Still winless in Big Ten Conference play and riding a five-game losing streak, the timing for Nebraska to get a week off couldn't have been much better.
With their next game not until No. 11 Ohio State comes to town next Monday night, the Huskers are using this week as an opportunity to identify and then fix some of the key problems that have been plaguing them the past month. During his interview on the weekly Big Ten coaches' teleconference on Monday, NU head coach Tim Miles said he and his staff wouldn't even worry about prepping for their second meeting with the Buckeyes in 16 days until later on this week.
"Early this week I think it's self-reflection and self-evaluation," Miles said. "We'll worry about ourselves. We're going to sharpen up the things we need to get better at… It'll be a combination of things. We'll practice more things, it'll be extra video time because we don't have a (game) prep for a long time. So it'll be more teaching of our own stuff rather than worry about our opponent."
Miles said he'll also take a long, hard look at his starting lineup and bench rotation. While he said he wasn't sure exactly what, if any, changes would be made between now and the next game, Miles said something needed to be done to help spark a lineup that hasn't won a game since Dec. 21, 2013.
"I think we've learned we've got this losing thing down pat," Miles said when asked what his team has learned since the start of league play. "I mean, we really know how to play just well enough to lose. The hard part is figuring out how to have the defensive discipline and the shot selection at different times throughout the game. The other thing is small concentration errors really can cost us at any point and time.
"I may consider some lineup changes in terms of lengthening our bench a little bit. We've got some guys struggling. I don't know if they're tried, but maybe just inject some new energy into the lineup one way or another. Whether that be finagle the starting lineup or whether that be adding somebody new, I have not decided yet, but it gives us something to talk about for a week here in Lincoln."
One method could be continuing to play freshman guard Tai Webster and junior guard Deverell Biggs on the floor together more. Webster has been the starting point guard most of the season with Biggs coming off the bench, but Biggs has made a strong case for an expanded role with his play offensively the past few games. Webster had been struggling as of late, but made big strides with his overall confidence and aggressiveness in Sunday's loss at Purdue.
However, for Webster and Biggs to be on the court together more often, Miles said both would have to earn his trust with their defense over the next week of practice.
"That's completely based on their ability to play good defense," Miles said. "Right now, they're not quite there. They're getting better, but if we feel like we can trust them … Once we get on the same page and we get that kind of consistency, I think we'll be OK. Our three biggest culprits really are Terran Petteway, Deverell Biggs and Tai Webster, and that's not a secret to any of our opponents either."
Miles said the Huskers could also use even more zone defense than they have been going forward. Nebraska switched to a 2-3 zone mid-game and had good success against both Michigan and Purdue. Miles prefers to play more man-to-man defense, but said that if NU continued to work better out a zone, he wouldn't hesitate to change up his approach.
"We've used it more, and it is usually as a change-up," Miles said. "If we continue to have success with it, we'll continue to use it more. We actually talked about that in our staff meeting this afternoon, just to look at all of our zone stuff for A: teaching for our guys, and B: to just talk about where to use it with our scheme and what lineup it might work best with."
As much as anything, though, the Huskers need to figure out how to prevent the extended scoring droughts that have plagued them far too often during the past two seasons. After going the final eight minutes without a field goal in its 31-point loss at Ohio State, Nebraska made just one basket in the final seven minutes and went six full scoreless minutes in Sunday's 70-64 loss to the Boilermakers.
"Well, we did it for six minutes against Purdue, so I'd say we're doing much better," Miles joked. "That's a 25-percent gain, so if we can get that down to four minutes against the Buckeyes, who knows what might happen? Seriously though, it usually comes down to decision making. It usually comes down late in games and playing through fatigue. What I've realized with newcomers is … that's just part of the deal. Often times when you're young, those are the growing pains of building a program."