One of Nebraska’s mantras this season was “29,029,” referring to the elevation of Mt. Everest. The focus was on the final 29 feet — the toughest part that often gets overlooked as people round down the number.
With the regular season in the books, Nebraska has reached the final stretch of its climb up the mountain that is the 2019 season.
“This is where we are right now, the last 29 feet,” Coach John Cook said on Sunday after the Huskers learned their NCAA Tournament fate. “We’re actually probably at about the last 15 feet now. They know that and that’s been an analogy for us all year. This is where every point matters and we’ve been talking about this for the last three weeks about we’re in national championship mode. Every point matters.”
The team gathered together at the Devaney Center to watch the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on the big screen. The show opened with the first seed: Baylor. Next up was No. 2, Texas. Then Stanford popped up at No. 3 followed by No. 4 Wisconsin.
At No. 5: Nebraska. There were a couple looks of surprise from players, but there wasn’t much of a reaction beyond that and certainly no visible celebration at all.
“We didn’t really know what to expect and we saw it, and it’s all business now,” junior outside hitter Lexi Sun said.
The Huskers will play Ball State at the Devaney Center on Friday night. Northern Iowa and Missouri will face off on the other side of the bracket in Lincoln.
“I’m pretty happy we got a five seed because I really felt when you look at our nonconference schedule, the wins we had, our work in the Big Ten,” Cook said. “I was worried — I saw an RPI thing that we were like ninth or 10th. I felt like we were a couple points away at Purdue — we win that we’re probably hosting a regional. There’s a fine line there but I feel good about being a fifth seed and I think the committee realizes we won some big matches and we play in a really tough conference. I’m really happy that Wisconsin got a seed; I was really worried they wouldn’t get it. We’re the only conference, and the Pac-12 too, that are playing ranked teams every week.”
Nebraska went 25-4 this season including 17-3 in Big Ten play, finishing in a tie for second place in the conference with Minnesota and Penn State. The Huskers’ losses all came against NCAA Tournament national seeds: No. 3 Stanford, No. 4 Wisconsin (twice) and No. 16 Purdue.
Nebraska went 9-4 against tournament teams with wins over Creighton, UCLA, San Diego, Denver, Illinois, Michigan, Purdue, Penn State and Minnesota.
After Nebraska’s sweep over Ohio State on Saturday night, Cook said he didn’t know if people understood how tough the Big Ten is. Based on the bracket and seedings released on Sunday night, that doesn’t appear to be the case for the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee as the Big Ten led all conferences with seven bids including five of the 16 national seeds. The Pac-12 and SEC received six bids apiece.
“It’s much deserved,” Cook said. “This conference is brutal. I was texting with Kelly Sheffield, the Wisconsin coach, today and he called out conference gnarly. I said it’s brutal. It’s a war every week. To see our conference get recognized with seven teams — I was worried Illinois may not get in because they lost last night, but you get a winning record in our conference, you deserve to get into the NCAA Tournament.”
Wisconsin beat out Nebraska and sixth-seeded Pitt for the final top-four seed and the regional hosting duties that come with it. During the selection show, committee chair Michelle Durban said they looked at win-loss record, head-to-head, strength of schedule, nonconference strength of schedule, common opponents, RPI and performance in the last 10 matches and that the Badgers checked the most boxes to earn that spot.
Minnesota is the No. 7 seed and Penn State is the No. 11 seed while Michigan and Illinois both made the field as well, though the Illini were among the last four in.
The Huskers are in the Madison regional (should Wisconsin advance past the second round, it would host the third and fourth rounds) and the other side of their bracket includes San Diego against Washington State and Hawaii against Northern Colorado. If the Huskers advance to the regional final, they could be in store for a third meeting with the Badgers this season. But first, the Huskers will spend one last weekend with their home crowd.
“I think it’s important,” Sun said. “We love Devaney and we’re excited to get to play here the first two games and see what happens, and then we’re exited to go back to Wisconsin as well.”
Ball State went 20-11 this season and won the Mid-American Conference championship to earn its first tournament berth since 2011. The Huskers are 2-0 all-time against the Cardinals. Their last meeting came in 2004 when the Huskers swept them at the NU Coliseum.
Missouri and Northern Iowa will get things started at the Devaney Center on Friday at 4:30 p.m. The Huskers will face Ball State at 7 p.m, or 30 minues after the conclusion of the first match. Saturday’s second-round match for the winners is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tickets are available for purchase here.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.