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Western Illinois vs. Nebraska, 11/25

Nebraska coach Tim Miles talks with Husker guard Nana Akenten after a substitution in the second half against Western Illinois on Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

You ever been in a conversation, and sat in silence for six full seconds thinking of how to answer a question?

That's a long time to just sit there while someone waits for an answer. It's even longer if you're sitting at a podium with more than one face looking back at you.

That was Nebraska basketball coach Tim Miles Saturday evening, less than a half hour after his Huskers had dispatched Western Illinois. He was contemplating the dilemma he and his team faced as they turned their attention to the second big test of the still-young season.

Nebraska plays at Clemson Monday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It will be the second opportunity of this campaign for the Huskers to nab an attention-getting victory as it tries — this program is always trying, it seems — to pile up enough quality victories to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee on a day that still lies more than three months down the road.

"It's important. I mean, It's important," Miles said after the pause. "How much more important? Like, this is no less important than tonight. They're all huge. ... So you just can't live there. You just try and put a game plan together, try to put your guys in a situation to be successful and win the game."

NU didn't get many such opportunities last season, and when the Huskers did, they didn't convert. That's how you go 22-11 with 13 Big Ten wins and not get into the Big Dance.

Things needed to be different this season. There are more chances on the schedule to impress. But so far, Nebraska is 0-for-1.

The loss came to Texas Tech, on a neutral floor, by 18 points. For a senior-dominated team with high expectations, it was a rough result, to say the least. But it was only the fifth game of the season. 

"Does the idea of it compound? I guess I look at it like, we've got two league games after that (Minnesota and Illinois). And then, oh, Creighton. And then, oh, Oklahoma State. And then (Cal State) Fullerton, who was in the NCAA last year," Miles said. "So you don't have to look far on this schedule to find premium opportunities for statement games.

"So I don't think the interest compounds that it makes it more and more important just because we lost the last one."

Clemson would seem to be a model for Nebraska to aim for. In coach Brad Brownell's first season, the Tigers went to the NCAA Tournament. Then came six mostly unmemorable campaigns, including a season eerily similar to Nebraska's last year — Clemson went 23-13 in 2013-14 but was relegated to the NIT.

With heat on Brownell last season, the Tigers responded by going 25-10 and reaching the Sweet 16.

Now it's Nebraska looking for the breakthrough. As Miles pointed out, who knows what a win could mean? At the time last season, NU's win over a Minnesota squad hovering in the same neighborhood of the top 25 as this Clemson team was a Quad 1 victory. Then the Gophers fell apart.

"We just don't know," Miles said.

What is known is that while Monday's game still counts as just one in the win or loss column, it could mean plenty for a team trying to pull itself through the slog of a string of disappointing performances in "big" games.

"Most of it is mindset. It’s going to be doing all the little things, but I’m sure our guys will be excited," Miles said. "It will be a very difficult game. I’m sure we’ll be the underdog, and that’s fair. So it’s going to be something that, we’re going to have to play well to win."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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Husker basketball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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