While the Nebraska Cornhuskers entered this season with underwhelming expectations, many were hopeful head coach Fred Hoiberg could hit on a few under scouted recruits and surprise folks around the Big Ten. Unfortunately, that didn’t end up being the case, as Nebraska has struggled to compete all season long. As a result, the team will now enter this week’s Big Ten Tournament as the 14 seed with a 7-19 overall record.
But can the Huskers surprise in Indy? Let’s take a look.
As the 14 seed, Nebraska has the undesirable task of opening up Big Ten Tournament play in the slate of games on Wednesday afternoon against Penn State. 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.
_________ will be cutting down the nets Sunday? pic.twitter.com/umsMb9qEoV— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) March 8, 2021
Still, the opening round matchup looks intriguing. Nebraska is a pretty significant underdog on KenPom (27 percent odds to win), but it’s not an impossible task. In fact, Nebraska actually beat Penn State on the road in February, so fans have to be somewhat confident in beating the Nittany Lions again.
It’s a little difficult to anticipate what we’ll see out of the matchup itself. Nebraska star Teddy Allen departed the team before the end of the season, so the offense is going to look much different than when the teams met earlier this season. Expect Trey McGowens to carry things for the Huskers and Jamari Wheeler for Penn State. It should be a fun battle.
-If They Advance
Should Nebraska beat Penn State on Wednesday, the Huskers would then move on to face Wisconsin on Thursday evening. Given Wisconsin’s general resume and advanced metrics (11th on KenPom), there’s little debating a win here would be significantly more challenging for the Huskers than Wednesday’s matchup. Wisconsin would almost certainly be favored by double-digits before tip.
This was indicated above, but there’s really no arguing Wisconsin is a better team than Nebraska. The Badgers have five proven senior contributors and a handful of rising underclassmen. Micah Potter is a force down low and D’Mitrik Trice carries things in the backcourt. It’s easy to see why this team has consistently been ranked so high by the computers. The truth is there’s no clear reason to pick Nebraska here.
With all of that said, we shouldn’t get too carried away. Wisconsin isn’t some unbeatable opponent. In fact, Wisconsin has already lost 11 times this season, including some rough losses to team like Marquette, Maryland, and Penn State. And while the Badgers swept the Huskers in the regular season, Nebraska has improved considerably since then.
Nebraska would also have the advantage of already being warmed up before Thursday’s game. The Huskers would be confident and comfortable, having played (and won) the day before. Meanwhile, Wisconsin will be ice cold, having been off since Sunday afternoon. 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 Wisconsin down early, perhaps they can sneak out the upset.
If Nebraska makes it past Wisconsin, it would then face three seed Iowa. This is where the Huskers would really start needing some magic. Not only because the Hawkeyes are significantly better than the Badgers, but also because you’d be asking Nebraska to pull off two substantial upsets in a row. That’s just not something you can reasonably expect from a team. Iowa also destroyed Nebraska in the only regular season meeting between the two.
After that, Nebraska would likely have to get through Illinois on Saturday and either Michigan or Purdue for the Big Ten Tournament title on Sunday. Those potential matchups might be even tougher than the ones we’ve already described.
It hasn’t been a pretty season in Lincoln. However, the team has a chance to put that all behind it with some magic in Indy. The good news is the first round matchup looks manageable and Wisconsin might be a bit weaker than it looks on paper. Things will be tough, but craziness happens in March. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.