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Just as it was a year ago, Tim Miles knew Nebraska was in for a rude welcome to Big Ten Conference play this season. With a trip to Cincinnati to close out non-conference play followed by back-to-back road games at No. 20 Iowa and No. 3 Ohio State to open the league slate, the Huskers have dropped three straight games and are off to an 0-2 start with Michigan coming to Lincoln on Thursday night for their conference home opener.
While it's no surprise that NU's young and inexperienced roster has struggled against some of the best teams the Big Ten has to offer, the task for Miles and his staff now is to make sure NU's current losing skid doesn't turn into an avalanche that could ruin the season.
Nebraska was able to hang with the Hawkeyes until the final minutes, but completely collapsed in a 31-point blowout loss to the Buckeyes. Miles said maybe more concerning than the final score was the body language his players showed when the game started to get out of hand.
"It looked like we had signs of defeat all over us, and you can just never let yourself get that way, you know?" Miles said. "We have work to do. We have a lot of work to do."
The top points of emphasis for the Huskers this week in practice have focused on improved discipline on both ends of the floor. Foul trouble, poor shot selection and turnovers have plagued NU the past three outings, as Miles said his team has struggled to get out of its own way at times.
Nebraska has averaged 25 fouls and given up 44 points off of 36 turnovers during its current losing streak and is shooting just 42.4 percent from the field as a team on the season. Miles said Iowa scored 15 of its 30 points in the first half off of offensive mistakes by NU, while Ohio State got 15 of its 40 first-half points the same way.
Things won't get any easier for the Huskers tonight, either, as Miles said Michigan will put as big of an emphasis on overall efficiency as any of those teams.
"We're probably going to be tested more than ever against Michigan, because they're much like Creighton in my book where they put so much pressure on you," Miles said. "They play a very low possession game, and they shoot the 3 extremely well. They put a lot of guys out there that can make 3s, and now their offensive efficiency is through the roof. We're going to have to be at our best defensively, there's no doubt."
As far as fouling is concerned, Miles said he's gone back to having his staff officiate practices this week, which NU hasn't done since the season started. When a player is called for a foul, he must go to the treadmill by the court and sprint at 12 mph for a minute.
"Eventually you'll either be in the best shape of your life or you'll quit fouling," Miles said.
The grueling start to league play has definitely played a big part in a lot of Nebraska's issues early on, but Miles said at some point the Huskers needed to rise to the challenge. The hope is that finally playing at home for the first time since Dec. 21 will help Nebraska settle down and keep the season from slipping away any further.
"That's going to wear on you," Miles said of playing three-straight difficult road games. "But now, all of sudden you come back and you meet as coaches, and, 'Everything's wrong! That guy's no good!' And, 'We're all screwed up! We don't run anything right!' You've just got to settle everybody down, just stick to the plan, play the game the right way, and good things will happen. It'll be good for us to get home for a while. At the same time, we have to earn our confidence back."