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Can Nebraska Surprise Fans In The 2020 Big Ten Tournament?

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What will the Huskers do in Indy?

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of your expectations for the Nebraska Cornhuskers this year, there’s no way to describe this season other than a complete disaster. The team lost some embarrassing games out of the gate and never recovered. Nebraska now prepares to enter the Big Ten Tournament having lost 16 straight games.

But can Nebraska reverse that trend in the Big Ten Tournament? Let’s take a look.

-Opening Round

As the 14 seed, Nebraska has the undesirable task of opening up Big Ten Tournament play on Wednesday against 11th seeded Indiana. It goes without saying, but nobody wants to play on the opening day of the Big Ten Tournament, as it requires five wins in five days to hoist the tournament title. Not exactly an easy task.

The matchup against Indiana also looks particularly difficult on paper. The Hoosiers swept the regular season series and will be significant favorites at time. In fact, KenPom gives the Hoosiers 82 percent odds to get the win on Wednesday night. Indiana also enters the game in desperation mode, needing a win or two to secure an NCAA bid.

Perhaps the lone hope here is that Nebraska can mentally “restart,” put the team’s struggles in the past, and tap into some of the intensity it showed in the team’s first matchup against Indiana, when the game went to overtime in Bloomington. Otherwise, expect Nebraska’s trip to Indy to end shortly.

-If They Advance

Should Nebraska pull off the upset on Wednesday, the Huskers would then face six seed Penn State on Thursday evening. It should probably go without saying, but the Nittany Lions would be another formidable opponent. Penn State is 21-10 overall and ranked 26th nationally on KenPom.

From an on-court perspective, Penn State is simply a better team than Nebraska. There’s no matchup or analysis you can use to conclude that the Huskers would be able to upset the Nittany Lions on Thursday. In particular, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins would almost certainly do some major damage inside against a weak Nebraska frontcourt.

Nonetheless, there are are a few things that should encourage Husker fans about a potential matchup against Penn State, namely Penn State’s significant struggles over the last month of the season. Penn State went 1-5 over its last six games and ranked 81st in team efficiency during that stretch. On paper, that seems beatable.

Additionally, Nebraska would have the benefit of confidence and comfort, having played (and won) the day before. Penn State will be coming into its Thursday game ice cold after being off since Saturday. Playing back-to-back games will eventually wear you out, but it takes more than two games to do it. If Nebraska can hit the ground running and get Penn State down, perhaps they can sneak out the upset.

From that point forward, Nebraska would likely have to get through Michigan State or Ohio State on Saturday and somebody like Wisconsin or Illinois in a potential Big Ten Tournament title game. Those games would obviously be major challenges.

-Bracketology Implications

Given Nebraska’s underwhelming 7-24 overall record heading into the Big Ten Tournament, there’s no real hope of the Huskers receiving an at-large bid to any postseason event. Nebraska’s only hope of keeping its season alive will be winning the Big Ten Tournament outright and getting an auto bid to the NCAA Tournament. TRank gives Nebraska just a 0.2 percent chance of even making the semi-finals, so take that as you will.

Overall

Nebraska will very likely see better days ahead with head coach Fred Hoiberg. He arrived on campus with plenty of hype and has a proven track record. Unfortunately, he inherited a ridiculously undermanned roster and had the misfortune of coaching a rebuilding team against an all-time deep Big ten. Fans will hope the team can make a mark in Indy and enter the offseason with some momentum after a forgettable season.