Nebraska coach Doc Sadler has always harped on the importance of playing strong defense. It's how the Huskers, despite less overall talent than their conference foes -- be it the Big 12 or Big Ten -- have stayed, for the most part, competitive in games.
But even the defensive-minded Sadler knows you usually can't win when you score only 40 points. Which Nebraska did twice in its first three Big Ten games.
"As I said before, and as I told the (assistant) coaches, no disrespect, because (players) are giving everything they've got. But 40 points ... you've got to score more points," Sadler said. "I ain't smart, but I ain't stupid.
"You don't have any chance scoring 40 points. Offensively is a struggle right now. No doubt about it. If you're waiting for a guy to get hot and go for 30, that's probably not happening in this league on the perimeter, without an inside game."
That's why Sadler is hoping the return of 6-foot-11 center Jorge Brian Diaz is permanent. He missed five games with chronic foot pain but played 22 minutes off the bench Jan. 7 against Illinois. He scored nine points, and his mere presence opened up teammates on the wing.
But given the nature of Diaz's injury -- read: chronic -- there's always the possibility Nebraska might play a game or two without him. Same goes for guard Dylan Talley, who also played against Illinois after missing five games.
So Sadler is trying to think of ways to tinker with the offense without scrapping everything altogether and starting over.
In 2008-09, when he had the shortest team in Division I basketball, he used a five-guard, open post lineup, and had his best conference record (8-8) in his five-plus seasons. That's not likely an option in the Big Ten, Sadler said, given the size inside of so many foes.
Scoring in transition, getting to the free throw line with frequency and generating more offensive rebounds can also help a struggling offense, although Nebraska isn't necessarily equipped or adept at any of those.
"These dudes are competitors. I'm not telling them anything offensively -- I'm not telling them they can do this or do that," Sadler said. "All I'm telling guys is to play as hard as you can play and take good shots. For the most part, I think they're doing that."
--Jorge Brian Diaz and Dylan Talley returned to the court Jan. 7 against Illinois. The question now, though, is if they can stay healthy.
Both looked fine, albeit rusty at times, in coming off the bench against the Illini after sitting out five games. Diaz played 22 minutes, finishing with nine points, and Talley played 28 minutes, scoring six. "It just adds so much to our team when we've got those two guys out there on the floor," Sadler said. "They're only going to get better."
--Which causes more sleepless nights for a coach? A lopsided loss in which your team wasn't competitive (see Nebraska's 71-40 loss at Ohio State, when NU fell behind 17-4), or a game your team lost after being tied with two minutes remaining (see Nebraska's 59-54 loss at Illinois)?
The latter has been more prevalent in six years under Doc Sadler. The close losses in the final minutes have been numerous, and usually to blame on lack of execution -- poor shots, turnovers, missed free throws. All three were culprits in NU's closest thing to a Big Ten win in four games, a five-point loss at Illinois, in which the Huskers had only one field goal in the final eight minutes.
--Nebraska was strong defensively in a 59-54 loss against Illinois on Jan. 7. Well, sort of. The Huskers contained 7-foot-1 center Meyers Leonard. He entered the game with the third-most double-doubles among Big Ten players, but Nebraska limited him to seven points and four rebounds.
The problem, though, was that Nebraska's constant double-teaming of the post cleared paths through the lane for other players. Like wing Joseph Bertrand, who knifed his way for a career-high 25 points on 11-of-12 shooting.
"That's probably the frustrating thing," NU coach Doc Sadler said, "is that we gave up drives to the basket."
BY THE NUMBERS: 50 -- Nebraska shot 50 percent from the field in its 59-54 loss at Illinois, only the fourth time in 15 games the Huskers have done that. Nebraska had won 12 straight games, dating to last season, when shooting at least 50 percent. The Huskers had been shooting 32.5 percent through its first three Big Ten games -- against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not trying to get 70. We're trying to get 60." -- Nebraska coach Doc Sadler, on his team's offensive struggles.