Photo by Nate Olsen/Nebraska Communications

Huskers State Case For NCAA Tournament

By Brian Rosenthal

With all due respect to their outstanding fans, the four seniors on the Nebraska men’s basketball team hope Sunday’s game was truly their final appearance at sold-out Pinnacle Bank Arena.

If they come back, it means Nebraska is playing in the National Invitational Tournament, and not the NCAA Tournament, where the Huskers feel they belong.

Problem is, do the people who make the at-large selections feel the same way?

The chair of the NCAA tournament selection committee, Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen, attended Nebraska’s home finale, a solid 76-64 victory over NCAA Tournament hopeful Penn State before an electric crowd of 15,539 fans.

What would Nebraska center Jordy Tshimanga tell Rasmussen if he had the chance?

“Let us in,” Tshimanga said.

Nebraska won’t know for another two weeks if that happens – if, unless, the Huskers win this week’s Big Ten Tournament to clinch an automatic bid. They’re in good position after clinching the No. 4 seed and double-bye by defeating Penn State for a school record 13 conference victories.

Nebraska coach Tim Miles said he’s not even going to address the NCAA resume situation with his team this week. He wants a single-minded goal, and that’s to win a conference tournament, something Nebraska hasn’t done since 1994.

“We’re not going to New York to just play around. We want to win that, too,” senior guard Anton Gill said. “We really feel like we have the best team in the Big Ten. More wins would obviously help, but if you ask me my opinion, I think we proven throughout the year we’re a tournament team.

“What were we picked, last this year? Picked last, finished fourth. We played a lot of tough teams, played Kansas to one. We knew going in that we weren’t going to have that much respect. We’re just going to keep going, keep preparing. Like I said, we’re going to New York to win it.”

But what if they don’t? What then?

Nebraska (22-9, 13-5 Big Ten) lacks enough quality victories – quadrant one wins, they’re now called – necessary to gain the good graces of most bracketologists, namely Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm.

Fortunately, they don’t actually make the bracket. And Miles believes the quadrant one talk isn’t necessarily the “holy grail” of selecting at-large teams.

“We’ve done a good job of winning away from home,” Miles said. “We’ve out-performed. Really, the predictive metrics are the ones killing us. The result metrics aren’t too bad – that’s strength of record, RPI – they’re not too bad. They line up pretty well with the NCAA Tournament.

“That’s what I would tell them. Pay attention to the results. Not the computer predicting how we’re going to do.”

Senior guard Evan Taylor believes Nebraska has done enough work to qualify for the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens in the Big Ten Tournament.

“I feel like we’re a team that’s playing well right now, and when or if we get in the tournament, we can beat some teams,” Taylor said. “Hopefully we get that opportunity, because we deserve it. This team has been through everything. We persevered, we worked hard, we stuck together through the good and the bad. I would hate to see our season end and us not be in the NCAA Tournament, because I feel like we’ve got an NCAA Tournament team.”

Nebraska has history on its side.

Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, 304 of 306 teams to win at least 13 conference games in a power five conference have made the NCAA Tournament. The exceptions were Washington (14-4) and Oregon (13-5) in 2011-12, a season the Pac-12 had one team in the top 60 of the RPI and ranked No. 10 among conferences.

In Big Ten history, 61 teams have won at least 13 conferences games. All made the NCAA Tournament.

“It looks like an NCAA Tournament team to me,” Miles said. “We had some bad luck with our conference schedule, but we’re willing and able to play anybody.”

Nebraska has defeated 10 of 13 Big Ten teams, the exceptions the three teams above the Huskers in the final standings – Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue. None visited Pinnacle Bank Arena, where the Huskers finished 16-1, including 9-0 in conference games. It’s the first time since 1966 they’ve gone undefeated at home in league play.

Crowds and atmospheres like the one on Sunday are a big reason why. Even though Miles didn’t officially call for a “No Sit Sunday,” roughly 75 percent of the fans stood throughout the game.

They were loud, too.

“What a great environment in here,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. “Just incredible.”

Isaac Copeland Jr. made sure fans would stay involved, too, when he attacked for a powerful windmill dunk on Nebraska’s first possession.

“I think that meant everything,” Miles said. “That first possession started things off with a bang and got thinks rocking right away. There’s nothing better than that. You couldn’t plan it better.”

Copeland finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. Isaiah Roby, playing at less than full strength after a recent bout of food poisoning, had 13 points and seven rebounds. Tshimanga, who didn’t play in Nebraska’s first game against Penn State, a 72-70 overtime loss, gave a spark off the bench with eight points.

Nebraska locked in defensively, holding Penn State (19-12, 9-9) to 17 first-half points, the fewest by a Husker foe this season. The Huskers built a 21-10 lead with 9:12 remaining in the first half and maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the game. They led by as many as 21 points, that after a Gill 3-pointer with 13:22 remaining in the game.

By the end, senior walk-on Malcolm Laws was playing, joined on the court by Duby Okeke, a fifth-year senior transfer who made his first start.

“I’m happy that our Senior Night turned out well for our seniors,” Miles said. “It’s an eclectic group of young guys that have been great to coach, have stuck with us through thick and thin. This was a very important night, a very historic night.”

Taylor finished with seven points and Gill scored nine as Nebraska shot 56 percent in the second half.

“It kind of hit me at the end knowing I wouldn’t be back here,” Gill said. “I’m just glad we finished it. We got that bye. We did everything to put ourselves in good position.”

Reach Brian at or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.


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