Nebraska finished the regular season at 21-7 including 16-4 in Big Ten play, good for a second-pace finish.
Libero Lexi Rodriguez also added to her impressive collection of awards by winning Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the fourth time. She tied her season high with 28 digs against Purdue and averaged 5.13 digs per set overall as the Huskers split four-set matches with the Boilermakers and Wisconsin Badgers on the road to close out the regular season. She also won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week twice this season.
Big Ten champion Wisconsin (25-3) leapfrogged BYU and is No. 4, which also matches its postseason seed. Purdue (23-6) dropped two spots to No. 8 after losing to the Huskers on Saturday. Ohio State (25-5) remained at No. 9, Minnesota (19-8) switched spots with Nebraska and is at No. 11 and Penn State (20-10) remained at No. 15. Illinois (20-11) fell out of the top 25, from 23 to 26 while Michigan (18-11) is 29th.
All eight Big Ten teams that received votes in the poll qualified for the NCAA Tournament and the five in the top 11 all received national seeds. Wisconsin earned the opportunity to host a region as well.
Overall No. 1 tournament seed Louisville remained atop the poll and received all but one first-place votes after completing an undefeated regular season at 28-0. No. 2 Texas (24-1) received the other first-place votes, and the Huskers landed in the Longhorns’ region for the tournament.
Utah (21-8) moved up one spot to No. 16 while Stanford (18-10) remained at No. 18. Both made the tournament. Creighton (30-3) finished at No. 20 — up two spots from last week — despite the tournament selection committee determining the Bluejays’ resume was good enough to host the first weekend as the No. 14 seed.
If the Huskers advance to the second weekend, they could face No. 7 seed and Pac-12 champion Kentucky in the regional semifinal, and the Wildcats (24-4) also finished the regular season at No. 7 in the poll.
In total, 17 of Nebraska’s 28 matches this season were against NCAA Tournament teams, and 2 of those matches were against teams that found themselves in the top 25 at the end of the regular season.
“We scheduled tough, and then you’ve got some of these other teams and they haven’t played a ranked team in two months,” Coach John Cook said after the Huskers learned their postseason fate on Sunday night. “It’ll be interesting to see how this goes. I’m really, really curious. It’s an unusual year. I think people are excited. There are some new teams in there, great, let’s go. But I thought the Big Ten would have had some higher seeds than we have. But maybe there’s a penalty when you beat up each other, which again, I don’t know if that’s fair.”
The Huskers won five of their last six matches to close out the regular season with the lone loss coming in a close four-set match at Big Ten champion Wisconsin. Overall this season, Nebraska allowed opponents to hit just .147 against them, 10th nationally, though they’ve still struggled to find consistency offensively, hitting .221.
“I think that this team is right where we need to be,” Stivrins said. “We’re getting better each day and we still want to get better and everyone is stepping up in their own way and we’re figuring it out still. So we’re definitely looking forward to the tournament.”
The Huskers will open tournament play on Friday night at the Devaney Center against Campbell.
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.