LINCOLN — The to-do list for Nebraska men’s basketball coach Tim Miles gets a little longer each time the Huskers lose.
That means he’s got a full page to consider before Sunday’s contest at Purdue (10-5, 0-2). NU (8-7, 0-3) has lost four games in a row and will be an underdog at Mackey Arena and in the following game — Jan. 20 at home against No. 3 Ohio State.
One option not available is sulking about the first home loss of the season, 71-70 to Michigan.
“You can’t feel sorry for yourselves,” Miles said. “Purdue has been sitting there for a week waiting on us. And they will punish us if we aren’t ready to compete, so we’ve got to get back in fighting mode.”
The Boilermakers should be plenty rested.
They have played only three times in the past 21 days. The most recent games were a nine-point loss to Ohio State — which beat Nebraska by 31 — and a three-point loss at Minnesota.
“We thought we should have beaten Ohio State here,” Purdue guard Rapheal Davis said. “And we know we should have beaten Minnesota. As bad as we played, it was still a one-possession game. So we’re still feeling good even though we’re 0-2.”
For Nebraska to feel better, here are Miles’ three biggest chores:
1. Figure out the playing time mix at point guard between true freshman Tai Webster and junior-college transfer Deverell Biggs.
If this were based on statistics, Biggs would start and play more. The Michigan game was a prime example. Biggs, in 20 minutes off the bench, had 14 points, five rebounds and one assist. Webster, in 28 minutes as a starter, had two points, three rebounds and two assists.
What limits Biggs’ playing time is defensive mistakes.
“He made a whole bunch of defensive errors — guard-the-ball errors,” Miles said in the Michigan postgame. “Tai has just been more solid.”
Miles isn’t disputing that Biggs can make more high-impact plays that are noticeable.
It’s what’s not so apparent that bothers Miles, like a first-half stretch against Michigan in which Nebraska ran two plays in a row for Biggs, then called one for a teammate.
“Dev doesn’t initiate the play,” the coach said. “He kind of does his own thing. So I quick-hooked him and said, ‘Listen. I’m going to run plenty of stuff for you. And when we run stuff for the other guys, you’ll be there.’
“It’s a patience thing with Dev. And it will come. But instead of leaving him out there to make mistakes, we can’t give up possessions. So I’m going to bring him out and talk to him.”
Meanwhile, Webster — touted as a potential Top 50 recruit out of New Zealand — continues to struggle in adjusting to the U.S. college game.
Of the seven Huskers averaging at least 19 minutes a game, Webster has the lowest quotient of points plus rebounds plus assists to minutes played (39.8).
The three highest are Leslee Smith (76.4), Terran Petteway (75.9) and Biggs (73.8). The others: Walter Pitchford (62.1), Shavon Shields (58.6) and Ray Gallegos (41.0).
2. Get Shields out of his sophomore slide.
The 6-foot-7 wing scored 28 points in a season-opening win over Florida Gulf Coast, slashing to the basket enough to earn 12 free throws, making them all. Soon after, Miles said, Shields became too focused on getting to the basket, forgoing many of the midrange jump shots that led to his success as a freshman.
Shields had a tough time at the Charleston Classic in late November, going 10 of 27 (37 percent) from the field against high-caliber length and athleticism.
He’s in a tougher stretch now. During the current losing skid, Shields is 8 of 32 (25 percent). That has dropped his season shooting average to 41.4 percent. He shot 47.1 percent last season.
Shields’ lone basket in five shots in the Michigan loss was on a steal and uncontested layup.
“He’s got a testy knee that’s really sore,” Miles said. “We’ve got to get him healthy.”
3. Figure out how to avoid fouling without playing passively.
Before the Michigan game, Miles cracked down on fouls in practice by having his assistants referee scrimmage periods. Those who fouled spent one minute on a treadmill at 12 mph.
“Eventually,” Miles said, “you’ll either be in the best shape of your life — or you’ll quit fouling.”
Nebraska committed a season-low 13 fouls against Michigan. But at what cost?
The Wolverines shot 62 percent from the field — an NU opponent season high — often while darting and cutting unobstructed down the lane.
“We need to be able to play hard without fouling,” Miles said. “Fouling is one of the parts of defensive discipline. Now, the next level of stuff — guarding the ball, not gambling, getting to your spot time and time again — takes time.”