This year has largely been a frustrating one for Nebraska fans. At times, the team looked like it was rounding into shape and that the program would make some real progress. Unfortunately, the Huskers just never got it together and ended up finishing the regular season at just 14-17 overall and 6-12 in the Big Ten. Additionally, the team limped down the stretch, losing its final five regular season games and nine of its last 11 games.
Nonetheless, the Big Ten Tournament brings newfound hope and optimism to the program. It's a chance to save the season and put a positive spin on what has otherwise been a forgettable year.
Let's take a look at what Husker fans can expect over the next few days in the Big Ten Tournament.
Due to the team's poor play down the stretch, Nebraska finds itself as a No. 11 seed in this year's Big Ten Tournament. That means the Huskers will have to play on Wednesday in an opening round game against the No. 14 seeded Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Nebraska will be a big favorite in this game and KenPom gives Huskers an 86 percent chance to move on to Thursday'.
The unfortunate part of this seeding means that Nebraska will now have to win five games to earn the Big Ten's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Whether Rutgers is an easy game or not, adding another day of wear and tear is going to be difficult on the roster. As such, it's going to be important for Nebraska to come out firing against Rutgers, get ahead, and get its starters on the bench as early as possible.
If They Advance
Assuming Nebraska dispatches with Rutgers on Wednesday, the team will then move on to face a Wisconsin team that has been red hot down the stretch. The Badgers have won 11 of the team's last 13 games and the only losses came on the road to ranked Michigan State and Purdue teams. Where the exact odds fall is still up in the air, but Wisconsin will undoubtedly be a heavy favorite regardless of whether it plays Nebraska or Rutgers.
During the regular season, Nebraska and Wisconsin only faced off once with the Badgers grabbing a 72-61 win at home on February 10th. Wisconsin's Vitto Brown and Nigel Hayes had a field day in the game, combining for 38 total points on 13-for-21 shooting. If Nebraska is going to pull off the upset, it's going to need to slow down Brown and Hayes and hope that the team's frontcourt can have a better night than it did in the first meeting.
If Nebraska does pull off the upset over Wisconsin, the Huskers would then move on to face Maryland. After that, the team would have a potential semi-final game (likely) against Michigan State and a title matchup (likely) against Indiana, Iowa, or Purdue. Needless to say, that would not be an easy task.
To put the difficulty of winning the Big Ten Tournament in perspective, just consider that Nebraska would likely need four straight wins against top 30 KenPom teams to grab the crown. Given the fact that Nebraska has just once against a top 30 KenPom team (MSU) all year, it would be a completely unprecedented turnaround for the team.
Realistically speaking, Nebraska's season will most likely end in Indianapolis. There's a chance that the team could secure an NIT bid with a few wins, but in all likelihood, the team is going to miss the NIT and NCAA Tournament. As such, the important part of this trip will be getting some momentum going into the offseason. Nebraska has just two noteworthy wins all season, so adding one or two more would really put a bright spin on 2015-16.
Given that Nebraska is a substantial favorite against Rutgers on Wednesday, the key game for the Huskers will be on Thursday against Wisconsin. A win over the Badgers won't make this season a success, but it would certainly give a boost to the fanbase going into the offseason. Although things aren't going to be easy for Nebraska in Indy, if all goes right, it could really change the way this season is perceived for years to come.