the state.

“I want to get ready for Penn State,” a smiling but tired Tim Miles said Wednesday. “But I've spent the past two days talking about everything but Penn State.”

ESPN did two interviews. CBSsports.com and USA Today's national writers checked in. All wanted to know about Nebraska, with four of its final six games at home and an RPI of 53, getting into the NCAA tournament conversation.

That's a plus, Miles said.

“It's good for our program, and it certainly goes with the territory,” he said. “That's an understood part.

“The guys I worry about are our players. How well are we adjusting? We addressed it after the game. We addressed it yesterday after practice. We coined the phrase 'avoid the noise,' so we'll keep that going.”

NCAA tournament talk is heady stuff for a school that hasn't been there in 16 years and was picked last in the Big Ten preseason poll. And it's not going away.

“Every day, that's in our mind,” Husker guard Terran Petteway said. “That's something we talk about every day, every practice, every game.

“That's why we're playing the way we are. We've got a chip on our shoulder. We've got stuff to prove.”

That, Miles said, is the key to making this more than a three-day storyline.

“If you don't back it up, it's just noise,” he said. “We want to follow through and enjoy the real fruits of the labor — the ending. We'll all live happily ever after if we make the NCAA tournament, and can win when we get there.”

The bracketology experts generally agree that five more victories would give Nebraska a strong shot at an at-large bid. There are six regular-season games and the Big Ten tournament left.

The first two attempts at those wins — Penn State in front of a sellout crowd Thursday and Purdue at home Sunday — come against teams that together are 2-0 against NU this year.

“Yeah, we're at home, but these guys have beaten us,” Miles said. “We have to prove we can win. To me, we have a heck of a lot more to prove than they do.”

The Huskers' loss to Penn State occurred after an upset of a ranked team (No. 17 Ohio State). It included a meltdown in the final two minutes that Miles termed “an embarrassment.” PSU outscored Nebraska in points off turnovers 22-1.

All that said, Miles isn't telling his players this is a must win.

“We have to put a lot of wins together to get to the NCAA tournament,” he said. “I don't think that's an unfair statement, but that's not what I'm going to put on them.”

Ľ NOTES: Miles praised the loyalty of Nebraska fans, but wants to hear more from them at games. “In terms of noise, they are like a B or B-minus, at best. We've got a lot of room to grow in terms of making it a hard place to play. I mean that.” ... ESPN analyst Jay Bilas' weekly report has Petteway among six players nationally he considers “underappreciated.” ... Junior forward David Rivers will earn his second straight start. Miles said he likes the defensive length and rebounding Rivers provides.

* * *

>> Video: See Tim Miles speak to the media:

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht

lee.barfknecht@owh.com    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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