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Will The Cornhuskers Make A Run In The NIT?

What will the Huskers do in the NIT?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Nebraska vs Maryland David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing season largely defined by missed opportunities, the Nebraska Cornhuskers now find themselves heading to the NIT. The Huskers had a great performance in non-conference play, but struggled to build off that over the last few months. Nebraska now hopes to make a run in the NIT to put a positive note on this year.

So, how far can Nebraska go in the NIT? Let’s take a look.

-Opening Round

As the four seed in the Lower Right Bracket, Nebraska will get to play at home for the opening round of the NIT. The Huskers will open up NIT play on Wednesday in Lincoln against Butler at 8:00 p.m.

On paper, Nebraska should be favored heading into this game. The Huskers are solidly above Butler on KenPom and have a better overall record this season. Butler is just 16-16 overall and rated 68th nationally on the advanced metrics site. The Bulldogs also don’t have much momentum, having lost five of the team’s last six games heading into the NIT.

The key matchup for Nebraska in this one will be in the backcourt. The Huskers have to find a way to slow down Kamar Baldwin. He tailed off a bit toward the end of the season, but has arguably been Butler’s most productive player in wins this season. When he plays well, Butler plays well. Nebraska has to slow him down.

-If They Advance

Should Nebraska take care of business in its opening game, it would then face either TCU or Sam Houston State. Given the fact that Sam Houston State is 172nd nationally on KenPom, Husker fans should be rooting for an upset. Nebraska would be a significant favorite in the second round, should TCU indeed go down.

But assuming it is TCU, Nebraska would have its hands full. The Horned Frogs are 48th nationally on KenPom and enter the NIT with a 20-13 overall record. Additionally, TCU has recorded six wins this season against top 45 teams on KenPom. Considering that the Huskers are 39th in that metric, it’s easy to conclude that TCU is more than capable of beating Nebraska.

The key would be slowing down Alex Robinson. He’s one of the better guards out there and dominates the team’s offensive possessions. Kouat Noi is also a key player for the Horned Frogs. Nebraska’s backcourt would need another quality performance to come out on top here.

After that, Nebraska would likely face Creighton or Memphis. The Huskers blew out the Blue Jays in non-conference play and are rated solidly above the Tigers on KenPom. Even if those games are away from home, Nebraska would have pretty reasonable shot at coming out on top.

If the Huskers win there, the team would make a trip to Madison Square Garden. The top seeds from the other regions are Alabama, Indiana, and UNC Greensboro. Alabama projects to be the first matchup, should Nebraska make it that far.

Overall

Coming into this season, Husker fans were hoping for a lot more than an NIT appearance. This was a team coming off a trip to the NIT with plenty of returning contributors. Unfortunately, those expectations would end up being too high, as Nebraska struggled in Big Ten play. Nonetheless, Nebraska now enters the NIT with a pretty solid path to Madison Square Garden in the weeks ahead.

The main question for Nebraska, though, will be about desire. That might sound like a vague thing to say, but the NIT is largely about motivation. Nobody wants to be in the NIT. As such, it’s not surprising to see squads give less than their full effort. Whether the Huskers make a run will likely depend on whether the team gives its full effort. We’ll have to wait and see if that ends up being the case.