Nebraska earned itself a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
The fact that the Huskers are one of the Big Ten’s top four teams might be a shock to the system for those who haven’t been paying much attention to what is now known as “Nebrasketball,” but make no mistake, Tim Miles’ team is playing really well and certainly earned that bye.
It was a huge win over Wisconsin on Sunday night that propelled Nebraska to this position, but it’s where the victory came that provides a lot of questions as the Huskers head to the postseason.
Chief among them: Can they win away from Lincoln?
The Huskers have been unbelievable on their home court this season. The first-year digs of Pinnacle Bank Arena have been extremely friendly confines for the home team, with Nebraska amassing a 15-1 record there. That’s fewer home losses than any other Big Ten team, including regular-season champ Michigan and perennial powerhouses Wisconsin and Michigan State.
In fact, only one point separated the Huskers from a perfect home season. They fell, 71-70, to the Wolverines back on Jan. 9.
But away from Lincoln, things haven’t gone as well. And while a win at Michigan State is perhaps Nebraska’s biggest of the season — or at least it was before Sunday night — and the Huskers would appear to be going dancing after besting the Badgers, the road/neutral-court numbers don’t necessarily inspire a lot of confidence that a first-round bye in the conference tournament or a ticket to the Big Dance will translate into any postseason wins.
The Huskers went 1-2 in a three-game, neutral-court event in Charleston, S.C., in November, and they lost their only two non-conference road games, albeit to incredibly strong competition in Creighton and Cincinnati. Nebraska lost its first five road games in Big Ten play before beating conference cellar-dweller Northwestern in Evanston and picking up that monumental win in East Lansing. The Huskers split their final two road games, losing at Illinois and winning at Indiana.
That all comes in for a grand total of four wins and 10 losses away from the comforts of home.
So while the Huskers are playing some of the best basketball of any team in the Big Ten as the conference tournament kicks off, they might have the steepest challenge simply because Indianapolis isn’t Lincoln.
But that shouldn’t discolor the accomplishment finishing in the top four of the Big Ten is for the Huskers. Here’s a team that was picked to finish last in the conference. It’s a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1998 and has won 20 games in a season just twice since. One more win would make it thrice.
The postseason has never been too kind to the Huskers. They’ve won a conference tournament just once: the 1994 Big Eight Conference Tournament. They’ve never won a game in the NCAA tournament. But Miles has something cooking with this group, and this year could be the best chance in a long time to shake off some of those postseason blues.