LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska coach Doc Sadler isn't worried about his job security or fan discontent as the Cornhuskers struggle through their first season in the Big Ten.
Sadler's immediate concern is getting the most out of his team in the seven games before the Big Ten tournament.
"I'm not stupid. I know wins and losses — it's always good to have a lot more wins than losses," he said. "So we need to win some basketball games."
The Cornhuskers are 11-11 overall and, at 3-8, 11th in the Big Ten after back-to-back losses to 10th-place Northwestern (road) and eighth-place Minnesota (home).
Their average losing margin of 16.5 points in conference games is inflated by losses of 24 points at home against Wisconsin, and 31 and 34 points against Ohio State. The second loss to the Buckeyes was Nebraska's worst home loss in at least 112 years.
The Huskers are 10th in the league in attendance, at just under 10,000 a game. The 6,683 fans for Sunday's loss to Minnesota was, according to the Omaha World-Herald, the second-smallest for a conference game since the Devaney Sports Center opened in 1976.
Athletic director Tom Osborne declined to comment Monday.
Sadler, 33-58 in conference games in his six seasons at Nebraska, last April signed a contract extension through 2015-16. He is paid $900,000 a year and, if fired after this season, would be owed as much as $66,667 a month until he finds another job — up to a total of $3.3 million.
Former player Beau Reid of Lincoln, a member of the basketball team booster club's advisory group, said the personable Sadler is well-liked, but that there are growing doubts about whether he can make the Huskers competitive in the Big Ten. The issue looms large because the Huskers will open a 16,000-seat downtown arena in fall 2013.
Reid said it will be critical for the program to show progress soon or risk having a lot of unsold seats in the new building.
"I hate speculating on someone's job, their livelihood," Reid said. "But if you decide he's not going to get the job done, you have to pull the trigger this year."
The Huskers play No. 22 Michigan at home Wednesday and still have to go on the road to face No. 11 Michigan State. Their other five opponents are tied for fifth or lower in the conference.
"I'm not going to say we're going to win the NCAA championship," Sadler said. But he noted that the New York Giants won the Super Bowl despite losing five of six games the second half of the regular season.
"I like our basketball team and I believe in them, and I believe if we get some luck, take each day as it comes, I think there are some good things that can happen to this team," he said.
Roger Brown, another Rebounders Club advisory group member, said fans seem to genuinely like Sadler and want to see him succeed.
"No one is throwing their hands up," he said.
Reid, the Huskers' leading scorer in 1989 and a member of the 1991 NCAA tournament team, said he's confident in Sadler's knowledge of X's and O's but not sold on his recruiting.
"Not taking anything away from the kids who are there now," Reid said, "but it just seems like our talent level isn't equal to the remainder of the conference."
Sadler is hamstrung by the state's small population and shortage of high school talent produced in the state. But Reid said it's frustrating when the rare in-state Division I prospect gets poached by another school.
Sophomore center Elliott Eliason of Chadron played a significant role against Nebraska for Minnesota on Sunday. Guard Mike Gesell of South Sioux City will be a freshman at Iowa next season. Reid said a new practice facility that opened in October and the new arena should remove excuses for not upgrading the talent.
Sadler has faced a couple major obstacles this season.
First, the Huskers are making their way through the Big Ten for the first time. "Preparing off tape and seeing people in person are two different things," Sadler said.
In addition, center Andre Almeida hasn't played because of nagging knee problems, guard Dylan Talley missed a month because of a thigh problem and center Jorge Brian Diaz has had chronic problems with sore feet. Diaz didn't play Sunday and could miss the rest of the season.
Reid acknowledged that injuries have set back the team, but he still expected more from a squad that Sadler had said would be the best he's coached in Lincoln.
"It's kind of a bummer to see the program just kind of floundering, struggling," Reid said.