Most sports writers won’t admit to cheering for certain teams at the NCAA Tournament. It’s a violation of the code. There shall be no cheering from the press box (or similar), or they’ll take away the free shaving kit with the official tournament logo stamped on front that they give you when you pick up your credentials.
Those radio announcers from Kentucky usually can get away with it, though.
But if you are watching the Madness unfold in a sports book instead of from courtside, it’s OK to pull for certain teams. So I will be pulling for Nebraska in this year’s NCAA Tournament. This is the team coached by Tim Miles.
The last time I spoke with Miles was two years ago at Lon Kruger’s American Cancer Society’s Coaches for Cancer benefit at trendy Hyde Lounge at Bellagio. The one with bottle service, overlooking the fountains.
By then, Miles had rebuilt Colorado State — the Rammies, as he called them on Twitter. Most of us first heard of Miles through Twitter, because he had this habit of posting messages at strange times. Such as at halftime of games.
The first time Miles tweeted at halftime was against UNLV in 2011. The Rammies were losing big at the Thomas &Mack Center.
The Rammies came back to win.
Before long, @CoachMiles had 14,571 Twitter followers.
On Wednesday when I checked, he had 66,270. Lots of Twitter users in the Big Ten.
When we last spoke by the fountains, I might have said something to Miles about there not being swanky joints like this in Lincoln, but probably there was a Buffalo Wild Wings where he could have his coach’s show. And Miles might have made a witty response, because those were his specialty when he was rebuilding Colorado State.
His first year in Fort Collins, the Rammies went 0-16 in the conference. When CSU upset rival Wyoming in the first round of the Mountain West tournament at the Thomas &Mack Center, Miles said he knew how Walter Mondale felt after losing to President Reagan, when the senator carried only his home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
Tim Miles was sitting in a big couch overlooking those fountains at Bellagio, autographing little souvenir basketballs. Guys with bottle service and fat wallets would be bidding on them later. He was sitting with Dr. J.
Miles probably was asking Julius Erving if he had any college eligibility left, because he was going to need help where he was going.
Nebraska is a football school if there ever was a football school, so much so that when Miles took the job there, the basketball team played in an arena named for Bob Devaney, who was a football coach.
But it was the Big Ten, and that was all that mattered.
The Big Ten is the Mount Rushmore of college sports. Mount Rushmore is only 330 miles from Doland, S.D., where Tim Miles was born. But coaching in the Big Ten? That was like climbing Everest for a guy from South Dakota.
Miles had built winning programs at Mayville State, at Southwest Minnesota State (hence the Mondale reference), at North Dakota State, which is in Fargo.
You can almost see Minneapolis from Fargo, or Iowa City, because the land is so flat. But it’s a quantum leap from the Summit Conference to the Big Ten. You’d need a catapult and Dr. J’s hang time to pull it off. So when Colorado State beckons, one beckons back.
“If I was at the Big Ten Conference meeting five years ago, I would have been asking for that guy’s autograph, and that guy’s autograph, and that guy’s autograph,” Miles said in 2012 by the fountains. “It’s a little surreal.”
I had pretty much forgotten about Tim Miles until January, when I was shooting pool in a pub and they showed him giving instructions in the huddle. The sound was turned down on the TV, but you could tell from Miles’ expressions that it was a close game. You couldn’t tell the opponent. I figured it had to be Northwestern.
Nope. Nebraska was playing Michigan, and Michigan went all the way to the NCAA championship game last year.
Nebraska lost 71-70. But the Huskers beat Indiana twice this season, and they also beat other Big Ten teams noted for basketball, such as Ohio State and even Michigan State.
After Nebraska beat Ohio State and Huskers fans rushed the court, one asked Miles if he would pose for a “selfie.” Miles did, and it made the news back there, and guys blogged about it for days. There were tweets and retweets.
So now Nebraska, which is not known for basketball and never has won an NCAA Tournament game, is going to the dance for the first time in 16 years. The Huskers play Baylor on Friday in San Antonio. And now Larry the Cable Guy, who is from Nebraska, is posting messages on his Twitter account about the basketball coaching acumen of Tim Miles.
Only Larry the Cable Guy didn’t use the word “acumen.”
Larry seems confident, however, that Miles and the Huskers can Git-R-Done against Baylor.
Ron Kantowski is a sports columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.