A share of the Big Ten title, a road sweep over the No. 1 overall seed and eight wins over top 25 teams was not enough to get Nebraska a top four seed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
Instead, the Huskers (26-4) were tabbed as the No. 5 overall seed and will host Stony Brook (18-12) at the Devaney Center on Friday at 7 p.m.
The Huskers learned the news at a private watch party at the Devaney Center on Sunday night. The players, coaches and staff were not alone at the party, however; many of them brought their dogs along.
“This year we were kind of viewed as one of the underdogs and it means a lot to us,” junior outside hitter Mikaela Foecke said. “A lot of girls on our team have dogs and all the coaches do, so we thought that’s kind of a good representation of kind of how we viewed this year and how we went about things.”
Getting passed over for a top-4 seed just further field that narrative.
“I think it kind of showed today, they put us at five and maybe we put ourselves higher,” Foecke said. “I think that we have to prove to everyone out there that we do deserve to be a top-4 seed and that we’re going to make it to Kansas City. We just have to execute and play with each other, for each other.”
The Huskers said they were a little caught off-guard when the NCAA released the four schools that had been selected as the top four seeds on Twitter prior to the selection show. However, Coach john Cook said he was ready for anything.
“Any time you win the Big Ten conference, you should be considered a top-4 seed,” Cook said. “You guys can do the math and see how many ranked teams we beat. But it is what is is; nothing surprises me any more with the committee and the tournament. It is what it is — it’s their party and we got invited to it, so we’ll go have fun.”
Florida State (18-10) and Washington State (17-15) will also head to Lincoln for the first round.
Penn State (29-1), who shared the Big Ten title with the Huskers, was named the No.1 overall seed. No. 2 Florida (25-1), No. 3 Stanford (26-3) and No. 4 Kentucky (26-3) rounded out the top four seeds.
If Nebraska and Kentucky both take care of business in the first two rounds, the Huskers will head to Lexington for the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. The last time the Huskers played at a regional in Lexington (2015), Nebraska went on to win the national championship.
“Some of us have played there and we know what it’s like to win there and so hopefully we can go there and do the same thing,” said Foecke, who was a freshman on the 2015 squad.
The current Huskers weren’t the only ones that received good news on Sunday. Former assistant coaches Chris Tamas (Illinois) and Dani Busboom Kelly (Louisville) both took their teams to the tournament in their first season on the job.
“I’m so happy for them,” senior setter Kelly Hunter said. “It was so weird not having them on my senior night and Dan [Meske] also who’s with Dani. They’re great coaches and Nebraska builds great coaches so I figured they’d do well this season. It’s really cool for them and I’m really happy for them.”
The Huskers will get at least two home matches should they win on Friday, but barring an upset of Kentucky in the other side of their bracket they will hit the road for the rest of the tournament. Cook isn’t worried about that, however, even with a team as young as his.
“We’ve been a great road team,” Cook said. “The Big Ten prepares you to be a great road team. You go 9-1 in the Big Ten on the road, that’s pretty good. Sometimes there’s a lot of pressure and expectations when you’re at home, especially for maybe teams that aren’t used to being there.”
Nebraska’s conference schedule was front-loaded; Nebraska hasn’t played a ranked opponent since Nov. 3. However, Cook said his team will be ready come Friday.
“I think our team knows what they have to do,” Cook said. “We know the level we’re going to have to play at. I’m not worried about that at all. I think this conference has prepared us, our schedule has prepared us — we’ve played a lot of good teams this year.”
Regardless of what the schedule looks like, Hunter said the team is in a great place heading into the postseason.
“I think we’re playing really well,” Hunter said. “It’s fun to end it at home. We had a tough stretch there at the end with three road games but I think we’re just hitting our stride. We talk about it all the time, playing point by point. When we focus on that stuff, that’s when we play great and I think we’ve been doing that lately.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.