Nebraska's transformation

Bigger lineups, efficient conversion revamps Huskers' defense

Updated: February 19, 2014, 12:09 PM ET
By John Gasaway | ESPN Insider

Tim MilesEric Francis/Getty ImagesTim Miles has pointed the way to a .500 Big Ten record.

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Five weeks ago, Nebraska stood at 0-4 in the Big Ten and 8-8 overall.

The first four conference opponents faced by the Cornhuskers had scored in the paint virtually at will, connecting on no less than 57 percent of their 2s while recording 1.10 points per possession against this undersized defense. Coach Tim Miles' team appeared headed to yet another four- or five-win conference season, the only kind of result the program had known since joining the Big Ten in 2011-12.

You may recall what happened next. Ohio State came to Lincoln, ranked No. 17 in the nation. And when the final buzzer sounded on the Cornhuskers' 68-62 win over the Buckeyes, the students rushed the court and there was even a fairly famous selfie taken of Miles to mark the occasion.

Starting with that victory over OSU, Nebraska won six of its last eight games, culminating in Sunday's season-defining, 60-51 upset win at Michigan State. The Huskers are now an even 6-6 in Big Ten play, and with four home games still to be played, what was once unthinkable -- an above-.500 finish in conference -- would appear to be very much in reach.

I wondered how the Huskers had pulled off such a dramatic turnaround, so I came to Lincoln to find out. Over the course of an afternoon spent talking to Miles and his staff, I learned that part of the credit for Nebraska's 180 may go to, of all people, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin.