The Huskers’ 20-point comeback fell just short against No. 20 Indiana on Sunday, leaving Nebraska still winless in February. The Huskers are on a four-game losing streak, and a surprisingly warm February has both melted snow and Nebraska’s chances at an NCAA tournament appearance.
The Huskers had two pivotal games last week that could’ve put them back on track. A Thursday road game against No. 17 Iowa saw Nebraska lose 76-60 with the Huskers putting up one of their worst defensive performances of the season.
After Thursday, the Huskers traveled back home to play Indiana. The Hoosiers put an early beatdown on the Huskers, going up 26-6 after the first quarter.
Nebraska did not give up, and tied the game at 53-53 with 1:45 left in regulation. Indiana’s struggles came on offense as it scored 16 points in the entire second half and shot 16.7% from the field.
The Huskers’ comeback fell short despite the non-existent Hoosier offense as Indiana won 57-53. Nebraska is now 15-9 overall and 5-8 in the Big Ten, where it is tied for ninth in the conference standings.
Nebraska is not a front-runner on the bubble and has currently fallen out of contention for a chance to sneak in. The Huskers are not among the first eight teams out according to Charlie Creme and are 75th in RPI.
In the meantime, Big Ten foes like Ohio State and Michigan have solidified their tournament chances. Michigan beat Purdue and Minnesota last week while Ohio State won against Illinois and Wisconsin, games the Buckeyes were favored to win.
Minnesota, tied with Nebraska at 5-8 in conference play, is right on the cusp of getting back into the tournament field. The Gophers lost to Michigan by 25 points but have recently beaten Rutgers, Purdue and Nebraska.
Nebraska’s loss against Minnesota is one of four losses that hold back the Huskers’ chances from a tournament appearance. The Huskers are 2-4 against Ohio State, Michigan, Purdue, Rutgers and Minnesota this season.
These schools are at a maximum two games ahead of Nebraska in the conference standings, and those losses have hurt the Huskers the most. Along with a bad loss against Michigan State, the Huskers need to make their own magic and get some help from others.
First, the Huskers play lowly Penn State (7-17, 1-12 Big Ten) at home, a game they should — and have to — win. The Nittany Lions are last in the Big Ten and a loss would be catastrophic, putting postseason play into jeopardy.
Should Nebraska win this game, it would mark its first of February. The biggest game of the week, and possibly of the season, is at No. 19 Northwestern (20-3, 10-2 Big Ten) on Feb. 16. A road win against a ranked opponent throws the Huskers back into the NCAA tournament mix.
The issue this time is if Nebraska manages to beat Northwestern, the Huskers would still need other games to go their way to have a good chance at a tournament appearance. Five teams that sit above the Huskers in the Big Ten standings currently have a solid shot.
For the Huskers, those opposing games are as important to their chances. Minnesota at Ohio State and Michigan at Rutgers are two big games for all four Big Ten teams. The winners will inch closer to an appearance, while the other two will fall back.
The other games around the conference can help Nebraska if chaos ensues in the middle pack. Teams such as Purdue and Minnesota have easier games as well, meaning upsets have to happen if Nebraska cannot win the tougher matchups.
Nebraska is nowhere close to being locked out of an NCAA tournament appearance but the margin is slimming faster. The Huskers will need to focus on their remaining games and get some help from the outside in order to save the season.