It's fair to ask, "is it slipping away?" The darling going into the season is becoming the afterthought midway through it. For the fourth straight year, the Huskers will enter their third conference game still searching for their first conference win. The past three seasons, they've had to wait two more games to find it. If that happens again, it may not be a question anymore, the dance will almost certainly be a pipe dream and the question will become will they make the postseason at all.
But we're not quite there. All is not lost...yet. It is true, making the NCAA tournament will be very difficult at this point. It will require a much more magical run than the one we saw them make last season. Right now, the Huskers are just trying to weather the storm. Tonight they almost did. The Huskers traveled to snowy Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes coming off a big road win over Ohio State, in a sleepy arena which wasn't more than 25% full as fans chose not to brave the blizzard outside to take in the action.
A big underdog, the Huskers, were overmatched on paper. The Hawkeyes were deep, talented and healthy. NU is only one of those things, but yet, with five minutes left to play, they found themselves only down four with an opportunity to steal a win and undo the disappointment of the loss to Indiana five days prior. But the Hawkeyes depth proved too much outscoring NU 12-5 the final 5:38 of the game.
It's no secret that the Nebraska men's basketball team isn't playing with a full deck. Now that conference play is here, those deficiencies are magnified all the more. Forced to carry the entire burden in the post Walter Pitchford struggled to slow down the Hawkeyes front line and found himself playing with foul trouble almost from the opening whistle. NU's struggles to defend the driving Iowa ball handlers led to a big disparity from the free throw line. Iowa found their way to the line 38 times, to just 21 chances from the charity stripe for the Huskers. Iowa converted their opportunities, spelling the difference and then some in this game.
Shavon Shields carried the scoring burden for NU, leading all scorers with 25 points. NU struggled to find a second scorer tonight. With the foul trouble early, NU was forced to play Jacob Hammond and Nick Fuller more than usual. Neither saw much theatrics on the scorecard but didn't embarass themselves either, playing important minutes keeping the Huskers in this game up until the final minutes. Tarin Smith also continued to impress as he grows more comfortable offensively for the Huskers.
NU will next take the floor vs. the Rutgers Scarlet Knights who make their first appearance at Pinnacle Bank Arena in their first year in the Big Ten. This game, along with Sunday's matchup vs. Illinois now become very big games for the Huskers and their post season hopes. If they want to play in the post season, they need both of them. The first obstacle comes Thursday evening at 8 pm.