When I first arrived in New York City last Wednesday I saw nothing but trash. It wasn’t just above the sink in the LaGuardia men’s room, it was everywhere, on every street corner in overstuffed white and black bags. It somehow managed to find its way to Madison Square Garden around last Friday, three minutes and 45 seconds into the Nebraska-Michigan basketball game.
Three minutes and 45 seconds is all it took for the wheels to fall off at Madison Square Garden when Nebraska led Michigan 9-5. It all went downhill from there. Scoring droughts, shot selection, and rebounding, all achilles’ heels of Nebraska this year, were put on full display. Even perimeter defense, one of Nebraska’s biggest strengths this season, was exploited as Michigan shot 11-23 (47.8%) from beyond the arc.
This game was the polar opposite of what occurred in late January when Nebraska routed Michigan 72-52 in their most complete showing of the season. Everything that didn’t happen for Michigan that game happened in this one, and vice-versa for Nebraska. The Huskers’ underwhelming performance was ill-timed, and the eye-test didn’t do them any favors with Creighton Athletic Director and NCAA Selection Committee Chairman Bruce Rasmussen in attendance, who in the past said he’s been impressed with Nebraska on the court despite the Huskers having few quality wins on paper.
Nebraska came into this game with more than enough reasons to be motivated: Playing for an NCAA Tournament berth, ESPN not even listing them as an option to win the tournament despite being the 4-seed, a chance to prove they belong with the best of the conference, and little exposure in the tournament ads. Unfortunately, an Officer by the name Murphy had to crash the party and lay down the law.
This performance doesn’t bode well for Nebraska’s NCAA Tournament chances, but if you take a closer look at similar teams, should it matter? The Huskers are currently 56th in RPI rankings according to ESPN while other bubble teams such as Arizona State, USC, Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and UCLA are 62nd, 35th, 55th, T-44th (Oklahoma and Texas), 83rd, and 37th respectively. A common denominator when comparing most of the aforementioned teams with Nebraska is Kansas. Arizona State, Baylor, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State all beat Kansas this season. Nebraska and Texas did not. Texas is 19-13, and has wins over TCU, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma twice. Meanwhile, USC finished the regular season 20-10 overall and 12-6 in the Pac-12, while UCLA finished 20-10 overall and 11-7. USC has zero wins over RPI top 25 opponents while UCLA has two over Kentucky (17th) early in the year, and Arizona (18th), so the Bruins have at least some grounds to defend their case. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has three Pac-12 teams in, which includes both USC and UCLA, while having four Big Ten teams in. So Nebraska has more wins, both overall and in conference play, while playing in a tougher conference, as evidenced by Lunardi having more teams in from the Big Ten than the Pac-12, yet USC and UCLA are both on the right side of the bubble in his current bracket. Oh wait, I forgot. The Big Ten was completely down this year. My apologies.
The weakest team out of the bunch to me is Oklahoma, who sits at 18-13 overall and 8-10 in the Big 12 and lost to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament on Wednesday. They started the season strong with wins over USC, Wichita State, TCU, Texas Tech, and West Virginia, but have been on a rough stretch since mid-January, losing six in a row at one point. The Sooners went 2-8 in their last 10 games including their loss to Oklahoma State yesterday, and are 7-12 in the 2018 calendar year. How can you have a losing conference record, in addition to losing eight of your last 10 games, and still make the Tournament? *Puts on tinfoil hat* Is it because they have one of the most electrifying players in the country and the NCAA can make more money if his team is playing in the big dance instead of the NIT? Hmmmm.
Forget all the metrics, quadrants, strength of schedule, and whatever other numerical variables bracketologists use. Look at wins. Nebraska has 22 of them, including one over Big Ten champion Michigan. Look at conference record. Nebraska went 13-5 in a power conference against major competition. The biggest argument other than number of quality wins is consistency. When Nebraska is on, like they were against Michigan in January, they look capable of competing with anyone in the country. When they aren’t, like they were both games against Illinois and in the Big Ten tournament, they look lackadaisical. But Nebraska was consistent enough to win 22 times in the regular season, something none of the current bubble teams in the field on Joe Lunardi’s bracket can claim. The biggest thing Nebraska has working against them is most of these other bubble teams still have chances to play and win. All Nebraska can do is sit, watch, and wait. And all we can do is listen anxiously for a soft pop as Nebraska’s bubble may burst, and come to terms with this historic season potentially concluding somewhere other than the dance floor.
- Nebraska missed 19 of 20 field goals during one stretch in the first half before finishing on a 6-0 run. They finished 16-53 (30.2%) from the field for the game. Woof. I noticed most teams had difficulty adjusting to the arena, and it some took time to find their rhythm. Nebraska suffered the most from this. Michigan came into the matchup with Nebraska having already played against Iowa.
- Tim Miles continues to lobby for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Nebraska head coach recently went on BTN to explain why the Huskers deserve to be in the field of 68 by referencing past Big Ten teams who also had 13 conference wins and made the Tournament. Coach Miles is doing everything he can off the court to get his team in.
- If there’s any solace from Nebraska’s trip to NYC, it was that they lost to the eventual tournament champion. Michigan can play with anyone, and if they play like they did last weekend, don’t be shocked if you see them in San Antonio come April. John Belien is one of the top coaches in the country whose teams improve as the year goes on.
- vs. Michigan: L, 77-58
- Points: Palmer and Roby (each), 16
- Rebounds: Roby, 7
- Assists: Watson and Palmer (each), 2
- Blocks: Roby, 5
- Steals: Watson, Palmer, and Taylor (each), 1
Up Next (22-10, 13-5):
All mentions of Joe Lunardi’s bracket is current as of March 9, 2018.