Posted: 11:18 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013
By Thomas Beindit
Nebraska basketball could be on the upswing, but how much should Nebraska fans hope for the team to achieve?
The Big Ten has received its fair share of media coverage recently, but one of the teams that has been slipping under the radar is Nebraska. Though the Cornhuskers were not slated with high expectations this season, they have actually looked significantly improved from last year. Considering this improvement, what should Nebraska fans expect of their team this season?
Right now, the Cornhuskers are #92 on KenPom. Whether Nebraska fans like it or not, that is probably a bit too far to be seriously considering NCAA Tournament contention. Yes, due to auto-bids some teams get in pretty low on the advanced metrics, but Nebraska plays in the Big Ten, so getting an at-large bid will be very challenging. However, this is still much better position than Nebraska has been in during recent history. In 2013, Nebraska finished the year at #130 in KenPom and in 2012, Nebraska finished #150 on KenPom. That's well over 50 positions in just two seasons. That may not be something that gets an banner raised, but that is something that signals Tim Miles knows what he is doing and there is reason to hope for the future.
This brings us back to our main topic: what should Nebraska fans expect? As mentioned earlier, NCAA Tournament contention is probably out the window. Maybe if Nebraska had beaten UMass or Creighton, fans could still be considering that route, but with three losses already on the year including a loss to UAB (#85 on KenPom), it is already getting hard to foresee an appearance in the tournament. Of course, there is always a chance. If Nebraska pulls off some major upsets or makes a deep run in the Big Ten Tournament, they could always get in. The problem here is that either of those options would massively exceed expectations so they don't really apply to our discussion here. If they are able to do that, it would be incredibly unexpected.
So what about another postseason tournament? The NIT may seem a little far fetched to some fans, but it probably isn't all that unrealistic at this point. Just look at last year when a team qualified with just a 16-15 record (St. John's). What is so interesting about their appearance is that they did not even win a game in the Big East Tournament. The big thing here is that St. John's played 9 ranked opponents and beat 2 of them. Still though, 16 wins really is not that difficult of a feat to accomplish.
Along with St. John's qualifying record last year, Nebraska also has plenty of opportunities to pull off marquee wins. Sure, they were not able to beat any of the major opponents they played last year, but we have to keep in mind that this team is better than last year's team. Plus, Nebraska is still undefeated at home this year. A new arena has been a good omen so far and with Michigan, OSU, Indiana, and Wisconsin all at home, they could definitely knock out a few wins. It may be unlikely to win all or even a majority of those games, but an improved team should at least be able to beat one of those teams, right? Every year a few of the major teams slip up on the road, why can't one of those games be against an improved Nebraska at home?
Let's just take a realistic jab at the schedule. We are going to assume Nebraska loses all their difficult games and wins all their easy or manageable games. This is very subjective, but let's do it for argument's sake. Here is a look at what's awaiting Nebraska:
Easy & Manageable
As of now, Nebraska stands at 7-3. If we project all the easy and manageable games for Nebraska and all the difficult games against Nebraska, they end the regular season at 15-15. That's just one game below St. John's record from last season. Sure, Nebraska would have way less marquee wins, but this seems like a fairly reasonable base projection given Nebraska's improved state. The key part here is that they have to steal a few games on that difficult side for a legitimate NIT bid. If they can do that, it isn't crazy at all to see a postseason bid to the NIT.
Maybe this is too positive or too negative a projection of Nebraska basketball, but there is reason to be hopeful in Lincoln. This is the first time in awhile that Nebraska fans can legitimately hope for the postseason. It will be interesting to see how things shake up, but things appear to be trending up for the Cornhuskers.