NEW YORK — The witness stand was a tiny cooler. Evan Taylor leaned back against the glass door, stone-faced, and stated his case:
That Nebraska team that couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn Friday? The one that Michigan ran off the Madison Square Garden Floor?
Wasn’t us, man. Wasn’t. Us.
“The 22 wins overall, 13 in the Big Ten,” the Cornhuskers senior guard mused after Nebraska’s stunning elimination from the Big Ten Tournament.
“We’ve beaten some Quad 1 teams while they were Quad 1 teams, like Minnesota. We took Kansas to the wire. We beat Michigan by 20.
“I don’t think there are 68 teams in the country better than us.”
“But it’s not really in my control.”
It’s not. At all. Not anymore. And that’s what bites. That and the fact that what the Huskers could control went very, very, very, very wrong — the Big Red (22-10), the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tourney, landed on the short side of a 77-58 bashing at the hands of Michigan (26-7).
It was, in no small part, a measure of revenge for the Wolverines — whose 72-52 defeat in Lincoln on Jan. 18 remains the only Quad 1 victory and the only RPI top-50 victory on the Huskers resume.
We could go into minute detail on the Big Red’s strength of schedule, the Big Ten’s poor performance in nonconference games, or the other cement shoes dragging down Nebraska’s NCAA tourney hopes.
Suffice it to say that Michigan, Part II was a must-have win that wasn’t … well, had. And it’s going to be a long, long, nine days, until Selection Sunday. For everybody.
‘I don’t think this game is who we are.’
— Nebraska forward Isaiah Taylor on the Cornhuskers’ 77-58 loss to Michigan at the Big Ten tourney
“I think it’s just the uncertainty,” said Taylor, who came off the bench and finished with 3 points and 4 rebounds in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. “You don’t know what’s going to happen next. And you just hope for the best.”
Hey, a lot of things can happen between now and March 11. Wild things. Crazy things. Wacky things. But the most compelling argument any borderline NCAA tourney candidates can make right now is with their play on the floor.
On Friday, the Huskers decided — literally and unfortunately — to declare that their defense would rest.
“I believe we’re an NCAA team,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said after the contest. “I believe we’ve done enough now. [Friday], we weren’t at our best. And it was a bad time for us not to be at our best.”
And an even worse place. Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen, chairman of the NCAA men’s basketball selection committee, was on hand at MSG, perusing the Big Red in person again. Wonderful.
Hey, Bruce Rasmussen—I think it's nap time for you. Nothing to see here today…trust your eyes for #Nebrasketball in season play for their NCAA Tournament hopes (gulp).
— Jake Sorensen (@937JakeSorensen) March 2, 2018
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE PRETTY PLEASE Bruce Rasmussen let us at least play in the PLAY IN Game in Dayton. I can WISH GO BIG RED!!!!!!
— Doug Anderson (@dandersonradio) March 2, 2018
On the plus side, Rasmussen also attended the Huskers’ 76-64 rout of a good Penn State team at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Feb. 25. The truth is in the middle there. Somewhere. Now: Can the committee handle it?
“I think we’re a good enough team,” said forward Isaiah Roby, who finished with a team-best 16 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks. “I mean, I’m not big on the numbers, or whatever. I don’t know how to calculate if [someone] is a good enough team or not.
“I don’t think this game is who we are. I think we’re a good enough team to make it. And hopefully they would take into consideration our record and some of the wins we have, and also some of the circumstances we got put in.”
Miles second-guessed things, like anyone would, as he sat in the coaches’ locker room after the game. The Nebraska coach recalled that the only time the Huskers could have the Garden for an extended shootaround would be 8 a.m. Friday; given the length of the journey and the time change, Miles elected to pass and let his guys get some extra rest before their Big Ten tourney debut.
Hindsight, naturally, is 20/20 when you turn up at a new building and shoot 23.3 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes.
Wasn’t us, man. Wasn’t. Us.
“And you saw that [tension], it was in our guys’ body language, [the] frustration,” Miles said. “And I think you’ve got to give credit to Michigan on that. But at the same time, when I look at what we’ve done, I don’t think one game undoes what we’ve done all season.
“If we win [Friday], we’re in, I think. You sweep a 5 seed, you had a former Quad 1 win with Minnesota. I think we would be a lock, almost. But now we have to wait it out. And we will.”
Uncomfortably, you’d imagine. Taylor says he’ll do his damnedest to stay off social media, but admits that it’s going to be tough shutting out the other Power 5 conference tournaments next week.
“Personally, I’m a fan of basketball,” the Nebraska guard explained. “I’ll just be worried about us.
“Whatever people are talking about, whether we’re going to get in or not going to get in, it’s just noise.”
Nine days, though.
Nine days of noise.
“That’s life,” Taylor shrugged. “Life is hard sometimes. Life is hard.”
When you’re stuck on the bubble in March, praying for a lifeline, it’s even harder.