NEW YORK — Nebraska’s players didn’t make the trip to Madison Square Garden this week to persuade anyone to share in their optimism for this team.
Senior Evan Taylor and junior Glynn Watson toured the city by boat and sampled some of the heralded local pizza Wednesday night, soaking up the moment with the same Big Ten players they’ll soon be battling as they pursue their goals.
Then they put on their suits Thursday and boldly told anyone who’d listen that this season’s NU squad is nothing like last year’s, that their stronger bond off the floor has significantly changed how they play on it, that there’s more depth at NU than you may realize, and that they’re not at all intimidated by a challenging 2017-18 schedule.
But they left the Big Apple with the same impression of the program’s external narrative that they went with: Not many folks are buying in, which is just fine.
“They don’t see us coming,” Taylor said. “But in a way, that’s a blessing. Because at the end of the day, it’s how you finish. They’ll judge us at the end of the season. So let’s see what we do.”
The general sense at this point is that those who closely follow the Big Ten aren’t expecting much from NU.
The Huskers were picked to finish 13th in the 14-team league by a collection of beat writers in the unofficial Big Ten preseason media poll. They had no representatives on the 10-member All-Big Ten team, released by the conference Thursday.
As they walked through a converted club-level concourse at the Garden on Thursday — a space accented by the placement of temporary drapery and signage — they had to notice where the reporters were gathering.
The league’s most intriguing coaches — Tom Izzo, John Beilein, Archie Miller, etc. — were surrounded. Big Ten preseason player of the year Miles Bridges had a semicircle of tape recorders pointed toward his face.
Heck, NU coach Tim Miles spent several minutes at his own roundtable talking about Purdue and general advances in analytics. He didn’t mind that. But his colleagues were getting peppered with inquiries about their third-string point guards and the intricacies of their offensive scheme.
Miles knew what to expect, though. He playfully reminded the reporters to begin his press conference Thursday that many of them expect Nebraska to finish at the bottom of the standings.
“We’re picked 13th by most of you in this room and some others, and that’s fine,” he said. “I think we’re going to outperform that. I would expect we do. I like our guys. Should be a fun year.”
Miles said Thursday, as he did in Lincoln earlier this month, that this team is as cohesive as any he’s had. The decisions by four players to transfer out of the program ended up bringing those who remained closer together.
They put aside last season’s result — they lost their final five games and finished with a third straight losing season. They bonded during early morning workouts and competitive pick-up showdowns, according to Watson.
He thinks they’ve done what’s necessary to prepare themselves for the season.
It’s just that no one’s been able to see the results yet. They will soon, Watson said.
“I kind of figured (our projected Big Ten finish) was going to be low, just after the season we had,” he said. “That’s on us. You can’t blame anybody else.
“But we believe in each other and we have confidence. We have to show it. That’s why everybody’s just ready to play. We’re ready.”