The Nebraska men’s basketball team is having one of the best seasons in years, but whether or not they have a place in the NCAA Tournament is still in doubt. That’s rather impressive considering the Huskers have 20 wins, are sitting at fourth in the Big Ten standings, and have three games left in the regular season.
In an attempt to get Nebrasketball fans a clear answer about the Big Red’s future, a pile of evidence was dumped in front of Aaron Torres, a contributor for The Athletic and best-selling author on the topic of college basketball.
If you’re a long-time Husker basketball fan, bless your heart. Secondly, you’ve no doubt noticed that this season’s team plays a far more complete game than those in recent years under Tim Miles. The idea that this Nebraska squad is one that humans love, but computers despise isn’t a notion held only by Cornhusker State locals.
“I don’t know when it happened, but all of a sudden within the past two weeks or so, Nebraska has become this pseudo-controversial team,” said Torres. “They’re one of those teams that the metrics hate, but anyone that’s watching them is saying, ‘They’re playing awesome!’ It’s this a great nerd basketball debate of metrics versus eye test/on the court performance. “
Getting down to brass tacks, Torres doesn’t think anyone has any idea about whether or not Nebraska will find itself as part of the Big Dance this year. Marc Boehm might, but we’ll get to that later.
“We don’t know what not only Nebraska’s going to do, but what all the teams on the bubble are going to do. Just as an example, UCLA is on the bubble, and they’ve been so up and down, they could literally lose any game left on their schedule, but they could also win every game.”
When asked what scenario could conceivably lock the Huskers in for an NCAA berth, Torres believes the bar isn’t set very high considering how this team is playing. Winning their final three games versus Illinois, Indiana and Penn State is an absolute must. To spice up what is a particularily bland resume, at least one win in the Big Ten conference tournament should put the Big Red in everyone’s brackets according to the UCONN alum.
“I would have to imagine at that point they’re no worse than fourth in the Big Ten in the regular season. At that point, (they’d) be 24-9 from a power conference. I find it really hard to believe that they woudn’t be in the tournament.”
Torres emphasized that Nebraska has to take advantage of the control it has over its own destiny. Any loss officailly hands their fate over to a very powerful group of teams on the bubble.
“Most years, it feels like we have an idea who the top six to ten teams in the country are. This year, it feels like it changes every week. The teams on the bubble as of right now are stronger than they’ve been at times in years past. It felt like there were years in the past where we were scraping to get to 68 (teams in the NCAA tournament). I don’t think we’re going to be there this year.”
The bare minimum that the Big Red could accomplish and still get into the tournament is likely going 2-1 in their remaining regular season games. An early Big Ten conference tournament exit certainly wouldn’t help.
While questions regarding this season’s squad will be wrapped up in relatively short order, the focus then shifts to the elephant in the room. Is this truly an “NCAA or Bust” situation for Miles?
Torres is bullish on Tweetin’ Tim’s future as of now.
“Let’s say Nebraska does what they’re supposed to do and they just get left on the outside looking in because the Big Ten is down. Are you really going to fire a guy that just finished fourth in the Big Ten because he didn’t make an NCAA tournament?
Unless there’s a total collapse down the stretch such as going 1-2 in regular season play and a first round Big Ten tournament exit. If they just keep doing what they’re doing and end up on the wrong side of the bubble, I just can’t see it.”
He does make a good point considering this is a team that was picked by 28 conference beat writers to finish thirteenth in the league.
With Miles looking like he has essentially coached himself off the hot seat in Torres’ words, we now examine how he can entrench himself as the Huskers’ head man moving forward. No stranger to roundball success during his time at Connecticut (the Huskies’ men’s squad won it all as recently as 2014) and college football, the picture seems pretty clear to Torres.
“Let’s say Nebraska finishes 22-10, I don’t know that they have to have that record next year. The Big Ten might be awesome and Nebraska finishes seventh, but they make the NCAA tournament. It’s such a gray area, but you just have to show signs that this progress is sustainable.”
Ultimately, he feels that it’s best to step back and assess just what Nebrasketball is as a program, and what it most certainly is not is Nebraska football.
“The thing that Bill Moos was brought in to fix was the football program. Tim Miles is probably going to be evaluated between now and April 1. The football program’s in great shape, everybody loves Scott Frost, they just brought in a great recruiting class. He’s awesome. I love him. 90,000 people for a spring game!,” he exclaimed.
He noted that if Nebraska football had a 4-8 season, Frost had chosen to go to Florida, and the Huskers were left with a coach further down Moos’ list then the pressure for Miles to pick up the slack in terms of school pride would be more intense.
Believe it or not, Torres did entertain the slightest notion that the Frost Effect® could be a real thing in this case.
“When the excitement about the primary team is at a fever pitch, it makes everything else more fun. But it’s not like we’re talking about a team that’s 19-12 and holding onto their NCAA tournament hopes by the skin of their teeth. They are overachieving at this point in the season. This all plays a role in it, so the Frost Effect may just be real.
If Tim Miles doesn’t make the tournament, and they’re probably going to be favored in every game for the rest of the season, I do think Scott Frost’s presence and the excitement that everyone has for that football team right now might buy Tim Miles an extra year.”
Of course, Nebraska could go 0-3 over the final stretch and if that happens, Torres sees a new head coach walking Nebraska’s sideline in The Vault come next season. That’s not a scenario he appears to be comfortable putting any stock in, though.
Going back to executive associate athletic director Marc Boehm, he may know something that many inclduing Torres don’t.
An article by Chris Heady of the Omaha World-Herald noted that Boehm apparently spoke with a member of the NCAA selection committee who said, “three wins at the end of the regular season gives Nebraska a 99 percent chance of making the tournament.”
That certainly sounds like Torres’ thoughts mesh with the selection committee’s.
All this squad has to do now is not break the fans’ hearts. If any team can stave off the seemingly eventual shoe from dropping, this one has better odds than many we’ve seen and their record against the spread is well-documented. It all starts this Sunday when Nebraska takes on Illinois at 2:30 on BTN.