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Tim Miles' building job at Nebraska relies on newcomers for now as he looks to upgrade talent

  • f0806fdf45631d02490f6a7067007ca6.jpg

    Nebraska men's basketball coach Tim Miles discusses the state of his team during an NCAA college basketball news conference in Lincoln, Neb., Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)The Associated Press

  • bb6359a445631d02490f6a706700ff36.jpg

    Nebraska men's basketball coach Tim Miles discusses the state of his team during an NCAA college basketball news conference in Lincoln, Neb., Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)The Associated Press

  • 67638f0245631d02490f6a7067000c27.jpg

    Nebraska men's basketball coach Tim Miles discusses the state of his team during an NCAA college basketball news conference in Lincoln, Neb., Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)The Associated Press

Tim Miles is midway through his second season at Nebraska, and while he's not surprised by how big a job it is to turn around the long-struggling program, he wishes he would see more progress.

The Cornhuskers (8-8) have lost four straight to start Big Ten play and five in a row overall.

The losing streak could be longer after Monday's visit by an 11th-ranked Ohio State team that beat the Huskers by 31 points two weeks ago.

"It takes time to piece it all together," Miles said.

Miles is being given the time to build a program that hasn't gone to the NCAA tournament since 1998 or had a winning conference record since 1999 under Danny Nee.

Miles signed a seven-year contract — an unprecedented length for a Nebraska coach in any sport — that paid $1.4 million to start and increases to $2.15 million by 2018-19.

The administration also committed to upgrading facilities. The Pinnacle Bank Arena opened this season, and the Huskers are drawing 15,127 a game to rank fourth in the Big Ten.

Nebraska won all seven of its nonconference home games and lost by a point to Michigan in its only Big Ten game at the new arena.

"This is a team that's going to be really good as long as they stay together, stay unified, keep playing together," Wolverines coach John Beilein said. "They've got a lot of talent, and (Miles) will do the right job with them."

Recruiting is the most important part of the job right now. Miles is biding his time until he can bring in more Big Ten-caliber players to a school that has little, if any, basketball tradition.

"That's the trick," he said.

Miles was hired away from Colorado State in March 2012 and, given the timing, said he was fortunate to land transfers in Terran Petteway (Texas Tech), Walter Pitchford (Florida) and Deverell Biggs (Seward County Community College). All three redshirted last season and are now among the Huskers' top four scorers.

Miles has only two seniors, but Ray Gallegos has struggled after missing time for disciplinary reasons and Mike Peltz is a seldom-used walk-on.

Junior David Rivers, a part-time starter last year, has played only nine minutes since Dec. 4, but will be back in the rotation against Ohio State. Shavon Shields, though averaging almost 11 points as a sophomore, is not playing to the level of his freshman season.

That has left Petteway, Pitchford and Biggs to lead the team. The learning curve has been steep.

"A lot of guys came from being 'King Whoever' wherever they were," Miles said. "You're not king anymore, not in this league. You're not even a prince probably. We're just the jesters trying to work it out."

Last Sunday's 70-64 loss at Purdue was an example of all that ails Nebraska. The Huskers led by two points before a 6½-minute field-goal drought. When it was over, in the last minute of the game, they trailed by four.

Petteway is averaging 17.3 points, but he's shooting only 43 percent and has taken almost twice as many shots as anyone on the team. Miles said Petteway and Biggs, in particular, are trying to force shots.

"We put our head down and try to create offense and maybe jump off one foot and try to hit a floater or a pull-up jumper with two guys (defending)," Miles said. "These guys are all-or-nothing guys. They are going to make a play or make a mistake."

The Huskers lack a true center. Almost half the 6-foot-10 Pitchford's shots have come from behind the 3-point arc. The 6-6 Petteway is playing out of position at power forward.

Gallegos is the Huskers' best perimeter shooter, and he's less than 40 percent on 3s. Freshman point guard Tai Webster, a highly regarded recruit out of New Zealand, has just 38 assists against 31 turnovers.

Still, the Huskers were in position to win their past two games, and the players have drawn encouragement from that.

"We're right there," Petteway said. "Every day everybody has to come with a positive attitude, come ready to work. As you can see, the past couple games were pretty close. Once we get over the hump, it's going to be special."