Huskers Get Nebraska-Focused in Preparation for Big Ten Tournament
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

The March to March: Time to Get Serious

January 25, 2018

We’re continuing our look at the Huskers’ tournament résumé following a giant three-game slate over the last week.

Where They Are

A week ago, Nebraska was 13-7, coming off a last-second win over snakebitten Illinois that no one felt good about and seriously lacking in the résumé-building wins department. A lot has changed in a week’s time.

It starts and ends with Michigan. When the Huskers hosted Michigan on Jan. 18, the Wolverines were ranked No. 23 in the country and No. 19 in ESPN’s BPI. The Huskers had no wins against BPI, RPI, RPO (sorry, I miss football), KenPom or Sagarin top-50 teams and their best win was a cratering Minnesota outfit. Nebraska then smashed the Wolverines to smithereens.

The Huskers led for 35 of the game’s 40 minutes. Talk about a signature win. 

To make things easier on itself, Nebraska really needed to pull out another dub on the road over Ohio State on Monday, but it just slipped away late. The Huskers downed Rutgers in New Jersey Wednesday in an ugly but ultimately successful affair and ended this three-game stretch 2-1. If you had told head coach Tim Miles he was going to play Michigan, Ohio State and Rutgers in the span of six days and go 2-1, I’d bet he be pretty pleased.

The Ohio State loss, when looked at along with the “just couldn’t get it done” losses at Creighton, at Purdue and at Penn State, could be painful when the season wraps up and the Huskers are watching Selection Sunday, but for now, they still have business to tend to.

The Huskers have jumped from 88th to 74th in BPI (ninth in the Big Ten, up from 12th) and all the way up to 60th in RPI (sixth in the conference). As for which you should put more weight into, BPI has Gonzaga at No. 8; RPI has the Zags at No. 62. I’ll let you decide on that one.

Nebraska’s strength of schedule is all the way up to No. 18 in the country and the ones left on the board are all winnable. They have a remaining strength of schedule that’s No. 77 nationally, with five of eight at home and games against each of the bottom seven teams in the conference.

KenPom has the Huskers up from No. 85 to No. 62 with a defense that continues to improve; the Huskers are up to No. 40 in adjusted defensive efficiency. That’s right, Nebraska went and played two top-20 college basketball programs and the defensive numbers improved.

Sagarin has Nebraska at No. 67, ninth in the Big Ten, with six games played against top-25 programs.

What They’re Saying

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had the Big Ten as a five-bid league a week ago with Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Maryland all getting in. Now, he’s bumped Maryland to his “first four out” slot. Four bids.

CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm hasn’t updated his bracket since Monday morning, but that was before a Husker loss and he didn’t have Nebraska anywhere near his field then so it probably won’t look too good when the newest version comes out. He’s got the Big Ten as a four-bid league as well.

Shelby Mast, of USA Today, hasn’t made many changes either. As of Thursday morning, the Big Ten is still a four-bid league. The Huskers are still among teams being considered for bids, along with Maryland (that Feb. 13 matchup continues to get more important), Central Florida (good news) and Boston College (also good news). The only change is Minnesota dropping to the “on life support” category (bad news).

But hey, here’s Andy Katz to make you feel a little better.

What Needs to Happen

Again, only looking a week ahead for the purposes of this, and that means we’re only focusing on Saturday’s matchup with Iowa and a Jan. 29 meeting with Wisconsin in Madison.

There’s no way around it. Nebraska can’t mess around. Both games must be wins.

At 11-11 and 2-7 in conference play, the Hawkeyes are arguably the worst team in the Big Ten. KenPom has them at No. 95 and ESPN’s strength of record predictor has head coach Fran McCaffery’s squad at No. 120, meaning with the schedule they’ve played, they should be better than a .500 ball club. Plus, this one’s coming at Pinnacle Bank Arena. 

As for Wisconsin, the Huskers have already bested the Badgers once during the month of January and need to do so again. The score of that first meeting, 63-59, looks closer than it actually was and that was before the Huskers made the switch to the small-ball lineup. Nebraska was and is the better team, especially if it can continue to get All-Big Ten-caliber play from guard James Palmer Jr.

The Huskers will have a week off to rest, recover and prepare for Minnesota on Feb. 6, so the focus needs to be squarely placed on the Hawkeyes and Badgers. Nebraska can probably afford maybe one loss over their final eight regular season games. Iowa or Wisconsin can’t be it.

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