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Huskers hoping daunting start to schedule pays off in Big Ten play

In its first 10 games, Nebraska has already played three teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
USA Today

With two games remaining in its non-conference schedule, Nebraska’s 5-5 start to the 2016-17 season is a bit behind of where head coach Tim Miles had hoped going into the year.

There’s certainly good reason for that, however.

According to ESPN’s daily Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), Nebraska’s strength of schedule through the first 10 games ranks No. 1 in all of college basketball.

Per the KenPom.com ratings, the Huskers rank seventh nationally and first among high-major programs in strength of schedule difficulty.

Nebraska has already played three of the current top-10 teams in the country, including No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Kansas. It won’t get any easier going forward, as NU will face three other top-25 opponents in Big Ten play with No. 9 Indiana, No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 15 Purdue.

Miles isn’t using the significant level of competition as an excuse for the Huskers’ .500 record, though. Regardless of the outcomes, Miles said during Monday’s Big Ten coaches’ teleconference that he had hoped to see bigger improvements by his team at this point.

“I had hoped that we’d be a game ahead of where we are right now, or two, if we wanted to make the NCAA Tournament,” Miles said. “We’re not. We’re not there. There are some guys that are behind schedule of what I expected, some of the younger players. There are some guys that are progressing in a way that I’d hoped they could, and there are some guys that are behind, and that includes some of the sophomores, too, since we’ve been out to California and back.

“We only have 11 active scholarship guys, and we’re going to need everybody on different occasions to help us. So we’ve got to get everybody up to speed. That’s what’s important about this week’s practice, that’s what’s important about these next two games going into conference play.”

With home games against Gardner-Webb on Sunday and then Southern next Tuesday, Nebraska should finish out non-conference play at 7-5. Certainly the Huskers would have loved to at least be 8-4 or even 9-3, especially after two missed opportunities vs. Virginia Tech and Clemson.

But Miles and his players know that what will ultimately define their season is how they fare in the Big Ten schedule.

The Huskers open with back-to-back road games at Indiana and Maryland - which currently ranks 29th in the AP poll. But if they can defend home court and win some games on the road, this extremely difficult schedule could end up playing in their favor when it comes to potentially earning a post-season bid.

“We’ve had a daunting schedule, which really doesn’t change much after Christmas,” Miles said. “We’ve played three of the top-10 teams in the country, and a tough road game in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with Clemson.

“So I feel like we’re gaining ground. We’re a young team that’s been against some of the most difficult competition out there, so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do in conference play.”