The March to March: Win and Hope for a Little Help
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

The March to March: Win and Hope for a Little Help

February 01, 2018

We continue our look at the Huskers’ tournament résumé with six games left

Where They’re At

“Nebraska needs to just keep winning and hope for some good luck.”

Hail Varsity’s resident hoops guy Jacob Padilla wrote that on The Varsity Club last week. It’s very true. Given the remaining opponents on the Huskers’ regular-season ledger, Nebraska (17-8, 8-4 Big Ten) can’t really do anything major to help its tournament chances short of, well, continuing to win. But, the Huskers can certainly hurt their chances by losing.

A loss to 12-12, 94th ranked (per KenPom) Iowa at home could definitely sink the ship. Instead, why not light up the scoreboard and send the home crowd off happy? Why not have your best shooting night from the floor and net your second-highest point total of the year against the conference’s worst defense?

And what about a loss to 10-13 Wisconsin? Sure, it’s on the road and Madison is a tough place to play but Wisconsin is not the Wisconsin that Bo Ryan remembers. The Badgers have slipped. Slipped all the way to No. 77 in ESPN’s BPI to be more exact. A loss to those guys would prove pretty damning, too, so why not exorcise a few demons and prove you can win tough in tough environments?

Nebraska did exactly what it needed to do.

Last week I wrote the Huskers needed wins in both games against Iowa (Jan. 27) and Wisconsin (Jan. 29). No messing around, no slipping up, no looking ahead. Well, the Huskers are no doubt enjoying their de-facto bye week with the knowledge that they’re still very much in the thick of things in the race for at-large tournament bids. They’ve won 10 of their last 13 games, just beat up on Iowa and dropped the hammer on an unsuspecting Wisconsin team. Nebraska closed the final 10 minutes of Monday night’s thriller with a 30-8 run. That’s more statement than it is anything else. “We know what we’re fighting for,” if you will.

A week ago the Huskers were 74th in BPI, 60th in RPI, 62nd in KenPom and 67th in Sagarin. Now, two wins later, the Huskers sit at 64th, 58th, 57th and 63rd, respectively. 

That’s a tournament team folks. That they’ve risen so high in KenPom is a testament to the defense they’ve played in conference play. Head coach Tim Miles’ squad has committed to the defensive end and continued to reap the benefits; they slipped one spot in adjusted defensive efficiency, from 40th to 41st, but don’t read to much into that, they played the conference’s second-best offense last week.

What They’re Saying

So, Scott Van Pelt likes the Huskers, but ESPN’s Joe Lunardi isn’t yet ready to prop them up. Lunardi’s last update came before the Huskers beat Wisconsin on the road, but he still has the Big Ten as a four-bid league. He also continues to drop Maryland, this time from the “first four out” to the “next four out,” despite the fact the 15-8 Terps sit at 42nd in KenPom. Nebraska hosts Maryland on Feb. 13, we’ll get to them next week.

CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm hasn’t changed much regarding the Big Ten, it’s still a four-bid league for him and Nebraska’s not among those four teams.

USA Today’s Shelby Mast offers more of the same — a four-bid league with the Huskers on the outside looking in for now. But, Nebraska is still in the “others considered” category. 

Stewart Mandel is back in the bracketology game with The Athletic and published his first bracket of the season on Tuesday. The Big Ten is, wait for it, a four-bid league. 

Lots of changes this week.

(After publication: So, Lunardi appears to be coming around on the Huskers. Lunardi updated his bracket Thursday and bumped Maryland for Nebraska as one of his "next four out" teams, with the Huskers joining 15-7 UCLA, 15-7 Syracuse and 13-8 Utah. Only the Orange sit above Nebraska in KenPom.)

What Needs to Happen

Nebraska last played on Jan. 29. Nebraska will next play on Feb. 6 against a Golden Gophers squad trending way down. That’s a solid recovery time (even though that might not matter with this team, they’re 7-0 in games played on a day’s rest or less). That’s also a really solid amount of prep time.

Minnesota (14-10, 3-8 Big Ten) has lost seven of its last eight and already dropped a game against the Huskers this season. Now, that was in Lincoln where the Huskers are 12-1, and this is in Minneapolis where the Gophers are 10-4. Just because they just lost to Iowa by 14 doesn’t mean they should be overlooked.

To be fair, Nebraska can’t really afford to overlook anyone at this point. They’ve probably got one regular season loss left in their pocket and you don’t really want to waste that on this Minnesota team. 

A loss here, given the surrounding circumstances, would look really bad and they’d probably have to do some serious damage at Madison Square Garden to compensate. The offense hasn’t traveled and that’s worrisome but here’s something else to offer a little hope.

A Khalil Iverson poster dunk with 9:59 remaining on Monday gave the Badgers a 55-44 lead. I don’t really know how the Huskers were still within striking distance at that point to begin with and the Badgers had a 92.6 percent chance of leaving the Kohl Center with a win.

They didn’t. Might be time to stop doubting this team.

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