Why Nebraska's bubble may have burst with its Big Ten quarterfinal loss

Michigan forward Moritz Wagner, of Germany, dunks during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten conference tournament, Friday, March 2, 2018, at Madison Square Garden in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Only twice since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams has a Big Ten school with 11 or more league wins failed to earn a bid.

Nebraska is in grave jeopardy of being the third.

In what many considered to be a must-win Big Ten quarterfinal Friday afternoon, the fourth-seeded Huskers fell 77-58 to fifth-seeded Michigan at Madison Square Garden. They trailed by as many as 18 points late in the first half and never mounted a serious charge, ensuring themselves an anxious nine-day wait until Selection Sunday.

Nebraska needed to win a game or two at the Big Ten tournament to offset the lack of quality wins on its resume. Some missed chances in non-conference play and a lack of opportunities at home in an underwhelming Big Ten have put the Huskers in worse position than their 22-10 overall record and 13-5 league mark would suggest.

A rout of visiting Michigan last month is Nebraska’s only quadrant 1 win of the season and only victory against a likely NCAA tournament team. The Huskers’ only two quadrant 2 wins came at home against Maryland and on the road at Wisconsin, not exactly inspiring stuff.

The only way Nebraska might get the benefit of the doubt is if the selection committee takes the time to study the intricacies of the Huskers’ unusual resume.

They haven’t won a game against any of the three Big Ten teams ahead of them in the standings, but they faced Ohio State, Purdue and Michigan State once apiece and all on the road. They lost both their marquee non-conference games against Kansas and Creighton, but they had two shots to beat the Jayhawks in the final 10 seconds and they pushed the Bluejays into the final minute in Omaha. They don’t get much credit anymore for defeating Minnesota on Dec. 5, but at that time the Golden Gophers still had Reggie Lynch and Amir Coffey and were ranked in the AP top 20.

If Nebraska’s case is that it’s an NCAA tournament-caliber team without an NCAA tournament-caliber resume, the Huskers’ performance Friday wasn’t the final impression they wanted to leave the committee. They shot 30.2 percent from the field, struggled from behind the arc and surrendered too many open threes to Michigan’s sweet-shooting perimeter corps.

Senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman did the most damage for Michigan, erupting for 21 points and sinking all five 3-pointers he attempted. Moritz Wagner was a tough cover for Nebraska as well as the skilled 6-11 German added 20 points and 13 rebounds.

Nebraska coach Tim Miles valiantly tried to stand up for his team after Friday’s loss, arguing that the Huskers have done enough to make the NCAA tournament field.




If Miles doesn’t get his wish and Nebraska lands in the NIT, Huskers fans can call their friends in Champaign and Columbus to commiserate.

The only Big Ten teams with 11 or more conference wins to miss the modern-day NCAA tournament are Illinois in 1991 and Ohio State in 2016.

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Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!