Nebraska's Miles hoping to surprise Big Ten with young team

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) At Nebraska, where success in basketball has been scant, it helps if the coach has a sense of humor. That's an area where Tim Miles is not lacking.

''I think we're picked toward the bottom, which is where I like to be, so we can pleasantly surprise all our friends and colleagues in the room today,'' Miles said at Big Ten media day.

The Cornhuskers looked to be on the verge of a breakthrough three years ago when they used a late run to finish fourth in the Big Ten and make the NCAA Tournament. Their follow-up: consecutive losing seasons and 12th- and 11th-place finishes in the conference.

The outlook isn't bright for this season, either. The team sustained a major setback in the offseason when its best player, Andrew White III, left in late June and eventually landed at Syracuse. White's departure, along with the graduation of Shavon Shields, depleted the roster of 33 points and 11 rebounds per game.

Nebraska is left with only one double-digit scorer in senior Tai Webster , a promising sophomore class and a cast of newcomers who will have a lot of opportunity to play.

The nonconference schedule is ambitious. The Huskers play Atlantic 10 co-champion Dayton, Clemson, in-state rival Creighton and pay a visit to Kansas.

Miles said the schedule was put together with the expectation that White would be with the team.

''It's an elephant,'' Miles said. ''We built it thinking this was going to be our strongest, most complete team. Now we're minus some outside shooting. It was still going to be a huge challenge.''

Some things to watch for in Nebraska's 2016-17 season:

INJURY ISSUES

Louisville transfer Anton Gill and freshman Isaiah Roby got late starts practicing. Gill had a procedure on his knee to alleviate chronic tendinitis, and Roby went into the preseason bothered by a stress reaction in his pelvis area. Freshman center Jordy Tshimanga returned to practice this week after missing four days with a mild concussion.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE

Jordy Tshimanga , a 6-foot-11, 275-pound freshman, gives the Huskers the big man they desperately need. He'll be in the lineup right away. The Montreal native has had no problem fitting in with teammates with his big personality.

''He's got the attitude that creates improvement,'' Miles said. ''He wants to get better every day. When I say that, it's evident. He'll come and ask questions all the time, and not dumb ones; really thoughtful questions. That's where you see his learning curve is going to be good.''

FILLING THE SEATS?

Nebraska will start its fourth season at Pinnacle Bank Arena, and it will be worth watching if capacity crowds continue to show up. The Huskers are among eight programs to average 15,000 per game over the last three years and were 11th in the nation last season with an average of 15,430. They're 8-10 in home Big Ten games the last two years.

EVER THE OPTIMIST

Miles said there is huge growth potential for his team: ''You'll see coaches say, `I didn't know if we'd get eighth in the league,' and they get second in the league. You could say the same about the Huskers in 2014. Nobody thought we'd be anything. We were picked 12th, got fourth and made the NCAA. You never know how it's going to come together.''

GOOD RIDDANCE?

White's surprise announcement to transfer caused hard feelings. Nebraska's players apparently have gotten over it, though.

''Our guys, they're like, `You're with us or against us.' I like that about them. That didn't come from me,'' Miles said. ''They're a good group. When they have that ownership, that's when you have your best teams. I expect this team will exceed expectations.''

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AP college basketball website: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

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