Nebraska NCAA Tournament Outlook: Finally Dancing in March

Andy Lyons

For the first time since 1998 Nebraska will be playing meaningful basketball games in late March.

For the first time since 1998 the Nebraska Cornhuskers – and everyone else in Lincoln, Neb. – will be doing some meaningful dancing in March.

What coach Tim Miles was able to accomplish this season is nothing short of miraculous. A Cornhusker team projected to finish dead last in the Big Ten by dozens of "experts" decided to flip a giant metaphorical middle finger to college basketball pundits and naysayers by marching their way to 19 regular season wins and a fourth place finish in the B1G.

Nebraska's unexpected success has been rewarded with an 11-seed in the NCAA tournament. Merely being in the tournament is enough for many Nebrasketball fans, but don't expect Tim Miles and his team of overachievers to mimic that sentiment.

Here is what Nebraska's potential road to the Final Four might look like.

(Note: Each round after the Round of 32 I moved along the higher seed as Nebraska's opponent. There are many potential matchups, but I chose those most likely to occur, but in March Madness anything can happen.)

Round of 64: vs. 6 Baylor (Friday, March 21, 12:40 p.m. ET, TruTV)

Statistics
Nebraska Baylor
W-L Record 19-12 (11-7) 24-11 (12-9)
BPI 71.5 (57th) 76.5 (35th)
AdjO 108.2 (99th) 118.6 (7th)
AdjD 96.0 (30th) 102.0 (114th)
NCAA Tournament Record 0-6 9-9

This should be a fun matchup showcasing two of the B1G and Big 12's hottest teams. On a more macro level, the Big Ten and Big 12 have been battling each other to stake a claim as the best conference in the nation this year. This game may not provide a definitive answer to that question, but expect backers of each conference to keep a watchful eye on this one.

Nebraska and Baylor both enter the Big Dance highly confident in their play despite losses in their respective conference tournaments. Baylor is 9-3 over its past 12 games, while the Cornhuskers have won 10 of their last 13.

This Baylor team has proven it can beat some of the most talented schools in the nation all season long. The Bears have defeated eight teams in the NCAA Tournament field at least once this season: Oklahoma State (twice), Oklahoma, Iowa State, Colorado, Kansas State (twice), Kentucky, Dayton and Louisiana-Lafayette. Do not expect Baylor to enter this game with any reservations regarding their ability to beat the Cornhuskers.

Baylor features a potent offensive attack spearheaded by Cory Jefferson (13.5 ppg) and three-point marksman Brady Heslip (11.8 ppg, 112 3pm). The Cornhuskers are going to have their hands full trying to stop this long, athletic team. Nebraska coach Tim Miles may try to beat Baylor at their own game with an uncharacteristically up-tempo attack that limits the ability of the Bears to set up their half-court defense, which features 7-foot-1 shot-blocker and long-armed menace Isaiah Austin (3.2 bpg).

Rebounding is going to be an issue in this one. Baylor boasts a nearly plus-seven rebounding margin, and there is really no one on Nebraska that can compete with Austin and Jefferson on the glass. Boxing out and keeping Baylor off the boards is going to have to be a concerted team effort. If Baylor gets too many second-chance opportunities Nebraska will not be able to put up enough points to stay in the game.

Terran Petteway is going to need to be huge if the Huskers hope to become the 210th team to ever win an NCAA Tournament game (better late than never, right?). Nebraska is 6-1 in games in which Petteway has scored 23 or more points. If Petteway can drop Michael Jordan's jersey number or higher on the Bears, Tim Miles and his team have a chance to capture a historic win for Nebraska hoops.

These two former conference foes have met a few times over the course of history, with Nebraska holding a 12-10 lifetime advantage over the Baylor Bears. Baylor has held the edge recently however, winning both times these opponents have met over the past four years.

Tournament Fact: Since 2010 the 16 individual 6-11 matchups have resulted in 8 wins by each team. Overall the No. 6 seed has won 66 percent of all 6-11 matchups.

Round of 32: Winner of 3 Creighton/11 Lousiana-Lafayette (Sunday, March 23)

Statistics
Creighton Louisiana-Lafayette
W-L Record 26-7 (14-4) 23-11 (11-7)
BPI 83.8 (15th) 58.5 (122nd)
AdjO 125.7 (1st) 109.9 (74th)
AdjD 102.5 (127th) 105.7 (193rd)
Tournament Record 11-19 4-10

If Nebraska defeats Baylor they will most likely get a rematch with Creighton in the Third Round, provided the LA-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns don't pull off a miraculous upset against the Bluejays.

LA-Lafayette is a good squad with a really good offense led by Shawn Long and Elfrid Payton. who each average nearly 20-points per game. While the offense is dynamic, defense is not exactly a priority for the Cajuns. Creighton just has too much offensive prowess -- and too much Doug McDermott -- to be seriously be considered on upset-alert in this game.

The first meeting between the Cornhuskers and Bluejays, way back on December 8, was barely even a contest. Creighton led 51-25 at the half and cruised to an 82-67 victory, claiming basketball supremacy in Nebraska for the twelfth time in 16 meetings, dating back to 1999. Likely Wooden Award winner McDermott was his usual self, going for 33 points on 52 percent shooting, including 5-of-10 on three-point field goals.

Creighton's MO: Score points. Do it efficiently.

The Nebraska team that played against Creighton in December is long gone, replaced by a battle-tested team that fought through an intense B1G schedule to earn their place in the field of 68.

Tim Miles game plan in this matchup should be no secret. If Nebraska can stop McDermott and limit the Bluejays three-point looks -- they connect on threes at a 42 percent clip, best in the nation -- the Huskers may have a chance to exact some revenge. Let McDermott run wild and this game could be well out of hand within the first ten minutes, much like it was in their prior meeting.

Drawing up a blueprint to stop the Bluejays offense, which averages a very impressive, somewhat scary (for the opposition) 1.21 points per possession, is much easier to plan on paper than pull off in real time. The Huskers will have to play some very spirited, nearly-perfect defense if they want to dance their way into the Sweet 16.

If Nebraska makes it to this round the Cornhusker faithful may be too busy celebrating to worry much about losing again to Creighton, but do not count out what an inspired Tim Miles team can accomplish when properly motivated.

Tournament Fact: Fifteen No. 11 seeds have ever advanced to the Sweet 16.

Sweet Sixteen: March 27-28

Statistics Nebraska Wisconsin
W-L Record 19-12 (11-7) 26-7 (12-6)
BPI 71.5 (57th) 84.7 (11th)
AdjO 108.2 (99th) 119.5 (5th)
AdjD 96.0 (30th) 98.7 (59th)
Tournament Record 0-6 25-18

What a wild ride this would be for Nebrasketball nation, with the potential for a very juicy Sweet 16 matchup.

There is a good possibility that if Nebraska were to pull two upsets during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament they would be staring at a rematch with B1G conference rival Wisconsin.

A look at the first meeting.

The Cornhuskers defeat of No. 9 Wisconsin to close the regular season was very likely the win propelled Nebraska into the NCAA Tournament. Without that win the Huskers may have found themselves dancing to a sadder tune in the NIT. Do not think the Badgers will have forgotten that defeat.

In the win over Wisconsin the Cornhusker offense was firing on all cylinders, led by 26 points each from Petteway and Shavon Shields. The Huskers defense was on point, holding Wisconsin to 42 percent shooting overall. For Nebraska to continue dancing on they would need yet another superb all-around defensive performance against a (likely) more inspired Badger team.

As we all know Bo Ryan's Wisconsin teams have a penchant for fizzling out in the NCAA Tournament sooner than expected. Nebraska would enter this matchup with a ton of confidence and the potential for yet another upset.

History: There have been five No. 11 seeds to win in the Sweet 16 and advance to the Elite 8. Virginia Commonwealth did it most recently in 2011.

Elite Eight: March 29-30

Statistics Nebraska Arizona
W-L Record 19-12 (11-7) 30-4 (15-3)
BPI 71.5 (57th) 91.2 (1st)
AdjO 108.2 (99th) 113.1 (35th)
AdjD 96.0 (30th) 86.9 (1st)
Tournament Record 0-6 48-29

To put it bluntly, Arizona is really, really good at basketball. Statistically speaking, these two teams are miles apart.

The Wildcats might be the best defensive team in the nation, they have two potential first-round NBA draft picks in Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, and they only lost four games all season long.

Virginia Commonwealth made a run as a No. 11 seed in 2011 so there is a precedent here. Still, this is something of a pipe dream, even for the most dedicated members of Nebrasketball nation.

Tournament Fact: A No. 11 has played a No. 1 in the Elite Eight five teams. The No. 11 seed actually has a 3-2 edge in those matchups.

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