Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Becca Mann
Huskers NCAA future still uncertain despite No. 4 seed in Big Ten Tournament
The Nebraska men’s basketball team finished the regular season with a 22-9 overall and 13-5 Big Ten record with a win Sunday against Penn State.
From being picked as the team to finish last in the Big Ten to earning the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament, the Huskers came to play this season. And with Nebraska’s postseason fate still up in the air, this year’s edition has only one goal in mind for whatever lies ahead: Show that they mean business.
Sunday’s 76-64 victory against the Nittany Lions was another push of momentum for the Huskers, who have gone 10-2 since an overtime loss in Happy Valley last month. The win came in front a sold-out crowd of 15,539, including the chair of NCAA tournament selection committee and Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen.
From here, it’s the looming question of “what’s next?”
Nebrasketball AT #B1G Tournament
Nebraska looks in line to run it back with fifth-seeded Michigan in the conference quarterfinals, but No. 12 Iowa or No. 13 Illinois could also sneak in. Either way, NU needs to make a statement in NYC to ease nerves about the Huskers at-large chances for an NCAA bid.
- WHERE: Madison Square Garden
- WHEN: Friday, 1:30 p.m.
- VIDEO: BTN
Huskers Going Dancing?
It’s hard to figure out which metric to use to try and analyze Nebraska’s chances of making the NCAA tournament.
As of Monday morning, NU was 58th in the RPI. That ‘Bracketology’ guy still had the Huskers on the outside looking in, but as one of the first four out. And then there’s the Big Ten precedent: No Big Ten team to reach 13 conference wins has ever been left out of the field.
No matter how you look at it, it’s going to feel like a lot more than 13 days until Selection Sunday with all of this still up in the air.
First up on the list of to-dos, the Huskers hit the road this week for the Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden. The No. 4 seed earns the team a double bye, meaning they won’t play until the third round on March 2.
“What were we picked, last this year? Picked last and finished fourth,” senior Anton Gill said about the team’s season. “We’ve played a lot of tough teams this year. We knew going in that we wouldn’t have that much respect so we’re going to keep on preparing. We’re going to New York to win it, we’re not just going to play games.”
Depending on how the first two rounds play out, the Huskers could be matched up against No. 5 Michigan, No. 12 Iowa or No. 13 Illinois.
Nebraska coach Tim Miles said he wants his team to focus on what’s happening next before expanding to big picture ideas. He has his team setting out to take home a conference championship, a title that would be the first for Nebraska since 1994.
“We want to go win the Big Ten Tournament. That’s the goal, to go cut the nets down,” Miles said. “As far as the NCAA Tournament resume, I don’t even think I’m going to talk about that with the guys. I think I’m going to talk with a single minded goal of ‘let’s go there and try and win that tournament and be Big Ten champions.'”
A Big Ten championship win would guarantee the Huskers a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Without the title, the team is still in great shape to go dancing. In Big Ten history, all 61 teams that have finished their season with 13 conference wins have made it the NCAA Tournament. Nebraska is hoping to build on that statistic this year.
The Huskers finished out the season with a 13-5 conference record and ended undefeated (9-0) in the Big Ten at home for the first time since 1966.
For Nebraska, Sunday’s game will hopefully be the last time of playing in front of a sold-out Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd this year. That could happen if the Huskers miss out on the NCAA field and instead wind up bound for the postseason NIT. The highest ranked teams become host sites, something that would be in NU’s favor, but it’s a perk it hopes to avoid.
“I feel like we should be in,” said senior Evan Taylor about the NCAA Tournament. “Honestly, I do. I feel like we’re a team that’s playing well right now. If we get in the tournament we can beat some teams. Hopefully we can get that opportunity because we deserve it. This team has been through everything. We’ve persevered, worked hard, we’ve stuck together through the good and the bad.”
Big Ten tournament play begins on February 28th and concludes with a March 4th championship game at 3:30 p.m. CT. Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament will take place the following week on March 11th beginning at 5 p.m. CT on NCAA.com.
The Huskers have done everything they can late in the season to pad their NCAA Tournament resume and a win to cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden next week would guarantee an automatic bid and make those March Madness dreams a reality.