This article will not be me clamoring that the Nebraska Huskers should have been in March Madness. Yes, I think a team that a conference with two Sweet 16 teams should get more than four bids (in comparison, the SEC received eight bids and had two Sweet 16 teams, both of whom lost already). Instead, I will just talk about where Nebrasketball went wrong and where they can go from here.
Do I think Nebrasketball should be dancing? Yes. Am I bitter? You bet. But, I am working on moving on. Call this article a form a therapy.
With many considering Nebraska a bubble team for the big tournament, how did they fall so far? And how far could they have gone in this year’s March Madness? And what will next season bring for Tim Miles and Nebrasketball?
Pinnacle Bank Arena Empty for NIT
So, the basketball team didn’t make the tournament. That didn’t surprise a lot of people. But to only fetch a five seed in the NIT? They even fell behind Penn State, a team with better wins, but more losses. (To be fair, the Nittany Lions are still going in the NIT).
Even so, Bruce Rasmussen went on record on 1620 the Zone.
“Nebraska was one of the last teams we eliminated.”
The selection committee released their First Four Out, which ended up being the one seeds in the NIT. If the Huskers were one of the last teams eliminated, wouldn’t that make them closer to the Next Four Out, rather than the 17th team out having to play in Starksville? Can’t simply blame the bad Michigan loss in MSG. (To be clear, the NIT selection committee is not an extension of the NCAA selection committee.)
I’ve heard plenty of reasons why. My favorite response has to be that NIT committee member and current Butler athletic director Barry Collier has an agenda against Nebrasketball. Whatever the reason is, clearly home games would have made a difference. The home team went 21-3 in the NIT this year, and, for a team who only dropped one of their 19 homes games this season, that seems important to me.
Glass Slipper for the Huskers
Think about this for a minute: Oklahoma went 18-12, including losing 11 of their final 14 regular season games. They followed that up with a double-digit loss in their first game in their conference tournament and a loss to Atlantic 10 power Rhode Island in the first round of the tournament. Yes, the Sooner had a lot more “Q1” wins than Nebraska, but still. When will the wins and losses, straight up, matter?
One big difference: Trae Young. The star of college basketball this season, who led the country in points and assists, was one of the biggest phenoms in recent hoops. He even had his own personal stat tracker on broadcasts of Oklahoma games. Seriously, the ticker tracking his stats didn’t go away. Put this guy on the Huskers and take him off the Sooners, does Nebraska take Oklahoma’s spot? It’s an interesting thing to think about.
Going one step further, let’s say the Huskers got in. How about even a play-in game? The Huskers most likely would have been in Arizona State’s spot, with a matchup against Syracuse (yet another team with less wins and a losing conference record that got in on conference strength and laurels). While we can’t say whether or not Nebraska would win, upsets and Cinderellas like no other have come forward this year. Why couldn’t it have been the ‘Skers?
On to the Next One
While this season may be over, there is still hope on the horizon for this team. For a squad projected to finish 13th this season, ending up fourth was a blessing. Next year, however, there will be expectations. How will they handle them? The return of James Palmer, Jr. and Isaac Copeland will be important. I expect JPJ to return. The real question is Copeland, who is 23 and has already graduated. Will he want to stick around college for a third season, or will he go pro (most likely in Europe)?
Outside of those two, the team will also lose three-point specialist Anton Gill (who wasn’t as productive as advertised), Evan Taylor, the team’s best perimeter defender, and fan-favorite, “built-like-a-linebacker” Duby Okeke. Finally, everyone’s favorite Australian and Bench Mob member Jack McVeigh has decided to leave the team. All of them are important, but replaceable.
Glynn Watson will return for his last go-round in Lincoln. Jordy Tshimanga, the team’s lone big man, will most likely be back even though he left the team momentarily in January. Isaiah Roby could become the team’s best player. Expect soon-to-be sophomores Thomas Allen and Nana Atenken to become contubutors, too. Finally, adding Xavier Johnson, a three-star guard from Virginia, has the skillset and speed to get playing time immediately.
The team will remain on the small side but having this much length and athleticism will only help the team. Maybe a fourth-place finish is high expectations but expect this team to be just as competitive come March. Who knows, maybe they will even snag a spot in March Madness. Crazier things have happened.