The Nebraska Cornhuskers have not qualified for the NCAA Tournament in nine seasons now, and that is not about to change. Despite fans (and even some beat writers who should know better) having fun daydreaming about that being possible just a few weeks ago, it was never going to happen without winning the Big Ten Tournament to clinch the auto-bid. However, the NIT is still very much a manageable possibility with some wins remaining on the table.
As it stands right now, Nebraska is on the outside looking in for the 2023 NIT, but is still on the bubble and controls its own fate on changing that. Despite a second half collapse against Michigan State that would have likely flipped the script on that earlier this week, the Huskers have a huge opportunity tomorrow in Iowa City.
The Hawkeyes currently sit at No. 32 in the NET, No. 31 in KenPom, No. 22 in Sagrin, and No. 37 in KPI. The Cornhuskers, by comparison, are in the 90s in every aforementioned rankings except for KPI where the team sits at No. 71. The thing about the NIT is that the advanced metrics can matter a bit less than they do for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Whereas you can pretty much kiss an at-large bid goodbye if you’re no in the 40s of the NET goodbye, the NIT is just a little less focused on advanced rankings. That opens the door for Nebraska to earn its first bid to the NIT since 2019. Should Nebraska make it, it’s not like we are talking a 1996 run. However, Nebraska has shown in February that it can give quality teams a challenge and win against NIT and NCAA caliber opponents.
Indeed, UNL boasts wins the past two months over Big Ten teams generally projected to make the NCAA (at least according to Lunardi at time of publishing) including Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, at Rutgers, and Maryland in addition to a win over likely NIT bound Ohio State. That of course isn’t even looking at the non-conference that features wins over NCAA bound Creighton.
As it stands right now, though, Nebraska has word left to do to get back on the inside track for a NIT-bid. A road win at Iowa would go a long way to helping that. What should absolutely punch the ticket for sure would be winning the next three games, meaning a win over the Hawkeyes Sunday, then a win Wednesday and Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament. As it stands right now, the more likely scenario is the Huskers will qualify as the 11 seed, facing No. 14 Minnesota Wednesday night and ... let’s just go with Indiana Thursday, but there’s like 100+ ways that could change between right now at publishing and the final Big Ten regular season game tomorrow, so who knows.
That is not an easy lift, particularly the win over the Hoosiers in the second round. Still, it is entirely possible. While the Huskers got blown out in Bloomington back in December, it was a road matchup when the team was still trying to get its starting lineup figured out, something that injuries helped settle into what works now, despite the loss of the two best defenders. Even a competitive loss could be just enough if other things shake out Nebraska’s way.
Regardless, the fact the team still can control its own postseason fate as we sit here in March watching is one of the more stunning feats compared to what seemed likely following a 72-56 loss at Illinois on Jan. 31.
Update: March 6
Nebraska got the win over Iowa to close out the regular season on Sunday. The Huskers clinched the No. 11 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and will face No. 14 Minnesota. If the Huskers win, that sets up a potential Quad 1 opportunity against No. 6 seeded Maryland on Thursday. UNL had a shot in College Park before falling by double digits and defeated UMD in Lincoln. The Terps are also not the same team outside the confines of the XFinity Center. Two wins should be enough to get that NIT bid, but is still by no means a guarantee.
In fact, Nebraska is currently projected to make the NIT per one bracket prediction.