Nebraska basketball: What’s at stake for Huskers in Big Ten Tournament?

Nebraska basketball was originally projected to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten this season, but the Huskers’ season has gone much differently. In fact, the Huskers closed the regular season with a 76-64 win over Penn State at home on Sunday. The win gave the Huskers a 22-9 overall record, 13-5 in the Big Ten. The Huskers were also the only Big Ten team to go undefeated at home in conference play this season.

The win over Penn State also solidified Nebraska as the No. 4 seed in the conference and a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. The Huskers will try to continue their momentum on Friday in New York City against either Michigan or the winner of the 12/13 play-in game.

Here’s a look at what will be on the line for Nebraska now and how the team arrived at this point:

What’s at stake for Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament?

Long story short: history. Nebraska wants to get to the NCAA Tournament, and the Big Ten Tournament will be vital in making that happen.

Nebraska has appeared in the NCAA Tournament seven times in program history, with a record of 0-7. The Huskers are the only Power 5 conference team to never win a tournament game. Nebraska last made the NCAA Tournament in 2014.

While the Huskers are still seeking that first NCAA Tournament win, getting to the Big Dance is step 1, which is not a foregone conclusion yet. If the Huskers do get a chance, opportunity No. 8 could be the one to finally make history.

What does Nebraska need to do to clinch NCAA Tournament berth?

That’s been up for debate for quite some time. While some firmly believe the Huskers should already be in, there are plenty that aren’t sure yet. Blame Nebraska’s RPI.

Whatever the case, Land of 10’s Sean Keeler mapped out exactly what the Huskers need to do (and hope for) to make the NCAA Tournament a guaranteed deal:

  1. Hope for No. 17 Michigan (24-7, 13-5) in the quarters.
  2. Beat the Wolverines.
  3. Do that, and it’s 23 victories on the ledger and, more importantly, a second Quad 1 win — this one on a neutral floor in which everyone knew the stakes were dangling in the stratosphere.

Nebraska needs another top-tier win, and another win over Michigan would bring that. Beyond that, the Huskers will also rely heavily on the eye test. Against Penn State? The eye test checked out. However, that was on a home court with a loud home fan base. Can the Huskers have the same magic on a neutral court? We’ll know soon enough.

For what it’s worth, 304 of the 306 teams to win 13 games in a Power 5 conference have made the NCAA Tournament, as Nebraska’s Brian Rosenthal noted. The only two exceptions? Washington (14-4) and Oregon (13-5) in 2011-12 thanks to the Pac-12’s No. 10 RPI.

How did Nebraska get here?

There was a point Nebraska was projected to finish No. 13 in the Big Ten at the start of the season. The Huskers instead ended the regular season as the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament with a double-bye. Impressive, huh?

It hasn’t been a perfect season. There were hiccups along the road, like when Nebraska center Jordy Tshimanga left the team and later returned. Yet the Huskers never lost focused, and even found some fun along the way. The Nebraska “bench mob” became a hit with fans, and national media outlets started to take notice of what the Huskers were doing.

In many ways, Nebraska basketball became the perfect storm in 2017-18. Coach Tim Miles was on the cusp of fighting for his job, and it didn’t feel like the Huskers had a shot at the NCAA Tournament last October. Nearly 4 months later, everything has changed.

What a journey it has been.

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