History has never been very generous to the Nebraksketball faithful. Yes, there are a handful of NCAA Tournament bids (7) and conference championships (6). There is even an NIT championship to boot.
But outside of these few glimpses of hope that are now light years away, there is very little this program has for the faithful to hold on to. In fact, we are now the last power conference team without an NCAA Tournament win. Northwestern checked that off their bucket list last season.
I like to think of Nebrasketball fans as being a hardened, realistic, and more sensible member of the Husker fandom. This is not a program that can ride on a rich and storied tradition (football) or are currently in the mist of a bit of a dynasty (volleyball). The folks who follow the Nebraska men’s basketball team have waited a long time for greatness and it has not come easy. It has come close a few times but has always drifted away with great swaths of time in between.
Keep all of this in mind as you read ahead. It can be easy to see what the Huskers have done so far and get overly excited for the possibility of this squad to overachieve beyond any preseason predictions had them at. I wouldn’t, not just yet. Patience will keep you going longer in this game.
Right now Nebraska has a shot, yet and outside one, at making the NCAA tournament. It’s not exactly a big shot at this moment but it should grow as long as the Huskers keep on winning. Keep these following things in mid as the season finishes up as they will all play their part in getting Nebraska back to the dance.
Right now Nebraska’s RPI is at 58. For them to have a chance of making the tournament they will need to get it below 50. They can do that by beating teams with an RPI under 50. As of now they are 1-5 on the season against those teams with Michigan being the lone win.
As for the remaining schedule, the closest Nebraska gets is Maryland who is currently sitting with an RPI of 60. Penn State, who beat the Huskers earlier this year and is on a bit of a run themselves, is at 116. The worst, Rutgers who has an RPI of 201.
For Nebraska to get their RPI in shape to get a look at they will need to lose no less than two games for the remainder of the season, ideally to no one in the bottom half of their RPI. Will they get below 50? It’s hard to say right now but how they win and lose these final games might just dictate if the tournament committee will look beyond their score.
Big Ten Tournament
The Big Ten Tournament could and most likely will also come into play. If Nebraska has not improved their RPI to a level that is comfortable for the committee then they can improve it in the conference tournament.
My guess is that they either need to win at least one or two quality wins to get on the bubble of the NCAA’s. If the Huskers bow out of the Big Ten tournament in New York then their chances of making the NCAA post season are most likely out of the question. Again, a lot can go into this but you have an idea of where this sits for the Huskers and their post season dreams.
There are a number of factors that could very well come into play in regards to the Huskers future in the post season. Non Big Ten teams and teams that the Huskers did not play this year could help. Teams that are doing well and are looked upon as a contender for the NCAA tournament could easily hit a bad skid of games and knock themselves out. Doing so would greatly help the Huskers become a bubble team.
Another situation that could arise is the improvement of some of the teams Nebraska either won or lost to during the regular season. Thus boosting the resume and RPI of Nebraska. If Penn State or UCF can pull enough wins to improve their chances of making it then it would benefit the Huskers. For example, UCF is currently sitting with an RPI of 70. The more they win the better the loss looks on Nebraska’s resume.
Let’s come back to the now. We still have a month left of games to play. There are six games left on the schedule. Two are away and four are at home. Nebraska is 12-1 at home and 3-6 on the road. We have established that the Big Ten is not an easy conference to win in on the road. Good teams have lost this year outside of their arena. Nebraska nearly lost to Rutgers in Piscataway just a couple of weeks ago.
The home games left are against Rutgers, Maryland, Indiana, and Penn State. The away games are against Minnesota and Illinois. Make whatever you want of this but I can see Nebraska pulling off one of the road game and possibly losing one of the home ones. Now depending on who they win and lose to will matter. A win against Maryland will help greatly while a loss to Rutgers will hurt. On the flip side a loss to Maryland will hurt a little and a win against Rutgers might barely move the needle.
That would make Nebraska 4-2 to finish the year and a final regular season record of 21-10. Under any normal year that could get the Huskers into the tournament. This year is a bit different. With their RPI being low enough, the Big Ten having a down year, and the right teams not losing or winning enough to bump Nebraska up it will take a good run in the Big Ten Tournament to bounce of the bubble and into the dance.
This isn’t football. One loss will not make or break a team’s season. However, the right win or loss can. Especially this late into the year. There are also a lot more variables outside of the teams control that could very well make an impact on the trajectory of Nebraska’s future. It’s tedious, I know. Though it will get easier as these last few weeks go by.
Until then, be patient and root on the Big Red.