Reports have come out recently saying that Nebraska is looking to host its own men’s basketball tournament early in the season. The Huskers were slated to compete in the Myrtle Beach Invitational but will instead attempt to host a tournament in Lincoln with “several power conference teams.”
The tournament is not yet confirmed, as the Big Ten has not made a decision on non-conference games. However, this has the potential to be a significant event for Nebraska’s basketball program and the city of Lincoln, although fans will not be able to attend the games.
There are also other unknowns, starting with the date. The Myrtle Beach Invitational was scheduled to begin Nov. 19. But, the new college basketball season start date is Nov. 25, so it would make sense for Nebraska’s bubble tournament to be held sometime in early December.
We also do not yet know the protocols, the teams participating or the number of teams participating. That being said, here are some teams Nebraska should invite to its basketball bubble tournament:
The Tigers were included in the original group of eight teams set to play at Myrtle Beach, and the bubble presents an enticing opportunity for a welcome reunion with the former Big 12 rival. Missouri has struggled since joining the SEC, finishing with a winning record in just three of eight seasons and holding an 0-2 record in NCAA Tournament games. The Tigers return their top seven scorers from a team that finished 15-16 last year and offer a competitive matchup with a regional rival.
If we’re talking about former rivals that have since left the Big 12, we should include Colorado. The Buffaloes were far more competitive than Nebraska last season, finishing 21-11 overall. Colorado will be led by two-time All-PAC-12 first team guard McKinley Wright IV, who was named the eighth best returning player in NCAA basketball by NCAA correspondent Andy Katz. This could provide a powerful, early test for Nebraska and a chance to pull off an upset.
On the topic of former Big 12 adversaries, we should probably throw out Fred Hoiberg’s old team, the Iowa State Cyclones. The Cyclones struggled to a 12-20 record last year and will now be without expected lottery pick Tyrese Haliburton. In Iowa State, Nebraska would have a decent chance at beating a former conference foe.
We do not know for sure if Nebraska will get the chance to play their in-state rival due to schedule changes caused by COVID-19. So we shouldn’t risk missing out on this yearly matchup. After finishing ranked 7th in the AP poll last year with a 24-7 record, the Bluejays are expected to again be a top 10 team this year. The Jays return five of their six top scorers, including All-Big East second team guard Marcus Zegarowski, named as Katz’s sixth best returning player. Last season, Creighton handed Nebraska one of its worst losses of Hoiberg’s inaugural season, winning 95-76 after jumping out to a 48-22 lead in the first half.
The University of Nebraska Omaha finished a solid 16-16 last year. Including the Mavericks in this tournament would give Nebraska a chance to play them for the first time since 2014. This would be far from a guaranteed win for the Huskers.
We now have all but one of the major conferences represented, so it’s only fair to give an ACC team a spot in Nebraska’s bubble tournament. Having finished 14-19 last year and losing their top player, Cole Anthony, to the NBA Draft, the Tar Heels may represent Nebraska’s best chance in ages to knock off a blue blood team. However, UNC is not defenseless, with a star-studded recruiting class, highlighted by two 5-star centers, Day’Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler.
The Dixie State Trailblazers are one of three teams new to the Division 1 landscape this year. What better way to welcome them than with an invitation to the Nebraska bubble tournament? Ideally this would serve as a guaranteed win for Nebraska if the two teams were to play.
In a year with so much change, it feels fitting that Nebraska enters the season with an almost entirely new roster. The Huskers’ very own bubble tournament offers a chance to increase publicity for the new team and the city of Lincoln while affording the players a similar experience to a traditional non-conference tournament.