Two weeks ago, when the Michigan men’s basketball team (4-2 Big Ten, 14-5 overall) looked at its schedule, it might have looked past its matchup with Nebraska, a team that started conference play 0-3. But since cruising past Rutgers two Saturdays ago, the Cornhuskers (4-3, 12-8) have looked like a different team, and are riding a four-game winning streak into their matchup with the Wolverines on Saturday in Lincoln. Most recently, Nebraska upset No. 11 Michigan State on the road on Wednesday, proving that despite a rocky start to the Big Ten season, it has no intention on folding this early.
Of course, the Cornhuskers still are far from competing for a spot at the top of the conference. They lost four of five starters from a year ago, including their leading scorer Terran Petteway. But in Petteway’s absence, senior forward Shavon Shields has stepped up. Shields is pacing 16 points per game to go along with five boards per contest.
“Shavon Shields is playing as good as anybody in the league,” said Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein. “(He’s) really just this four-year guy who’s barely on your scouting reports the first couple of years, and then all the sudden, gets better and better, and he’s there.”
Shields is coming off a 28-point performance against the Spartans in which he shot 60 percent from the field.
The senior has gotten help from another upperclassman in junior guard Andrew White III. White — who sat out last year after transferring from Kansas — is leading the Cornhuskers in scoring, averaging 17 points per game, and turning heads in the Big Ten. White has made his living from behind the arc, taking most of his shots from deep, but he has the ability to beat defenders off the dribble, too, and attack the hoop.
Michigan will attempt to limit the duo of upperclassmen likely without senior guard Caris LeVert. LeVert — who hasn’t played since the Wolverines’ Dec. 30 game against Illinois — is still working his way back from a left-foot injury. Beilein said LeVert was “doubtful for this game but he is progressing,” and noted that he definitely intends to have his top scorer back this season.
For the past four years, we’ve had the pleasure of chatting before the season with Nebraska coach Tim Miles, an always entertaining, tell-it-like-it-is guy. At Big Ten Media Day in October, Miles began his press conference saying, “I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” stealing a line from Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. Later in the day, the Daily got the chance to catch up with Miles and talk about his approach going into press conferences, his thoughts on Donald Trump and even a little hoops.
The Michigan Daily: The last few years, The Daily has voted you “Best Press Conference” at Big Ten Media Day. Last year, you looked me square in the eyes, and you told me you don’t do any preparation for your press conferences. After your starting line this year, are you willing to make the same statement today?
Tim Miles: One thing you learn about a good press conference is you’re never willing to make the same statement twice, and so I think it’s very important that if I stay unpredictable and don’t admit to anything — it’s what I call the Bill Clinton, deny, deny, deny — that you really can’t prove the fact that I was prepared or not today.
TMD: That was good. Where does the inspiration come from?
TM: Honestly, I just want to have fun with my job. I want to enjoy life, and that’s the important thing. I certainly want to add value to whatever’s going on, but at the same time, I don’t want to be up there and be just another guy doing the coach speak.
TMD: You mentioned former President Clinton. We’re in another election season. Is there one candidate that could take you 1-on-1 in a press conference battle?
TM: Trump would just be a name caller, so that’s no big deal. Hillary’s really bright. I mean, she’s good. I think I was like an 18 ACT, so I’m not going to mess with her.
TMD: What do you think Trump would call you?
TM: Stupid, definitely stupid. Loud. Buckteeth.
TMD: Nothing more original than that?
TM: Well that’s all accurate, though. You know, he’s a plain-talking guy in that way. But he’d probably think of a good name, too, like pencil neck.
TMD: Two years ago, you were ranked last in the preseason rankings and you said there’s nowhere to go but up. You made the tournament that year. Last year you missed it. What does that say about the fluidity of this conference?
TM: It reminds me of the NFL. You know, you look at those top four or five teams that seem to be in it every year. Right? Ohio Sate, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin. So it feels like there’s eight of us playing for about three spots, you know, and that includes the likes of Purdue, that includes Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa. Some really top-notch programs in my eyes that are in a total fistfight for a limited number of spots. That’s what reminds me of the NFL, it can just flip on the schedule — the way the schedule is — the way your injuries might be — injury, illness, whatever — a shot that goes in or doesn’t. So I think you’ve got to get a little lucky, and I think some things have got to go your way, but I think there’s so much parity in that middle and even on the low end that it’s just a grind.