Nebraska's body of work is better than its record probably suggests
Yes, the Huskers are 14-10 heading into Thursday's game with Penn State. But seven of their 10 losses are to likely NCAA tournament teams, and they have three top-50 RPI wins, which is more than lots of schools, including Kentucky.
A few minutes after Nebraska, as a 14-point underdog, won at Michigan State on Sunday, I glanced at the Huskers' schedule, noticed something interesting, and tweeted the following:
Nebraska has now beaten Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana, Minnesota and Illinois in the past month. That's a nice run for @CoachMiles.— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) February 16, 2014
Mostly, the response was as I predicted.
But a few readers took the time to point out that beating Indiana and Illinois in this particular season isn't much of an accomplishment considering the Hoosiers and Illini are near the bottom of the league standings and on their way to missing the NCAA tournament. But to focus on that fact -- and, yes, I admit, it's a fact -- is to wildly miss the point of the tweet, because the point of the tweet is this: A school called Nebraska has, in a span of 30 days, beaten schools called Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana in men's basketball, and I can't imagine anybody ever seriously expected to read a sentence like that when the Huskers left the Big 12 and joined the Big Ten two seasons ago.
"It's a unique time," said Nebraska coach Tim Miles. "It's a thrilling and exciting time."
Nebraska started this season with an 8-8 record that included an 0-4 mark in the Big Ten, and, at that point, everybody outside of Lincoln looked away. But now the nation is again focused on Nebraska, thanks to Sunday's victory at Michigan State, and this is a great thing for the Huskers, whose body of work is better than their current record suggests.
Have you looked at Nebraska's body of work?
If not, what I'm about to write will probably surprise you.
Yes, Nebraska is 14-10 overall, 6-6 in the Big Ten, and I realize that doesn't sound like much. But the Huskers have three top-50 RPI wins, and just three losses outside of the top 50, which means they have as many top-50 wins as Ohio State, Virginia, Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut (and one more than Kentucky), and fewer losses outside of the top 50 than North Carolina, Kansas State, Georgetown, Missouri, Xavier and Minnesota.
Seven of Nebraska's 10 losses are to sure-bet NCAA tournament teams.
An eighth came before Thanksgiving.
The other two came on the road in league play.
So, when I frame things like that, how far, really, is Nebraska from the bubble?
Again, the Huskers have just as many top-50 wins as Ohio State, Virginia, Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut (and one more than Kentucky), and they have fewer losses outside of the top 50 than North Carolina, Kansas State, Georgetown, Missouri, Xavier and Minnesota. Each of the schools listed in the previous sentence is either in Jerry Palm's latest projected bracket or featured in Tuesday's Bubble Watch here at CBSSports.com.
So Nebraska can't be far off, can it?
"Look at the details," Miles said. "All the bubble teams would be 14-10 with our schedule."
That's probably way closer to true than false. Either way, here's the good news for fans hoping to watch their Huskers in the Field of 68 for the first time since 1998: Nebraska probably doesn't have to do anything crazy going forward to receive an at-large bid.
"We've been through the most brutal part of our schedule," Miles said.
And he's right.
Five of Nebraska's final six regular-season games are against teams from the bottom half of the Big Ten, and four of the final six are also at home. The byproduct of that is that Nebraska will be favored against Penn State (Thursday), Purdue (Sunday) and Northwestern (March 1), and basically in coinflip-games at Illinois (Feb. 26), at Indiana (March 5) and against Wisconsin on Senior Day (March 9) at Pinnacle Bank Arena, which is why KenPom.com currently projects the Huskers to finish 18-12 overall, 10-8 in the Big Ten.
Will that be good enough?
Who knows? This is obviously a fluid process. But it's Feb. 18, and Nebraska suddenly has a legitimate shot at the NCAA tournament, and that's a pretty remarkable thing for a historically irrelevant program that was picked last in the preseason Big Ten writer's poll.
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