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Nebrasketball and Bracketology: An Expert Weighs In

SBNation’s own bracketerologist gives his thoughts on WHY NEBRASKA ISN’T A LOCK in the NCAA Tournament and why the Big Ten looks bad compared to the SEC

What more do we have to do to be one of the cool kids, coach?
Jon Johnston

Did you know that SBNation has its own Bracketologist?

We do. His name is Chris Dobbertean, and he runs the site Blogging the Bracket. This is what you do when you know nothing about a subject; ask someone who does. There are a lot of questions I could have asked Chris that I did not... such as:

  • Why does God hate Nebraska basketball?
  • Isn’t it against the rules that Purdue has two giants on their team?
  • Oklahoma... why?
  • Does the FBI like Nebrasketball?

There’s a lot about basketball I don’t have much of a clue about, and that would include this bracketerology sorcery.

These are the questions I asked Chris. You’ll find the answers interesting.

Have you watched Nebraska play basketball this season? If you have, what you think of them?

I have indeed checked in on Nebraska from time to time, starting in the early season (the less said the better). This is a team that’s really grown through the year, starting with the Kansas loss and moving into Big Ten play. The Huskers defend well, which will serve them well as they attempt to earn a bid, though a little more scoring would be desirable.

This is a team that deserves to be in the thick of the at-large discussion at worst.

I keep hearing how the Big Ten is down this year. Nebraska finished fourth in the Big Ten regular season. Is the Big Ten so bad that they would’t take the fourth-place team?

There are a couple of things folks need to remember about at-large selection these days. First, the NCAA Tournament isn’t like the Champions League in soccer, conferences aren’t guaranteed a specific number of bids. So, this year’s Big Ten looks likely to have a year like the SEC and Pac-12 have for most of this decade, earning a lower than expected number of bids.

Secondly, and this is FAR more important, when the Selection Committee says they don’t look at a team’s conference ranking, they’re being honest. They have to ignore league marks now because of the abundance of unbalanced conference schedules. With only two power conferences playing true round-robin schedules, who teams play is far more important than the league record it puts up.

But the Big Ten’s 2018 problems are self-inflicted. For starters, the league as a whole needs to do a far better job of non-conference scheduling. Back in November, I wrote that the conference’s tendency to fill its November and December slates with cupcakes might come back to haunt it, particularly when conferences like the SEC were making a serious effort to schedule better early season opposition. I compared several non-conference scheduling elements between the Big Ten and SEC with the ACC, the other power conferences with a comparable super-sized membership and the results weren’t good for the Big Ten.

From my ACC non-conference scheduling post:

”Much like the Big Ten, the ACC could learn a lot about scheduling from the SEC. (What an odd sentence to type, even if it’s true.) Let’s compare the three comparably-sized leagues in some key scheduling metrics, shall we?

  • Games against the 51 worst teams in Division I: Big Ten 34; ACC 31; SEC 12
  • Games against the 101 worst teams: Big Ten 56; ACC 53; SEC 24
  • Games against the top 25: SEC 19; Big Ten 15; ACC 12
  • Games against the top 50: SEC 32; Big Ten 29; ACC 27
  • Games against the top 100: SEC 68; Big Ten 47; ACC 35

Of course, since the ACC hasn’t suffered through the Big Ten’s March recent struggles, the conference probably shouldn’t consider a league-wide change to November and December scheduling. But if the SEC starts to see increased postseason success as a result of beefing up its early slates, maybe both conferences will follow its lead.”

Those games against Division I’s bottom feeders did the Big Ten no favors in a down year. Playing decent non-conference opposition really helps to set teams up RPI-wise for the remainder of the year. This is a major reason why fully half of the Big Ten now ranks outside of the RPI Top 100, while just six of the 29 teams in the ACC and SEC combined do! It’s no wonder teams from those conferences have been able to rack up quality wins while the Big Ten’s members have been left in the dust.

Finally, the unbalanced schedule did Nebraska specifically no favors, as I’m sure you all are familiar with the fact that the Huskers only played the Big Ten’s four tourney locks once each, getting three of those games on the road. Getting Minnesota and Wisconsin twice would have helped in normal years, but few anticipated the Golden Gophers having so many personnel issues and the Badgers having their worst season since before Dick Bennett’s arrival in Madison. A staggering eleven of Nebraska’s 18 Big Ten games came against teams ranked outside of the RPI Top 100, which is a cruel piece of luck and almost unheard of for a Power 7 conference slate.

What about Nebraska is the most is the single most damning piece of evidence that they do not belong in the NCAA basketball tournament?

Even though there’s been a lot of debate this season about how seriously the Committee should consider non-conference scheduling, they still examine November and December slates closely. And with a non-conference schedule rank of 278 (of 351 Division I teams), Nebraska really put itself behind the eight ball.

Losing to UCF in the quarters at the Advocare back on Thanksgiving was particularly damaging, since that pushed the Huskers to that event’s weak consolation bracket. As a result, all nine of Nebraska’s non-conference wins came against teams currently ranked outside of the Top 100, with eight of those ranked worse than 180th.

That’s just begging the Committee to leave you out.

Which is worse - lack of the big win or a bad loss?

Since the Committee started giving a bracket preview last season, it’s become super obvious that if a team can load up on quality wins, a bad loss here and there won’t really matter. So, having just one Group 1 win and just two Top 100 wins is worse for Nebraska than the late loss at Illinois.

Does attendance ever figure into whether a team gets selected to the NCAA basketball tournament?

Since the overwhelming majority of NCAA Tournament tickets are sold long before the bracket is announced, it doesn’t. Now, if StubHub were the NCAA’s ticketing partner instead of Ticketmaster, it would be a different story.

Do you have any personal influence on the NCAA committee’s decision-making? If so how can I bribe you?

Well, since they never invited me to attend a mock selection session back when that was a thing, I’m guessing I don’t, so you can save your unmarked, non-sequential bills.

sigh... I have been waiting for years to give away these unmarked, non-sequential bills. Is there anyone out there I can bribe to get Nebraska into this tourney? Someone with actual influence, I mean..

[Update - There is one very important question that I needed to ask Chris]

What does Nebraska need to do to make sure they’re in????

That’s easy! Cut down the nets on Sunday at MSG, though I think they’ll be in good shape if they make the final and beat both Michigan and Michigan State along the way. Late quality neutral-site wins are like gold.

OMG. I am sorry I asked.