LINCOLN — When Nebraska men’s basketball began searching for an intriguing opponent for the first game at Pinnacle Bank Arena, calls went to some old Big 12 buddies.
Apparently, those friendships have cooled.
“Oddly enough,’’ NU coach Tim Miles said, “we got a whole bunch of ‘nos’ for responses.’’
So Husker director of basketball operations Jayden Olson rebooted his schedule matrix and found a match with a school that played in Lincoln two years ago — Florida Gulf Coast.
The Eagles were nobody then, but are somebody now. Their run to the Sweet 16 last March as a No. 15 seed — a first in NCAA tournament history — turned their “Dunk City’’ nickname into a national catchphrase.
Friday at 8 p.m., Florida Gulf Coast, with three starters back from a 26-11 team, takes on Nebraska, which has one starter back from a 15-18 team.
“I wanted the opponent to be good,’’ Miles said. “I wanted it to be an exciting thing.’’
Did Nebraska have to urge Florida Gulf Coast to accept the invitation?
“I didn’t ask,’’ Miles said. “But I don’t think there was a whole bunch of hesitation on their part. We haven’t struck fear into a lot of people’s hearts and minds yet, but we’re working on it.’’
FGCU, in its 11th season of basketball overall and third in Division I, has a new coach.
But Joe Dooley won’t have any trouble getting around in Lincoln. He spent the past 10 seasons as an assistant at Kansas. He has previous head coaching experience at East Carolina.
Miles spoke highly this week of Dooley and Florida Gulf Coast. But a quote from Miles about the opening game, reported by ESPN’s Andy Katz in September, didn’t sound so complimentary.
“I told Joe Dooley,’’ Katz reported Miles saying, “that you’re getting an $85,000 check to go 0-1.’’
Except Miles was misquoted.
What he said was “1-0,’’ meaning FGCU had a winnable opener against the Huskers. Katz acknowledged the inaccuracy to Miles, but no correction was found on ESPN’s website.
Make no mistake about Miles’ respect for FGCU, which beat Georgetown and San Diego State in the NCAA tournament and finished ranked 25th nationally.
“They have a lot of good players, and they have a lot of pieces to the puzzle,’’ Miles said. “It’s a team that will be hard for us to beat.’’
Nebraska hasn’t helped its chances by having two upperclassman guards — senior captain Ray Gallegos and junior Deverell Biggs — suspended for disciplinary reasons. Both will sit out of games until Nov. 17. True freshman Nathan Hawkins (stress fracture) also is sidelined.
While the Huskers have nine scholarship players available, FGCU will have seven because of a suspension, a departure, an injury and three incoming transfers who are sitting out.
So who will be Friday’s star?
It’s Pinnacle Bank Arena. The 15,174-seat spaceship, built at a cost of $179 million, replaces the 37-year-old Devaney Center.
“That place has got a different feel to it,’’ Miles said of PBA. “There’s a little more electricity in that building.’’
Ľ NOTES: Fans are encouraged to be in their seats by 7:45 p.m. for special pregame festivities, including the national anthem sung by the pop duo Karmin (Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan). Heidemann is from Seward, Neb. ... Nebraska hasn’t lost a home opener in 33 seasons. Wyoming won 62-59 in overtime in 1980. ... Florida Gulf Coast is the preseason pick to win the Atlantic Sun Conference.