LINCOLN — Nebraska played 18 regular-season Big Ten men’s basketball games last season and three more in the conference tournament.
In those 21 contests, NU went 8-13.
At first glance, it looks like the Huskers have a long slog ahead just to get to .500, especially after losing the Big Ten’s No. 5 and 6 scorers, Shavon Shields and Andrew White.
“That first look,” coach Tim Miles said, “made me want to puke.”
Upon further review, Miles can argue any perceived chasm isn’t as wide as it seems. In those 21 games, the average final score was Big Ten foe 71.3, Nebraska 71.1.
“You’re talking two-tenths of a point over 21 games,” Miles said. “It’s insane. I showed our guys that and their mouths fell open. Hopefully, it gives them the confidence that we are that close.”
A deeper dive into Nebraska’s statistics revealed what Miles said is another reason for hope as practice for 2016-17 begins Monday.
The analytics crew broke out Nebraska’s four lineups from last season that produced the best combination of results offensively and defensively. Four lineups times five players equal 20 slots.
Of those 20 slots of “best” play from last season, 14 who filled those slots return.
Joining those returnees are 6-foot-3 Louisville transfer guard Anton Gill, who was a national top-50 recruit four years ago; 6-8 freshman wing Isaiah Roby, who finished eighth in voting for Illinois’ Mr. Basketball; 6-11 freshman center Jordy Tshimanga, a top-150 recruit; and 6-7 forward Jeriah Horne, another top-150 signee.
“We add some personnel who can help us,” Miles said, “with length, skill and shot-blocking.”
Nebraska will miss White’s 3-point shooting. The senior wing, who left in late June as a graduate transfer to Syracuse, shot 41.2 percent on 3s.
“Andrew’s departure left us in a bit of a 3-point shooting lurch,” Miles said. “We’ve got to figure out how to overcome that. But if you look at the amount of guys who were productive for us, we’ve got a chance.”
On defense, Miles and his three assistants — Jim Molinari, Kenya Hunter and Michael Lewis — are re-evaluating NU’s plan.
“There are adjustments we’re going to make defensively,” Miles said. “Jim is one of the best defensive minds out there, as he proved as a head coach over and over. Kenya does an outstanding job in that area, and Michael Lewis has some independent ideas after having worked at Butler for Brad Stevens and played at Indiana for Bob Knight.”
A recent coaches’ session on 3-point defense ran two hours.
“That really hurt us last year,” Miles said. “Some of it was a lack of length. And we’ll fine-tune some things so we don’t repeat last year’s mistakes.”
Miles enters his fifth season at Nebraska with an overall record of 63-67 (.485) and a Big Ten record of 27-45 (.375).
In his second season, the Huskers broke a 16-year NCAA tournament drought, going 19-13 overall and 11-7 in the Big Ten.
“We followed that with a disappointing 2014-15, and then lost a mass of humanity,” Miles said. Six scholarship players graduated, left early for pro ball or transferred.
“So last year, we started over. We’re still young. But we have our two best recruiting classes — the last two — on hand. I like them. And I like where we’re going.”
Nebraska will need its young players to mature rapidly with the schedule Miles built.
The Huskers play at likely preseason No. 1 Kansas, host probable Top 25 Creighton, face Clemson in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and take part in the Wooden Legacy in Los Angeles.
The opening opponent in that three-game, eight-team event in Los Angeles is defending Atlantic-10 champion Dayton, which went 25-8 and reached the NCAA tourney. UCLA is on the same side of NU’s bracket.
Other home games before Big Ten play include Louisiana Tech, which returns four starters from a 23-win team, and Southern University, a 22-win NCAA tourney team.
“This year’s schedule is more ambitious than we’ve ever put together because I thought we were going to have our strongest team,” Miles said. “I still think we’re going to have one of our strongest teams.”