Nebraska will not play in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
Gathered together at the Devaney Center Sunday night to learn their fate, the Huskers were told they hadn’t done enough to earn one of the 36 at-large bids into the 68-team field for the tournament. For the first time in the Big Ten’s history, a team with 13 league wins will not go dancing.
There were a number of factors that contributed to Nebraska’s (22-10, 13-5 Big Ten) absence from the field. The selection committee chair and Creighton athletic director, Bruce Rasmussen, told BTN’s Andy Katz late Saturday night the committee had poured over the back-end of the bracket to make sure it got the right teams.
"We peeled that onion really, really thin. Those teams were very close to each other and the committee spent a lot of time on that part of the bracket,” Rasmussen said of the bubble teams. “We looked at how did you do away from home, whether it’s neutral or road, how did you do against teams that are in the tournament, obviously we talked quadrants but especially how did you do against teams in the tournament, how did you do away from home and what kind of schedule did you have.”
Nebraska’s lone Q1 win against Michigan on Jan. 18 is well-documented, but just going off the factors Rasmussen listed, Nebraska was going to be hard-pressed to beat out enough of the other residents on the bubble.
The Huskers were just 6-9 away from home — 4-7 on the road and 2-2 in neutral site games — with the most notable of those losses coming in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, a 77-58 loss to Michigan in front of Rasmussen.
Against other tournament teams, Nebraska was 1-6. Five of those seven games were away from Pinnacle Bank Arena — where the Huskers were a near-perfect 16-1 — but NCAA Tournament games aren’t played at home.
When it comes to the schedule, Nebraska was given no favors. Inexplicably, the Big Ten conference took a massive step back, strapping the value of the Huskers’ 13-5 record in it. Wisconsin ended its nearly two-decades-long streak of NCAA tournament appearances, Northwestern was expected to build off its first tournament win last season and instead went in the other direction, Minnesota imploded and the Huskers only got one game apiece against the top three teams in the league, all on the road.
“We had some bad luck with the Big Ten schedule,” Miles said after the Michigan loss. “We’ve never underscheduled. We played at Creighton. We took the Kansas game on our own volition which not many people are doing. … It says a lot about what we're about.
“We've won some excellent games. But I don't know that the league schedule and the quirkiness of that, there's nothing you can do about it.”
In RPI strength of schedule, Nebraska ranked 122nd. The non-conference SOS ranked 296th. By losing to Central Florida early in the season, the Huskers missed out on the chance to play West Virginia — a team that just played for the Big 12 championship. St. John's beat the Huskers early and then endured an 11-game losing streak midseason. The Huskers felt all of that.
Nebraska needed to win a couple in the Big Ten Tournament in order to boost its résumé. Instead, it lost its first and only game. With the tournament being moved up a week to relocate to Madison Square Garden, that meant the Huskers were sitting around wondering about their NCAA fate for over a week.
During that time, they practiced and prepared for their next game. They knew it was coming, they just didn’t know where it would be or who would be on the other side of the court. Asked if the Huskers would look at a miss as an opportunity to build into next season, guard James Palmer Jr. told Hail Varsity earlier in the week that missing the tournament would hurt.
“I think we’re an NCAA Tournament team,” he said. “If we make the NIT it’s definitely disappointing for the team but I think it’s a disappointment for our fans, for what we did for them this year. We only lost one game at home, 22-10 overall, 13 conference wins, fourth in the Big Ten when they had us second-to-last.”
Nebraska is expected to earn a high seed in the NIT tournament, which will be announced during the NIT Selection Show at 7:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU.