Waiting Game Begins For Huskers After Big Ten Exit
New York City – Snow showers blew through the streets of New York City on a cold, blustery, miserable Friday, yet Bill Moos was able to offer a ray of sunshine, even in light of the Nebraska men’s basketball team’s quarterfinal loss here in the Big Ten Tournament.
Moos, the Nebraska Director of Athletics, was riding down the elevator of the team hotel on Sixth Avenue when he told a reporter he’d been “working” the NCAA Tournament Committee for the past week, selling the Huskers as an at-large team.
We won’t know for another nine days whether Moos’ efforts will produce the desired results, but he did say he’d been hearing favorable feedback regarding Nebraska’s chances, regardless of what happened in the Big Ten Tournament. He said he personally knows all but three committee members. One would be Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen, who attended Friday's game, and also Sunday's home victory over Penn State.
The problem is the talking heads and bracketologists who insist Nebraska wouldn’t make the NCAA Tournament without a couple of so-called “quadrant one” wins in the Big Ten Tournament. Nebraska (22-10, 13-5 Big Ten) had only one entering Friday – against Michigan, at home, by 20 points.
Ironically, as Nebraska coach Tim Miles pointed out in the Huskers’ locker room after his team’s 77-58 loss to Michigan at venerable Madison Square Garden, had Nebraska won Friday, it would have knocked Michigan down enough pegs to the point that January victory would no longer have qualified as a quadrant one win.
Of course, had Nebraska won Friday, it would have replaced that game, but still leaving the Huskers where they were in the first place – with one quadrant one win.
“I’m like, ‘What do you do?’ ” Miles said. “When you look at that, I don’t think that is the Holy Grail. I don’t think that is the end all, be all. I think it’s a sorting mechanism.”
But a really big sorting mechanism for bracketologists who have had, and will have, Nebraska on the outside of the bubble.
“They’ve been throwing dirt in our eyes for weeks,” Miles said. “Now they’ve just made it a little harder to breathe.”
Yes, Nebraska could’ve made life easier on itself by taking care of business Friday. Everyone knows that, especially the coaches and players.
Now, the Huskers will return to Lincoln on Saturday morning, with more than a week to wait to find out its fate.
“It’s going to feel like 3 years. It’s going to feel like as long as I’ve been here,” Nebraska senior guard Anton Gill said. “I just hope that people see our body of work, what we’ve done, finish in the top four of a power six conference, see some of the teams we’ve played against.
“I hope they don’t look at this and think that’s it.”
Nebraska began the game very focused and had the look of a team with something to prove. The Huskers sank four of their first five shots and built an early 9-5 lead in front of a pro-Michigan crowd.
Then, suddenly, the bottom dropped out. Nebraska missed 19 of its next 20 shots and fell behind by 18 points.
“That’s a good question,” Gill said. “I give credit to them. They were poised. They’ve been here before. They knew not to get too high, not to get too low.
“They just made big plays. They shot the ball great. Credit to them.”
Indeed, Michigan, which shot a paltry 3-of-19 on 3-pointers in a Thursday overtime victory over Iowa, sank 11 3-pointers against Nebraska, on 23 attempts.
“I asked Coach (John) Beilein why he decided to go 3-of-19 yesterday and not today,” Miles said, “and he just chuckled.”
Laughs were few and far between in the Nebraska locker room. OK, there weren’t any at all. The mood was as quiet and somber as you might expect for a team knowing it had so much at stake, yet couldn’t quite deliver.
“It’s disappointing. We didn’t have our best tonight,” Gill said. “I guess you all could see that. We all wanted this one bad. I wanted it bad. Everyone wanted it bad.”
Too bad, perhaps?
“You could say that,” Gill said. “We pressed a little bit, could’ve been a little bit better. It was all good intentions.”
Because of its double-bye, Nebraska never had use of Madison Square Garden before Friday. Miles said the team had the option of an 8 a.m. workout there on gameday, but he said he’d rather have his team sleep in and get rest.
A bigger factor, though, was the play of Michigan. Mortiz Wagner, held to two points in Lincoln, exploded for 20 on Friday. The Wolverines shot well from the perimeter and got downhill too easily on drives to the hoop.
“We couldn’t get stops,” senior guard Evan Taylor said. “Something we’ve done so well all year is guard the three and they go out and make 11 threes tonight. That’s what they do. They hit shots. They beat us today. They beat us.”
Nebraska, meanwhile, missed good looks after its initial strong start, then got more “disillusioned,” Miles said, the more makes Michigan made.
“They were rock solid tonight,” Miles said. “It was going to take a great effort for anybody to beat Michigan tonight.”
Nebraska’s effort wasn’t great enough. Now, the long wait begins.
“I don’t think there are 68 teams better than us,” Taylor said. “We’ve had a great year. Maybe not impressive to some people, but we’ve grown a lot, we’ve proved a lot. Hopefully the committee can see that for what it is.”
Reach Brian at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.