On the surface, the Huskers appear to be a legitimate NCAA Tournament team. The Huskers have a 31-16 record and a 19-12 record against the RPI top 100. What the record does not show is how the Huskers have struggled against elite teams and have a losing record in conference play.
The Huskers own quality out of conference series wins against Brigham Young, Loyola Marymount, Florida Gulf Coast, and Texas. What has hurt the Huskers is that both Marymount, FGCU, and Texas have not performed up to their capabilities. Texas has self-destructed including blowing a 4 run lead last night to Prairie View A&M without giving up a hit. Nebraska should root for these teams to keep winning.
While the non-conference scheduled has helped the Huskers, the conference schedule has hurt. Nebraska sits in 7th place in the conference with a 6-9 record. Nebraska was swept at Iowa and at Maryland and dropped a series at home against Ohio State. Nebraska has lost four one-run games in conference play. If Nebraska had found a way to split those games, they would be considered safely in.
While Nebraska has struggled in conference play, they can still make the league tournament and they get a bit of a breather with their upcoming league schedule. Nebraska has already played three of the top four teams in the league going a combined 1-8 against these teams. Nebraska does own a sweep against Michigan and a series win against Minnesota, both teams projected to make the BIG tournament.
Nebraska's current resume also factors in a strength of schedule that ranks #11 in the country. Nebraska has played quality teams and has had the toughest schedule in the BIG. The next closest team is Michigan State who traveled to both UCLA and Oregon as their schedule ranks 36th.
Nebraska's Remaining Opportunities:
We have looked at why Nebraska may be in trouble, but what can the Huskers do to right the ship? Nebraska just has to win, and win a lot.
Nebraska has upcoming series against Northwestern and Purdue. These teams are a combined 5-24 in league play. Northwestern has four of those wins, coming against Minnesota, Iowa, and Ohio State. If the Huskers can continue to string together hits, two sweeps will put the Huskers back in the field heading into the biggest series of the season.
Nebraska ends the regular season by playing at Illinois. Nebraska hosted Illinois last season and it was a tight series with a Pat Kelly walkoff home run clinching the #2 seed in the BIG tournament for Nebraska. A lot has changed, including Illinois being on fire as they have won 15 consecutive games.
Nebraska will need to play lights out baseball against the Illini to have a chance to win this series. They will need to take out Tyler Jay, the Illinois closer who is going to be a first-round draft pick. If Nebraska can scratch and claw across runs early and turn to the bullpen then the Huskers could pick up a drastically needed series victory.
Illinois has firepower on offense but at times they have gone quiet. Illinois can win ballgames with just their start pitching. If Nebraska could shut them down and pick up a series win, Nebraska would be safely in the NCAA tournament no matter what happened in the BIG tournament.
The last opportunity to make an impression would be the BIG tournament in Minneapolis. Nebraska will have a hard time making up ground on Michigan and Michigan State as both those teams have easy schedules down the stretch. This means Nebraska will probably end up as the 7 seed. Nebraska would be put in the bracket playing the 2 seed with the winner playing the winner of the 3 vs 6 game.
The most realistic expectation is that Iowa and Ohio State are the 2nd and 3rd seed. As The Projected BIG standings show Iowa in first, I believe Iowa will falter in a game and Illinois will continue to win. If Nebraska could get past both these teams in the first two games, Nebraska would be set to play whoever comes out of the second chance bracket on the other side of the bracket as shown by the BIG Tournament Bracket.
Nebraska would have pitching depth with Derek Burkamper able to pitch this game with Garett King waiting in the wings to pitch the championship game.
This is just one of many scenarios, but the message is the same. After a midweek win against Creighton, Nebraska is not in trouble. Nebraska looks to finally have managed to grind to a victory and showed true heart and resilience last night. Nebraska started a magical run last season towards the end of the year, look for the Huskers to do the same this year.
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING:
Jon Nyatawa thinks Nebraska's RPI will suffer with a soft upcoming schedule.
#Huskers up to No. 12 in the RPI. But opponents' record is 1/2 the formula. And now NU plays 6 games vs 13-29 NW & 14-31 Pur. So we'll see— Jon Nyatawa (@JonNyatawa) April 29, 2015
Chris Webb, BIG Baseball expert thinks the Huskers should be in.
@mauro_erik I do. But I think I'm alone.— Chris Webb (@ChrisMWebb) April 29, 2015
Kendall Rogers thinks Nebraska can do damage.
If Nebraska finishes strong, it will be in. Period. https://t.co/ifQs8lapgG— Kendall Rogers (@KendallRogersD1) April 29, 2015