LINCOLN, Neb. — Three years ago Nebraska entered the Big Ten Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country.
Fresh off of a win against No. 9 Wisconsin, the Huskers were 19-11 and on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
Three years later, any and all momentum gained by that regular-season run and eventual NCAA Tournament bid is gone.
The Huskers are 12-18 on the year, the worst regular-season record since hiring coach Tim Miles five years ago. They enter the Big Ten Tournament on a four-game losing streak, each of those losses coming by more than 15 points.
Can Nebraska salvage its season this week? A preview of what awaits Nebraska.
The only way Nebraska makes the NCAA Tournament is if the Huskers win the tournament, which isn’t likely. An NCAA Tournament at-large bid is out of the question, and even an NIT bid is highly unlikely. So the only realistic goal for this tournament is to string together a few wins to build for the future.
If Nebraska is going to vault into next season with any momentum, or any optimism, it’ll come from good showings by sophomores Glynn Watson, Ed Morrow, Michael Jacobson and freshmen Jordy Tshimanga and Isaiah Roby.
Nebraska will play in the first game of the tournament against Penn State. The Nittany Lions are 14-17 this season and have lost five straight games.
Nebraska beat Penn State in the only matchup between the teams this season. The Huskers won 82-66 at home.
Watson and sophomore Jack McVeigh led the way in that game, with 15 points apiece. Senior guard Tai Webster and Tshimanga both added 12 points.
Nebraska held Penn State to shooting just 39 percent from the floor and 4 for 20 from 3-point range. Nebraska has struggled recently to guard the 3-point line. That will be key in Round 1.
If Nebraska wins its opener, it will face Michigan State, which Nebraska lost to twice this season. If the Huskers get by the Spartans, they will take on Minnesota, which beat Nebraska on March 2.
Nebraska would then have to likely get by Purdue, which Nebraska did beat on Jan. 29. A win and Nebraska would likely have to play Wisconsin or Maryland. The Huskers beat Maryland at the beginning of conference play and lost to Wisconsin in overtime.
So, if Nebraska can get by Penn State, Michigan State and Minnesota, its final two games could be against teams it has already beaten.
Player to watch
Webster’s 30-game double-digit scoring streak was snapped on senior night. He only scored 8 points in his home finale.
Surely, Webster will want to solidify his legacy in this tournament. With Nebraska’s post-season hopes dwindling, Webster will have to play his best ball of the season for Nebraska to have a shot.
Nebraska is 12-18 on the season and 6-12 in Big Ten play.
The Huskers began the Big Ten season 3-0. It was the first time a Nebraska team began conference play 3-0 in 40 years. Since, Nebraska has gone 3-12 in the Big Ten.
Nebraska should be relatively healthy for the tournament.
The Huskers will likely start Webster, Watson, Jacobson, junior Evan Taylor and Morrow. Morrow and Tshimanga could switch, depending on what Miles is thinking.
McVeigh will come off the bench, as will Roby and freshman Jeriah Horne.
Nebraska is led in scoring by Webster, who averages 17 points per game. He also leads the team with 4 assists per contest.
Behind Webster is Watson, who averages 13 points per game. They are the only two players who average in double digits. The Huskers shoot 41 percent from the field and 31 percent from behind the arc.
Nebraska played Penn State in this same seeding matchup in the Big Ten Tournament before. The Huskers, the 12 seed, played Penn State, the 13 seed, in the 2015 Big Ten Tournament. Penn State won 68-65.