BUBBLE WATCH: Huskers’ NCAA hopes uncertain despite 20 wins
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — By any measure, Nebraska is having its best season since moving to the Big Ten, from its win total to its RPI and KenPom rankings. It’s unclear whether that will be good enough to secure an NCAA Tournament bid.
Nebraska (20-8, 11-4) has won six straight to reach 20 wins for just the first time in a decade. The Cornhuskers are also a win away from setting a program record for Big Ten wins since joining the league in 2011-12. But they lack any notable wins, played a weak nonconference schedule (ranked 286th) and don’t have much left on the schedule to help their resume.
“All the teams from here on out are playing for something,” sophomore forward Isaiah Roby said. “Every game, it’s like a tournament game. You lose, it can hurt your chances a lot.”
Nebraska sits at No. 52 in Friday’s RPI rankings and No. 54 in KenPom’s rankings, putting the Huskers within reach of their first NCAA Tournament since 2014 and only their second trip in 20 seasons. Nebraska remains the only power-five conference team to never have won an NCAA Tournament game.
But the Cornhuskers are 0-7 against Quadrant 1 opponents in the new tiered system used by the NCAA selection committee to evaluate win quality. Their best win came at home against Michigan (39 RPI) in January, while a December win against a Minnesota team ranked No. 14 in the Top 25 has lost luster as the Gophers (14-14, 3-12) have flopped since.
Nebraska also missed out on a marquee win by losing 73-72 to Kansas at home in December.
As for the remaining schedule, Nebraska has two potential Quadrant 3 games left before the Big Ten Tournament — at Illinois (188 RPI) on Sunday and at home against Indiana (107) — and one that currently sits just inside the Quadrant 2 line by hosting Penn State (73).
“If Quad 1 is the holy grail and the only place that matters, then we have a real problem,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said. “You can still go to Quad 3 and find a top-100 win. We’ve got some very good wins and we’ve won on the road, which is important.
“We’re close. We don’t know where we’re at. Some have us in, most don’t.”
ON THE RISE
Baylor: Scott Drew’s Bears (16-10, 5-7 Big 12, 54 RPI) were going nowhere with six losses in seven games entering February. But Baylor has won four straight since, including against Kansas , for a jolt of hope. The Bears have resume-helping games on the schedule, starting with home games against No. 7 Texas Tech and No. 20 West Virginia.
Houston: Kelvin Sampson’s Cougars (20-5, 10-3 American Athletic Conference, 21 RPI) have won four straight games, including Thursday against No. 5 Cincinnati to add a fourth Quadrant 1 victory.
Providence: The Friars (17-9, 8-5 Big East, 32 RPI) are coming off Wednesday’s win against third-ranked Villanova. And Providence’s five Quadrant 1 wins include a January win against fourth-ranked Xavier.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies (18-8, 7-6 Atlantic Coast Conference, 59 RPI) last weekend earned their biggest win: in overtime at Virginia — the No. 1-ranked team in the AP Top 25, the RPI and the KenPom rankings. And there’s plenty left on the schedule with home games against No. 11 Clemson and No. 12 Duke as well as a trip to Miami (28 RPI).
Boise State: The Broncos (20-6, 10-4 Mountain West, 46 RPI) have lost two straight, including a second loss to No. 24 Nevada in the best resume-boosting chance left on their schedule. Boise State is 0-2 against Quadrant 1 teams.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs (18-8, 6-7 Southeastern Conference, 69 RPI) are running out of time to help their resume and get back to the NCAAs for the first time since 2009. Standing at 2-6 against Quadrant 1 teams, they sure could use a win at No. 21 Texas A&M (Tuesday) or at home against No. 18 Tennessee (Feb. 27).
Texas: Shaka Smart’s Longhorns (15-11, 5-8 Big 12, 57 RPI) are sliding out of contention. They’ve lost three straight and four of five, including against fellow bubble teams Baylor, TCU and Kansas State.
Washington: Four straight wins had helped Mike Hopkins’ Huskies (17-9, 7-6 Pac-12, 53 RPI) stay in the discussion , but they’ve lost momentum with three straight losses, including Thursday at home against Utah .
AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Lincoln, Nebraska, contributed to this report.
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