LINCOLN — After 13 games, Nebraska men’s basketball coach Tim Miles is still pushing buttons and twisting knobs to dial in better play at point guard.
“Of the five spots, it’s been our least productive spot on a consistent basis,” Miles said Friday. “As we improve that, that’s when our team will improve the most.”
The three Huskers who have worked at the point — freshman Tai Webster, junior Deverell Biggs and sophomore Benny Parker — have shot 38.2 percent from the field combined with a 1.2-to-1 ratio of assists to turnovers.
So how do the Huskers (8-5, 0-1) measure the point guard progress needed?
They won’t find a better barometer than Saturday’s game at No. 3 Ohio State (14-0, 1-0).
The Buckeyes say senior Aaron Craft is the nation’s best point guard. His statistics aren’t mind-boggling. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder from Findlay, Ohio, averages 9.4 points a game, is first in the Big Ten in steals (2.5) and second in assists (5.0).
No direct measurements are available for Craft’s two biggest qualities — consistent leadership and disrupting opponents.
But those who pick the national player of the year know. Craft was on the preseason short lists for the Wooden and Oscar Robertson Awards, and was a preseason first-team All-Big Ten choice.
Opposing coaches know, too.
Purdue went to Ohio State on Tuesday night and threatened to pull an upset in the Big Ten opener until running into Craft at every second-half turn.
He finished with seven points, eight rebounds, 10 assists, no turnovers and four steals as OSU pulled away for a 78-69 victory — just the second time an opponent had stayed within single digits of the Buckeyes.
“He just wants Ohio State to win,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “You don’t see a lot of kids like that anymore, where he just wants his team to win and he’ll do anything it takes.”
Nebraska held a “scout party” Thursday night in which the team gathered to watch Ohio State’s games against Purdue and Notre Dame. Miles and assistant Chris Harriman are watching film individually with point guards, too, to dissect Craft’s game.
Neither Webster nor Biggs has faced Craft, nor a road crowd as big as what is expected Saturday at 19,049-seat Value City Arena.
“Aaron is one of the best defensive players in the country, and one of the better on-ball defenders I’ve ever witnessed,” Miles said. “So I don’t know that you can accurately prepare anybody for that until they go through it.”
With a wry grin, Miles added: “It will be an entertaining first five or six minutes.”
Nebraska is coming off a 67-57 loss at No. 22 Iowa in which the Huskers led midway through the first half, fell behind by 20 points with 8:14 to play and then cut the deficit to five with 1:44 to go.
A key factor in NU scaring the Hawkeyes was sophomore forward Walter Pitchford, who produced his second double-double with 13 points and a career-high 12 rebounds in 30 minutes.
“Walt played a tremendous game,” Miles said. “His attention to detail and his energy level were outstanding. He did a lot of really good things defensively for us.”
Pitchford, in 296 minutes of play, still hasn’t committed a turnover. He also has just five assists, which led him to say the coaches tease him that the reason for no turnovers is because he rarely passes.
Statistics are what the 6-10 Florida transfer is trying to forget.
“I just want to play hard,” he said. “When you do that, everything else falls into place. Don’t worry about how many shots you get up. Don’t worry about how many shots other players are getting up.
“That’s the one thing coach Miles really broke down to us. I take that to heart now.”