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Expectations have changed for Nebraska after surprise run to 2014 NCAA tournament

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LONG BEACH, California — In each of Tim Miles’ first two seasons at Nebraska the program has shown signs of progress, with their biggest strides being made from year one to year two. Buoyed by the opening of a sparkling new arena and the addition of transfers Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford, Nebraska won 19 games, finished fourth in the Big Ten and earned the program’s first NCAA tournament bid since 1998.

Among the 11 games won in conference play by Miles’ Huskers were victories over Michigan State — in East Lansing — and Wisconsin, and while an 11-7 mark may not look like much to some it was a notable achievement for the Nebraska program when considering their recent history. Since that last NCAA tournament appearance Nebraska has finished above .500 in conference play just once, when they went 10-6 during the 1998-99 season as a member of the Big 12.

If there was one game last season that convinced Nebraska that not only could they make a run at an NCAA tournament bid but also make a run at earning a first round bye in the Big Ten tournament, according to both Petteway and rising junior guard Shavon Shields, it was their win at Michigan State. That game fell in the middle of a five-game win streak for the Huskers, but, more importantly, it was their first significant win on the road.

“The win at Michigan State was when we started to think, ‘we can do this,'” Shields told NBCSports.com at the adidas Nations camp earlier this month. ”

RELATED: How does Wichita State build on the best two-year run in program history?

“Most definitely the Michigan State win,” Petteway added. “And when we started our 11-3 run [11 wins in 14 games], we definitely felt that we would be an NCAA [tournament] team.”

Petteway and Shields led the way offensively for the Huskers last season, with the former taking full advantage of the year he was forced to sit out after transferring in from Texas Tech. Listed at 185 during his lone season at Texas Tech, Petteway entered the 2013-14 season weighing 209, the hard work done in the weight room and in practices translated onto the floor.

“I put on about 20 pounds in the weight room, and that got me quicker, stronger, faster and more explosive,” Petteway said. “That was the area where I [made the greatest strides], and it changed my game.”

Petteway finished the season averaging 18.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per contest, shooting 42.6% from the field and reaching double figures in 30 of the Huskers’ 32 games. For his efforts Petteway was a first team All-Big Ten selection, and the question now is what he can do to follow up on his sparkling debut season.

As for Shields he improved his production in his sophomore season by just over four points per game, going from scoring 8.6 points per game as a freshman to 12.8 per contest in 2013-14. Shields shot better than 44 percent from the field last season, and his ability to get to the foul line resulted in Shields being ranked fourth in the Big Ten in free throw rate. For Shields and his teammates who played on Miles’ first team in 2012-13, the lessons learned during that season proved beneficial in 2013-14.

“My freshman year we really didn’t have the players [needed] to do what Coach Miles really wanted to do,” Shields noted. “But last year we had Walt [Pitchford], Terran and Tai coming in and me, Dave [Rivers] and Benny returning, and that really helped us get over the hump talent-wise.

“We learned from [the losses],” Shield added. “Me, Dave and Benny gained experience and we had a better idea of what it took to play in the Big Ten, and Terran and Walt were able to see what it took to play in the Big Ten. That year really helped us [last season].”

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While Petteway and Shields were Nebraska’s most productive offensive players last season and will be expected to fill similar roles in 2014-15, it took more than just two players to end the Huskers’ NCAA tournament dry spell. Pitchford accounted for 9.2 points and 4.7 rebounds, and players such as Ray Gallegos, Benny Parker, Leslee Smith and Tai Webster were also solid members of the rotation. With Gallegos out of eligibility and Smith expected to miss the entire season after suffering a torn ACL, others will need to step forward if Nebraska is to return to the NCAA tournament.

“Leslee was a big piece to what we did defensively, and he’s a good voice in the locker room,” Shields said. “The injury hurts us because he can do a lot of things, especially defensively. Losing him really hurts, and I hope he has a speedy recovery.”

Georgetown graduate transfer Moses Abraham is expected to help Nebraska in the front court and the same can be said for junior David Rivers and freshman Jacob Hammond, who became an even more important figure once Smith was lost. Last season Nebraska was one of the best teams in the Big Ten when it came to protecting the defensive glass, as their defensive rebounding percentage (72.8%) ranked second in the conference in league games.

That occurred as a result of Nebraska getting the job done collectively, with Shields (5.8 rpg) being the team’s best rebounder and four players averaging at least 4.7 caroms per contest. With Smith (4.8 rpg) possibly out of the equation, that will once again need to be the case.

RELATED: K-State’s Marcus Foster hasn’t forgotten or forgiven teams that pulled offers

With the goal heading into the 2014-15 season being to not only return to the NCAA tournament but also make sure their stay in the 68-team event is longer that it was last season, Nebraska will also have to deal with increased expectations. Prior to last season, Big Ten media members who participated in a poll put together by Bob Baptist of the Columbus Dispatch picked the Huskers to finish last in the conference, only for Nebraska to prove everyone wrong and finish in fourth place.

And making sure a program is strong enough to deal with increased expectations is part of the process in building a program. After making improvements in each of Miles’ first two seasons in Lincoln, Nebraska will look to take another step forward against competition that will show them a greater amount of respect. That can be a difficult situation for some programs to deal with, and remaining consistent will be a key for Nebraska if they’re build on last year’s success according to Shields.

“Just staying consistent and staying together,” Shields said. “Those are probably the most important things, and if we can do that we’ll be alright.”

Nebraska hasn’t made back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances since the early 1990’s, when they made four straight trips under then-head coach Danny Nee with Eric Piatkowski and Erick Strickland among the standouts on those teams. If this current group of Huskers has their way, the group that’s also responsible for the program’s lone conference tournament title (1994) could have some company at the end of the 2014-15 season.

Oregon’s Dillon Brooks is ‘in a walking boot’, status still unclear

EUGENE, OR - DECEMBER 11: Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks shoots the ball over Ar'Mond Davis #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide during the first half of the game at Matthew Knight Arena on December 11, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Oregon released a statement on Friday afternoon that said star forward Dillon Brooks had seen doctors and was in a walking boot, but gave no further update on his condition.

Brooks suffered what the program termed a “lower leg injury” on Thursday night against Cal. The injury was to his left leg – on replay, it looked like he rolled his ankle – which is concerning because his left foot is the foot that he injured over the summer, which caused him to miss the first three games of the season.

“He’ll be evaluated in the next couple of days and see where he’s at,” head coach Dana Altman said after Thursday’s game.

Allonzo Trier cleared to play vs. UCLA

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
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Allonzo Trier’s most recent drug test came back negative, meaning that the leading returning scorer for the Wildcats will be eligible to play on Saturday when Arizona plays a visit to UCLA.

Trier had been suspended for the first 19 games of the season following a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug. He appealed to the NCAA and actually won, claiming that he unknowingly ingested the substance after someone he trusted gave him a product to help him recover from a car accident during the offseason.

The NCAA’s stipulation, however, was that he could not play until the PED had cleared his system.

Trier averaged 14.8 points last season for Arizona. He’ll join a back court that already includes Kadeem Allen, Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons, as well as Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright. Along with Lauri Markkanen, who has the look of a lottery pick, Trier was expected to be Arizona’s best player this season. While he has not been allowed to play this year, Trier has been practicing and traveling with the team. It may take him a while to work his way back into game shape and into the flow of the team, but it won’t be because he’s rusty.

The Wildcats are currently 17-2 on the year and 6-0 in the Pac-12. They play No. 3 UCLA in Pauley Pavilion on Saturday. The Bruins are a game out of first place in the conference standings.

Myles Davis leaves Xavier program

Myles Davis
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Myles Davis announced in a post on twitter on Friday evening that he will be leaving the Xavier basketball team.

“I would like to thank everyone and Xavier for allowing me to get my degree but my family and I have decided that it is time for me to move on from Xavier and start a new chapter in my life,” Davis wrote in the statement. “Wish my teammates the best of luck the rest of the season.”

Davis averaged 10.8 points and 4.1 assists while shooting 38.1 percent from three as a junior in 2015-16, and his skill set would have filled a void that the Musketeers are currently missing on their roster.

But he was suspended for the first 15 games of the regular season following a pair of incidents involving an ex-girlfriend over the summer, and since being reinstated to the team just three games ago, Davis has averaged 11 minutes, scored just two points and shot 0-for-8 from the field and 0-for-6 from three.

O.G. Anunoby’s knee injury is season-ending

BLOOMINGTON, IN - DECEMBER 28:  OG Anunoby #3 of the Indiana Hoosiers attempts a shot in the first half against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Assembly Hall on December 28, 2016 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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Yesterday, Indiana released a statement updating the status of O.G. Anunoby, their star forward and a potential lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

He was out indefinitely with a knee injury.

On Friday, Indiana’s worst fears were confirmed.

“It has been determined that O.G. Anunoby will undergo surgery on his right knee and will miss the remainder of the season,” head coach Tom Crean said in a statement. “He is expected to make a complete recovery. For a young man, O.G. has a very strong faith and a courageous spirit. We are going to do everything as a basketball family to help him recover and rehabilitate from this unfortunate situation.”

The diagnosis isn’t surprising. Anunoby suffered a non-contact knee injury when he came to a jump-stop, the kind of play that always seems to result in a torn ACL. The loss is a major one for an Indiana team that is already struggling to defend. Anunoby is one of the best and most versatile defenders in college basketball, and it’s a hole the 13-6 Hoosiers, who are already 3-3 in the Big Ten, may not be able to fill.

Weekend Preview: The four biggest story lines to follow

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Greg McDermott of the Creighton Bluejays talks with Maurice Watson Jr. #10 during the team's game against the Massachusetts Minutemen during the championship game of the Men Who Speak Up Main Event basketball tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena on November 25, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Creighton won 97-76.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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FIVE STORY LINES TO FOLLOW

1. What will Creighton do at the point guard spot?: Suddenly, the most important story line in the Big East has become the future of this Creighton basketball team, and we’ll get our first glimpse of it against Marquette in Omaha on Saturday.

The Bluejays lost Mo Watson Jr., their starting point guard and an all-american this season, to a torn ACL on Monday. Watson was leading the nation in assists this season. He was the engine that made Creighton’s high-powered offense run. He was to the Bluejays what Lonzo Ball is to UCLA.

Greg McDermott is one of the more underrated coaches in college basketball, but this is going to be a massive overhaul for him. Their offensive attack was built around Watson’s abilities – the way he can push the ball in transition, the way he can get into the lane, the way he can find their myriad of 45 percent three-point shooters – and there isn’t another guy on the roster that can do those things.

There is still plenty of talent on that Creighton roster, but they’ll be playing the rest of the season without the head of their snake.

RELATED: Weekend picks against the spread

2. Indiana vs. Michigan State is critical, just not in the way we thought it would be: The Hoosiers and the Spartans were supposed to be two of the best teams in the Big Ten this season, but that’s not the way that the year has played out. The two teams have a combined 13 losses, while Indiana is a buzzer-beater from James Blackmon Jr. away from being 2-4 in the Big Ten.

The Spartans look like they have started to right the ship. They are just a game out of first place in the Big Ten standings, their freshmen are starting to play like they’re more than just freshmen and Miles Bridges is back from the ankle injury that cost him a few weeks. Indiana, on the other hand, is at a crossroads in their season. O.G. Anunoby appears to be out for a significant amount of time with a knee injury, and he is the one guy on that roster that can operate as a defensive stopper and something of a glue-guy. Last year, when Blackmon went down with a knee injury, Indiana’s season could have unraveled. Instead, Yogi Ferrell carried them to a Big Ten regular season title.

So while the Spartans will be playing a game they cannot afford to lose if they want to be Big Ten champs, Indiana is going to be trying to prove that 2016-17 isn’t going to be a total loss.

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3. Miami at No. 18 Duke, Sat. 8:15 p.m. (ESPN): Duke is going to be the biggest story line in the sport for the foreseeable future. Part of it is because they are Duke. They are always a massive story. But the more pressing issue is that this team has turned into the most fascinating team I can remember in college basketball. On paper, they are more talented than the 2015 Kentucky, the one that went 38-1. On the floor, they’re a mess. Harry Giles III is still a shell of himself, understandably so. Marques Bolden has been so bad that Chase Jeter and Javin DeLaurier have usurped his spot in the rotation. Jayson Tatum hasn’t adjusted to the college level the way we expected him to, and the only person in the program that seems to realize Luke Kennard is the best player on the team is Luke Kennard.

The leader on the bench, Coach K, is out recovering from back surgery. The leader on the floor, Amile Jefferson, is out with a foot injury.

And then there is Grayson Allen, who … well … you know. He keeps tripping people, and even when he doesn’t, we have successfully lumped him into some controversy on the floor for three straight games. Oh, and he’s the Preseason Player of the Year that just so happens to be playing out of position because the Blue Devils don’t have a point guard.

In 2015, when Duke had an identity crisis in January, they were shredded at home by Miami, losing by 16 points and having their season effectively ended by the public at large. They figured it out that year and won a national title. They’re at a similar crossroads this weekend. Is this when they start to turn things around?

4. First place battles in the ACC, Pac-12 and the SEC: There are a trio of headline-grabbing games this weekend featuring league leaders. No. 12 Louisville travels to No. 10 Florida State, who is tied for first in the ACC, a game ahead of the Cardinals. No. 14 Arizona, who it tied with Oregon for the top spot in the Pac-12 standings, treks to Pauley Pavilion to pay a visit to No. 3 UCLA, who is a game out of first. And finally, No. 5 Kentucky hosts No. 24 South Carolina, the last two undefeated teams in the SEC.

Three terrific games. Three terrific breakdowns right here.