Huskers look for first-ever tournament win, but will it come?

Huskers look for first-ever tournament win, but will it come?
March 17, 2014, 7:30 pm
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Vinnie Duber

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Are they playing any NCAA tournament games in Lincoln? No? Then that could be problematic for the Huskers.

We were concerned about Nebraska's ability to win away from home in the Big Ten Tournament, and those concerns still apply now that the Huskers have clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament.

The drastic home-road splits for the Huskers have been well documented this season, but it's only because they're so glaring that they remain a relevant storyline. You know the numbers by now: 15-1 at home, 4-11 away from home. The same team that upset a top-10 Wisconsin team in the regular-season finale in Lincoln blew an 18-point second-half lead to Ohio State in the Big Ten tourney quarterfinals, its very next game. And it's that early exit in Indy that makes observers think Nebraska could be destined for a similar fate in the Big Dance.

That's not to discount the great success Tim Miles' team has had this season. It's the first NCAA tournament appearance in 16 years. And don't forget, the Huskers were picked to finish last in the Big Ten in the preseason, and yet here they are one of the conference's top-four teams and in the field of 68.

Still, with a first game more of a true road game than a neutral-court game — San Antonio is not even a three-hour drive from the Baylor campus in Waco — Nebraska could be in for a tough day of hoops away from the friendly confines of Pinnacle Bank Arena.

[MORE: Can Hawkeyes stop free fall and avoid first-round exit?]

First up

We've already addressed that home-court advantage the Baylor Bears will have Friday, but there's more than just game's location that makes Baylor a favorite. Look to the size advantage, which could be the big reason Nebraska can't catch up to Baylor on Friday. The Bears ranked third in the Big 12 in rebounding margin, outrebounding opponents by an average of almost seven boards per game. Plus, Baylor has four players who average five rebounds or more per game. The Huskers, meanwhile, have just one player averaging more than five rebounds per game, and it's a guard, Shavon Shields. The team's big man, Walter Pitchford, plays more on the perimeter and ranks fourth on the team in rebounding. Nebraska was one of just two Big Ten teams with a negative rebounding margin this season.

The Huskers will be at a huge disadvantage on the boards.

Survive and advance

But, as Nebraska has been one of the country's best basketball stories this year, it could continue. This team might not have many wins on the road, but one of them came in East Lansing against Michigan State, a team many are picking to win the national title. Should a win comes vs. Baylor, the Huskers could be in line for an in-state showdown against Creighton and a Sweet Sixteen battle with that same Wisconsin team they beat not long ago.

[RELATED: First impressions: Big Ten lands six in NCAA tournament]

One shining moment

Who could get the Huskers over the hump? That would be Terran Petteway, the guard and transfer from Texas Tech — yet another Big 12 connection when Nebraska meets its former conferencemate — who landed a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team after leading the conference in scoring with 18.1 points per game. He's come up huge time after time this season, and he can score a bunch of points in a hurry. A big game from him could be enough to push the Huskers to a win or two.

How far will they get?

Nebraska has never won an NCAA tournament game. Not one. Ever. But Miles is taking this program to new heights, and grabbing a tournament win would be next on the list of shockers for Miles and Co. Baylor, however, provides a very steep challenge, one that doesn't favor the Huskers very much. The Bears would figure to be moving on here, but that, of course, is why they play the games.