It all comes down to 4 days in Oklahoma City for the Cornhusker's last chance at an NCAA Tournament appearance. It's somewhat painful to think that the Huskers let slip away enough games that just winning two (say, the two ended by horrendous calls against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M) and they would have a first-round bye in league play and be a virtual lock in a weak tournament field that may yet include Northwestern, the only BCS-league school never to make an NCAA Tournament.
The Huskers probably need to win the automatic bid to get in, but might have an outside shot at an at-large berth should they reach the finals. The bad news is that the Huskers have to play Kansas in the second round should they advance; the good news, though, is that NU is on what appears to be the weaker side of the bracket. Both Oklahoma teams (who will enjoy a massive home court advantage) are on the far side, as are white-hot Texas A&M, flavor-of-the-month Missouri, and the league's best player on a bad team, Craig Brackins of Iowa State. Texas Tech, the worst team on that side, just blew out regular season champ Kansas on Wednesday.
The Husker's bracket is actually a lot easier, despite the presence of the Huskers' personal mongoose in the second round. Baylor is a shell of what it was expected to be, Kansas State and Texas haven't exactly been show-stoppers, Kansas is consistent, but not even half the juggernaut they were last year when they wanted to be, and Colorado is Colorado. Better still, the Huskers are 5-3 against teams on their side of the bracket, whereas they are 3-5 against teams on the far side.
I expect the Huskers to make it to the 2nd round and that's about it. But, as tight as the top 8 teams in the league really are (and Baylor, at #9, isn't far behind, if they put it together), don't be too surprised if the Huskers reach the title game. After all, stranger things have happened.
The First Round:
(8) Nebraska vs. (9) Baylor -- Didn't we just play this game? Nebraska just went to Baylor's home court, on senior day, and beat the Bears. This is on a neutral site, and Nebraska has a little more to play for. Nebraska still plays smothering defense, and Baylor still doesn't play defense. I like the Huskers, by a similar score to Saturday.
(5) Texas vs. (12) Colorado -- I would just dismiss this right now as a Texas win, but Colorado always seems to take their first-round opponent to the wire when they're in the 11 or 12 spot, not to mention the Buffs took Texas to OT earlier this year. Texas should win, but they may have to sweat a lot.
(7) Oklahoma State vs. (10) Iowa State -- This could be Craig Brackins' last game in a Cyclone uniform. OSU has been white-hot, and will have the crowd on its side. An upset here would destroy all the good karma the Cowboys have built. I like the favorite, but it will be closer than it should be.
(6) Texas A&M vs. (11) Texas Tech -- A&M looked like it was headed for the scrap heap before exploding for 6 straight wins to end the year. Tech has been awful when not playing Kansas. Aggies can't afford to lose this game, especially if Kansas State wins its game against the Colorado/Texas winner. A&M should run away with it.
The game thread will be up tomorrow morning (tip is at 11:30), although many of you will be at work, and will be for all day's action. First round games are on Big 12 Network; Thurday's Kansas vs. NU/Baylor winner will be on ESPN2.