WATCH: Tim Miles on Nebraska's Season
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: The Tip of Nebraska’s Tournament Iceberg

March 02, 2018

March is great. We're only two days in and look at the day ahead if you're a Husker fan. Baseball is in action at Wichita State, beach volleyball hosts Missouri State and both basketball teams are in action in their respective tournaments.

I'm going to spend some time on men's basketball this morning. Yesterday at the tournament was fantastic. The four games on Thursday were all decided by eight points or less; Iowa took Michigan to overtime, Wisconsin's NCAA Tournament streak ain't dead yet and New York City's team (unofficial designation) is still alive as 14-seed Rutgers beat Indiana for its second win in two days.

That sets up the expected and pined for Nebraska-Michigan matchup, and offers the Huskers another chance at a résumé-boosting win. Judging from Twitter, describing this game as such seems to be the most contentious thing you can do. People don't like hearing Nebraska has work to do this weekend.

Derek Peterson did a great job looking at one of the supporting arguments for Nebraska's tournament worthiness in yesterday's March to March. 

"You’ve probably seen that stat floating around the internet in recent days: of the 306 major conference schools to win 13 league games since the tournament field expanded in 1985, 304 of them have made the tournament," Peterson wrote on Thursday. "The two teams that didn’t make it came from the same conference in the same season, Oregon and Washington in 2011-12."

He broke down what Oregon and Washington looked like that season in detail, and Nebraska has a slightly better tournament profile than either of those schools did. But that discussion really made me want to see the full list of 306 teams, so I filled up a canteen and went on a data-entry journey.

The complete list doesn't paint as optimistic a picture as "304-of-306" makes it seem. The simple way to put it: Nebraska's résumé is much more like the two teams that didn't make it than most of the 304 that did.

Winning 13 conference games is hard. It's a genuine achievement, and most of the teams that did it were locks for the NCAA Tournament. How many? Well, 63.9 percent of the teams to do that had an RPI between 1 and 10. That's not Nebraska in 2018.

Extend it to top-20 RPI and you've accounted for 82 percent of the teams on the list. That's not Nebraska in 2018 either. Go to top-40 RPIs in that group and you've included 96.7 percent of the list. All of those teams made the tournament, and that's still not Nebraska in 2018. (A win over Michigan would get the Huskers close, however.)

The Huskers ranked 57th in RPI at the start of the week and 55th yesterday. Two of the most similar teams from this list to that are the two teams that didn't make it. The closest comparison, however, might be 1999-99 Texas. The Longhorns were 19-12 going into the NCAA Tournament, opened the season with four losses and finished non-conference play 5-8. But Texas also pulled things together to go 13-3 in the Big 12, winning the regular-season conference title, and then won one game in the conference tournament. The Longhorns entered selection Sunday with an RPI of 45, and they got in. (They got in over a Nebraska team that was 19-12 with an RPI of 47 incidentally. The Huskers had two wins over teams in the RPI top 25 and 50. Texas had one of each.)

Point is it's not as though a team with Nebraska's profile hasn't ever gotten in, but it's far from the magical door 13 conference wins supposedly unlocked. I prefer to look at that 304-of-306 number as an iceberg.

You know what they say about icebergs, right? You can only actually see a tiny fraction of the ice formation's massive size? In this case, the waterline is an NCAA Tournament bid. While Nebraska is part of that iceberg, and 99 percent of that iceberg has historically been below the waterline, the Huskers currently sit pretty close to the tip.

That's why I like Tim Miles' approach. "Three more wins and we get to shut everybody up," he said earlier this week. That would make for a much more pleasant week ahead than talking about RPI, conference strength and icebergs.

Nebraska and Michigan are scheduled to tip off around 1:30 p.m. CT today depending on how long the first game of the day – Wisconsin-Michigan State – runs.

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