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Biggest Home Game...Ever for Nebraska Hoops?

It’s been quite a year for Husker Hoops. An improbable run over the past ten games has put them in position to do things that haven't been done here in generations and perhaps do something for the first time in program history.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a lot of conversation over the past couple of days, since Nebraska basketball knocked off Indiana. Much of that conversation centers around the question of just how big this game vs. Wisconsin is. It’s an interesting question because there haven’t been very many games in the history of the program that could have the implications this one could bring, if they win. In fact, I’m having trouble finding any game that’s had this much on the line. To see if I was missing anything, I asked around. Nobody else seems to know of a game with that ever had as much riding on it as this one does either.

I ask again, just how big of a game is this for Nebraska basketball? Let’s take a look at what would happen if they knock off the Badgers:

- This would be the first time they’ve defeated two top 10 teams in the same season since 1991-92, when they knocked off Oklahoma State and Kansas. Since the Big Eight was formed in 1958, the Huskers have only pulled off this feat twice. The other time was in 90-91, when they beat Michigan St. and Kansas.

- They would secure the #4 seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament. NU hasn’t had a bye in the conference tournament since 1998, which was also the last time they went to the NCAA tournament.

- Only three times in school history has NU won 11 conference games, this would be their fourth; the first since 1965, and the second since 1925.

- It might be good enough to secure their place in the NCAA tournament. More on that later.

- It would be their best home record since moving out of the Coliseum in 1976.

That alone makes this game a big deal, but it doesn’t paint the whole picture. In 1985, the NCAA expanded the tournament from what was essentially a 48-team field to its current 64 (sorry, 68 teams technically get in) format. Since then, the Huskers have made the field six times, the first coming in 1986. To get in, the Huskers won three of their last four, including home wins over #10 Oklahoma and Colorado; but they likely needed the two wins at Kansas State and Oklahoma St. in the Big Eight tournament to close out the season in order to get in. Did those last two wins at home seal the deal? Maybe, but probably not.

In the glory days of 1991 through 1994 the Huskers were simply good at basketball. They easily made the tournament in 1991, ‘92 and ‘93. In ‘92, they lost their last two games going into the dance and still were an eight seed. It’s difficult to pin a single game at "win, and you're in" magnitude.

1998 was the last time the Huskers qualified. They certainly played their way in, winning seven straight before getting hammered by Kansas in the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament. But how much weight do you put on the wins over Texas Tech or Missouri in overtime? They were certainly part of the equation, but Tech was pretty average; finishing 7-9 in the Big 12 in 7th place.

The Huskers haven’t been without opportunities to create significant momentum at home in pursuit of a tourney berth. In 2008, probably Doc Sadler’s best team in his tenure at Nebraska, his infamous ‘Mighty Mites’ team, the Huskers had just reeled off three wins out of four. In came Mizzou, and the Huskers laid an egg with an uninspired effort, losing in overtime. That team finished with 20 wins for the first time in the 21st century. That game vs. Missouri wasn’t at the end of the season, but it likely prevented any of them from being difference makers down the stretch.

While the 2007-08 squad was probably Sadler’s best, his next team came the closest to the dance. The Huskers struggled early in the season with two awful losses to a bad Oregon St. and a laughably hideous Maryland-Baltimore County squad, but both teams found a way to beat the Huskers. By the end of the season, however, they had started to play better. They went toe-to-toe with Kansas at the Devaney Center, falling by six; and fell in OT to Oklahoma St. As the season came to a close, Texas A&M paid the Huskers a visit. The Huskers built an 18-point second half lead, but the Aggies mounted a charge. The Ags had one last chance, and they took advantage. Josh Carter hit a three as time expired. The Huskers slim tourney hopes faded with it.

Finally in 2011, the Huskers knocked off #3 Texas. Fans stormed the court. Anticipation for the next home game vs. Kansas State was as high as it had been in quite some time. The Huskers didn’t handle the pressure well early in the game. They fell behind, and their comeback efforts weren’t enough as KSU walked away with the win. NU couldn’t recover, and fell all the way from the bubble to a six seed in the NIT where they got hammered by Wichita St.

None of those games held the keys to the season like this one does vs. Wisconsin. None of those games could tip the balance in the Huskers’ favor as drastically as this one could. None was vs. an opponent as strong as the Badgers, who enter with aspirations of earning a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament if a few of the top teams falter along the way. Unlike 2008 or ‘09 or ‘11, the Huskers have this opportunity because they capitalized on opportunities BEFORE this game. This game doesn’t mean nearly as much if they didn’t beat Michigan St. The win over Indiana wouldn’t be as big of a deal and consequently, neither would this one. The Huskers have done what they needed to do to give this game a chance and along the way, this game has turned into a potential program-defining moment.

Many think a win over Wisconsin should be enough to send the Huskers dancing, regardless of what happens in Indianapolis next week. It might be, but the Huskers would be advised to not make that assumption. There are many variables at play as the season winds down. The Huskers certainly are building a strong case, and every win the Huskers get from here on out gets magnified because of the ones before it.

As the momentum continues to build, the case is overwhelming that the implications of winning this game could make it the biggest home win in school history. Depending on what happens after it, it could be viewed as the biggest win this program has ever seen.