Dance Lessons: Nebraska's Own Brand of March Madness

It's interesting how Husker fans react after a loss.

When you're talking basketball, the range of emotions can go from joy and hopefulness one day...to despair or indifference in the blink of an eye. That's what happens when you're raised in the Nebraska Football culture. One win is just that. A win. But a loss can wreck your life for a while.

I fight these emotions as well. I grew up in the days of the old Big 8, where that one loss spelled doom. Still happens that way I guess, at least of you're talking about a national title. In the football world, Husker fans are probably still trying to swallow the idea that 2 or 3 losses could very well be more of the rule than the exception. With the parity that exists these days, the heartburn that we experienced last season could very well just be in the contract.

Basketball is a bit different that way. Actually, quite different. Many times, the 2 or 3 losses that usually cause major disruption in football circles, are the very thing that galvanizes a basketball team for a post-season run. Rarely does a team ever go undefeated in NCAA basketball, and even a squad that racks up 6 losses can still go on to win the championship.

Let's take a team such as, say...Florida. To get a shot at the BCS Title game, they could afford no more than one loss during the season. They go on to win the title with one loss, and it's safe to say that with a second loss they'd have had to settle for a Rose or Orange Bowl game. On the basketball court however, the Gators went on to win the national title with 6 losses on their record. Now, given the amount of games played (14 versus 40), the percentages favor NCAA basketball. The Florida basketball team can afford to lose about 15% of their games and still realistically win the whole ball of wax. The football team however, can only afford to lose about 7% of their games...and as we've seen, sometimes even that ain't good enough. (Baseball percentages are even higher, allowing for a max of about 30% of their games lost.)

Simple math, I know. The more games you play, the more you can lose. My point? (Besides why college football needs a playoff?) My point is that Nebraska, although nowhere near competing for a national title next month, isn't quite dead yet. Below, I'll go over some basic selection factors, and why "Selection Sunday" for Husker fans may truly be maddening.

Nebraska was suddenly cast into the tournament conversation following the monumental win over #3 Texas last Saturday. Hard NOT to get excited about that, but the college basketball side of my brain kept telling me that we needed much more. A great start to the home stretch, but so much more needed to be done.

As most will gripe, Nebraska then did what Nebraska "does" and subsequently dropped a big game at home versus KSU. And just like that, the NCAA bubble was just a brief memory. Another tease in the world of the Husker football fan. But to those who follow college hoops, you know that it ain't over until they don't call your name. Keep in mind, the bubble is a hard thing to predict. It floats about...taking whichever path the constant changing wind says it will. Sometimes it bursts right from the get-go, and other times it defies all odds and sticks around for a while. MANY teams are in this boat right now, all watching that bubble with nervous anticipation. Nebraska is no different, and they are not finished. Their chances at a tourney bid have yet to be determined.

Now remember- this season, the magic number is 68. That's the number of teams that will have their names called on Selection Sunday when the ten-man committee gets together to decide everyone's fate. The group is consisted of Athletic Directors and conference commissioners from around the country. Yes, it's true...."Darth Beebe" and his mega-helmet/forehead is indeed on this committee representing our "beloved" Big 12. Not good for us if you are a conspiracy theorist. On the upside, the Chairman of the selection committee is Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith. His team is in for sure, so maybe he'll offset some of the pressure form the evil-doers, and try to get his new conference-mate, Nebraska, into the dance.

So, what needs to happen? Well, that's the easy part. I think Nebraska needs to win out. Anything less, and we don't really need to be talking about any of this. Which is why this will be the last article on the Madness if Nebraska goes down in Ames on Saturday. The questions is: What happens if we take care of business? Here are a few things to consider when talking about the big dance... (in no particular order)

1. RPI - Keep in mind that many of these factors are debatable. Depending on who you talk to, they could be a major part of determining a team's worthiness in the dance, or a useless number. RPI (or Ratings Percentage Index) is calculated by wins,losses, and strength of schedule, and is one of the more talked about rating factors when dealing with the Tournament Selection Committee. The lower the RPI score, the better. Nebraska's RPI is currently sitting at #73, after reaching a season low #60 following the Texas win. To contrast, here are a few teams that are considered "bubble teams" as of today:

Illinois | RPI - #38

Colorado State | RPI - #42

Wichita State | RPI - #50

Oklahoma State | RPI - #54

Gonzaga | RPI - #60

---------NU-------------------

Maryland | RPI - #80

New Mexico | RPI - #90

Montana | RPI - #105

Again, Nebraska currently sits with a #73 RPI ranking, so using this measurement alone would tell us that the Huskers aren't far away from the cutoff line. To get an idea of how fast this can change, note that Nebraska was at #120 a few weeks back, and basically cut it in half with a few big wins.

2. SOS - Strength of Schedule. Pretty cut and dry, although it changes everyday depending on who wins and who loses. This factor helps those schools in the power conferences from getting screwed because they play in a meat grinder, while other schools like Montana play in the Big Sky and consequently have a 12-3 conference record. We'll use the same list here for consistency's sake, and see where the teams above rank in SOS:

Illinois | SOS: #10

Oklahoma State | SOS: #33

Colorado State | SOS: #37

-----------NU----------------

Maryland | SOS: #83

Gonzaga | SOS: #85

New Mexico | SOS: #92

Wichita State | SOS: #114

Montana | SOS: #203

In this category, Nebraska fares much better based on their inclusion in a power conference. The rest of the B12 will just be playing each other from here on out, so I don't know how much this rank will change. If the opponents we beat in the non-con portion of our schedule win, I suppose that would help us out.

3. Top 50 Wins - The selection committee will want to know how well nebraska has played versus anyone who is worth a damn. Essentially, anyone ranked in the top 50 in RPI. The Cornhuskers are currently 2-5 in this category, which sucks because a win over Kansas State would've put us at 3-4 and in much better shape.

Montana | T50: 1-1 (1.000)

Oklahoma State |  T50: 3-5 (.600)

Illinois | T50: 4-7 (.570)

Colorado State | T50: 2-4 (.500)

----------------NU-------------------

New Mexico | T50: 1-4 (.250)

Gonzaga | T50: 1-6 (.160)

Maryland | T50: 1-8 (.125)

Wichita State | T50: 0-3 (.000)

Nebraska has one game left versus a top 50 opponent, in Missouri next Tuesday. After that, they may get their shot at another during the Big 12 tourney based on their seeding. Win two more, and their standing here goes way up.

4. The "Eye" Test - This is just what it says. Take a look at what your seeing, and if they feel like a team that can at the very least compete against the likes of a Duke, Georgetown, BYU, or Kansas...then they probably deserve to be in. This is a tough rating factor to get right, as it's based purely on someones intuition. And often times, people are dead wrong. Take last season for example: Anyone expect Northern Iowa to upset Kansas and play into the Sweet Sixteen? Doubtful based on what they probably saw, or more importantly what they didn't see, during the season.

I think that Nebraska suffers biggest in this area. Watching them play can be not only pretty boring, but once you see how they tend to crack at the end of games...you may not get the best feeling about pulling an upset. And come on, upsets are what March Madness is all about!

5. Last Ten - Selection members will take a close look at the way these bubble teams close their seasons, including the conference tournament. It's a short way to analyse which team is more worthy than another when they have very similar resumes. How do you put one team ahead of the other when they both have 9-7 conference records, are separated by just a few RPI points, and have similar records against good teams? And they're possibly from the same conference?

Baylor and Nebraska are in this boat. While they are both probably just as deserving as the next one, it's going to depend on how they finish. The "experts" are predicting 5 teams from the Big 12 will get in, and the "locks" are Kansas, Texas, A&M, and Missouri. The final team? Well, you have about 3 teams that could realistically compete for that last spot, and that comes down to the last 10 games.

6. League - Just look at the Big East, which is the basketball comparison to the SEC. They get 11 teams in based on how "east coast" they are. Indeed, a lot of these teams are very good, but they continue to get respect for beating each other up simply because they are the Big East. When the Big 12 does that...well, it's just because they're soft in the middle. This goes both ways(see below). Not exactly fair, but not too far off either, and something that we know can influence the committee.

 

So, looking at just some of the competition for at-large bids above, what do you think now? It's interesting how with just a few wins and losses, a lot of these team become either more or less deserving than the others. Would you put Wichita State in the mix and steal a spot from Nebraska? Looking just a record alone? -23-6 (13-3) Sure. But what if they lose to Missouri State tomorrow, and someone like Creighton wins the MVC tourney? All of a sudden, they simply have a better record than Nebraska, but with only one win over a top 100 team, and no conference championship to speak of. It'd be hard to give them the nod over us at that point, considering the league they play in.

Nebraska isn't dead yet, but they have to make a statement. This late in the season, you don't get in by just coasting. Nebraska needs to make some serious noise and pass other teams. There is no better way to do that than by winning games. Period.

Tune in tomorrow. Another must win game against ISU. Go Big Red!

 

 

 

 

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