Miles Ahead: What The Loss to Illinois Means for Nebraska’s Tournament Chances, NCAA Tournament Scenarios

Photo by Elsie Stormberg, The World-Herald

Nebraska and Illinois have always had a cordial relationship. We graciously gave them Erik Piatkowski to be the new star of the Bulls after they gambled on some guy from North Carolina a second time. We let them use our namesake for a 36.5-square mile township with 1,433 inhabitants in the middle of their state. We let them go by “The Prairie State” when that’s more or less completely what our state is composed of. All they ever gave us was William Jennings Bryan so he could make few a Presidential runs. Man, it gets exhausting to just give, give, and give.

That all changed on Sunday as Illinois gave Nebraska its first loss in seven games.  The Huskers never looked in control and dug themselves into an seven-point deficit at halftime before switching to a zone and building a five-point lead. That lead quickly faded with Nebraska going on two separate scoring droughts of over five minutes. It’s a story line all too familiar.

Here’s what Isaac Copeland had to say about the droughts following the game, per Lee Barfnecht:

“Offensive droughts have been a problem for us all year,’’ Copeland said. “I don’t know how to fix it. The coaches don’t know how to fix it. If we knew how to fix it, I think it would be fixed by now with all the talent we have.”

Scoring droughts have been a glaring problem for the Huskers for some time now, extending beyond this season. If the coaches nor players don’t know how to fix it, who does?

This loss drastically hurt Nebraska’s tournament chances, but it’s not impossible to see them dancing come March. There are two scenarios where I think Nebraska can still make the tournament:

Scenario One – This is the most obvious scenario where Nebraska wins the Big Ten tournament and secures the conference’s automatic bid. If the season ended today with Nebraska tied for fourth place that path would include most likely Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue. These matchups are a wildcard. Nebraska beat Michigan handily in January, but the Wolverines are capable of playing much better than they did in Lincoln. Nebraska opened Big Ten play against Michigan State with a crushing loss back in December. The Huskers have been a completely different team since then, and Tim Miles has a decent track record against the Spartans (3-5 in his tenure). Purdue is the team who gives Nebraska the most trouble. They have a size advantage, shoot well, and play with composure. Winning the Big Ten tournament with this team is possible, however, it depends which Nebraska team shows up in New York City.

Scenario Two – Nebraska has two convincing wins against Indiana and Penn State, and makes it to at least the Big Ten tournament semi-finals. And by convincing, I mean by double-digits. This would require a huge revival after dropping their latest game against Illinois. Indiana is on a four-game winning streak coming into tonight’s game. Penn State just dismantled Ohio State, and played Purdue close. Both of these teams are beatable. It works in Nebraska’s favor that both these games are at home, and could give them the boost they need heading to New York.

Like I mentioned before, if the season ended today with Nebraska tied for fourth, they would most likely play Michigan in the quarterfinals, then Michigan State in the semis barring any upsets. They are undefeated against the former three this season. With this scenario, the Huskers would finish with at least 24 wins, and would need a competitive showing in the semi-finals at the minimum. It would be hard to leave the Huskers out with that résumé.

Now is the perfect time for Nebraska to show the committee what they are really made of. Suffering a setback is one thing, but the chance to resurrect themselves two days after a loss is another. Just ask Jesus.

Key Takeaways:

  • James Palmer Jr. went on an absolute tear in the second half against Maryland. The junior scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half to lead the Huskers over the Terrapins last Tuesday. He continues to impress and make his case for first team All-Big Ten.
  • Isiah Roby continued his double-double streak for the third consecutive game with 11 points and 10 rebounds against Maryland, and 14 points and 10 rebounds against Illinois, including going 3-3 from beyond the arc. He’s getting
    giphy (10)
  • Glynn Watson scored his 1,000th career point on Tuesday against Maryland, but continues to struggle. He went 2-12 from the field in that game, and 1-9 against Illinois with some very questionable shot choices. He did, however, have a game saving block against Maryland. Nebraska could really use Glynn right now. His shooting is off, but he can contribute in other ways like distributing the ball and on defense. Him finding his offensive rhythm again would help immensely. I’m not sure what will get him out of his funk.
  • Illinois is the only team Nebraska hasn’t covered the spread against since December 5th against Minnesota. The Huskers are currently 3-point favorites against Indiana at home.

Results:

  • vs. Maryland: W, 70-66
    • Points: Palmer, 26
    • Rebounds: Roby, 10
    • Assists: Palmer, 5
    • Blocks: Roby, 3
    • Steals: Copeland, Gill, Allen, and Taylor (each), 1
  • @ Illinois: L, 72-66
    • Points: Copeland, 17
    • Rebounds: Roby, 10
    • Assists: Palmer & Watson (each), 4
    • Blocks: Roby, 3
    • Steals: Copeland, Palmer, and Taylor (each), 1

Up Next (20-9, 11-5 Big Ten):

  • TONIGHT: vs. Indiana. Tipoff at 8pm. Watch on BTN.
  • Sunday, February 25th: vs. Penn State. Tipoff at 4:15 pm. Watch on BTN.

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