CHICAGO — Nebraska basketball has the Big Ten Conference covered from top to bottom.
Connie Yori's women's team is the preseason pick to win the title, a first in school history. Tim Miles' men are pegged for last in the 12-team league.
“Connie and I are both picked 12th,'' Miles said. “She's 12th in the country and I'm 12th in the league.''
The Nebraska men were picked last a year ago in Miles' first season — about as close to dead last as you can get. The Huskers were last on 23 of 24 ballots, but finished 10th. This time, NU got votes as high as eighth, but still finished last.
“And I see it's not just by you guys,'' Miles told writers Thursday at Big Ten media day. “I see it's by everybody.''
Preseason magazines, BTN analysts and national writers are in agreement. When Miles' wife learned Nebraska was such an overwhelming pick at the bottom again, she offered these comforting words: “Why aren't you out recruiting?”
That was a joke, but Miles is serious when he says he doesn't take cold, hard facts to heart.
“I'm a dreamer,” he said. “I really do believe in Nebraska. I believe in what we are doing and how we can do it.
“I love what our commitment is from our administration. I love our fan support. And I believe in our guys. So I don't think we're going to end up 12th.”
Neither does Husker forward Shavon Shields.
“Nebraska basketball is not really on the map,” said the sophomore from Olathe, Kan. “As competitors and players, we want to prove we're better than that.
“We were picked 12th last year, and a lot of people didn't think we'd even get double-digit wins. We exceeded expectations, so we want to do that again.”
On the women's side, managing expectations is the job after Nebraska was picked to win a league for the first time in history, whether the Big Eight, the Big 12 or the Big Ten.
“I didn't pick us to win,” coach Yori said, “and I'm not sure why everybody else did because we have a lot of work to do.
“It does put more of a target on our back, yet we still go about our business.”
Nebraska All-America candidate Jordan Hooper said getting picked to win was “pretty awesome,” but nothing to go crazy about. She's happier to play a part in building NU women's basketball into something worth paying attention to.
“I definitely take pride in that,” said the senior from Alliance, Neb. “And I take pride in the leaders who came before me. It's a collective build. It's not just one person or one team that got us to this point.''
The Nebraska men are a long way from that status, and 15 years out from their last NCAA tournament experience. The women are coming off a Sweet 16 appearance.
Miles knows he is an underdog considering where he coaches and his small-college background. But he's not backing down to the big names, such as Minnesota and its hiring of Richard Pitino, son of Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino.
Miles, who appeared on stage after Pitino, said:
“I'm sure he was really great and smart and intelligent. But at the end of the day, I know we have a way. I know it works. It has worked at every little place you've never heard of, and some others you might have heard a little bit about.
“And it's going to work at Nebraska.”
* * *
Video: Nebraska men's basketball coach Tim Miles
Video: Nebraska women's basketball coach Connie Yori