With one month remaining until Selection Sunday, the NCAA tournament bubble is beginning to take shape. Bubble Breakdown is the Dagger's daily look at the results that impact who's in and who's out.
They last made the NCAA tournament in 1998. They finished third-to-last in the Big Ten last season. They followed a so-so non-league campaign by dropping their opening four conference games by 12 points apiece.
At no point this winter did it ever seem realistic to suggest Nebraska would be far enough along in its rebuilding process to contend for an NCAA tournament bid until the Huskers forced their way into the conversation Sunday afternoon.
With a 60-51 road win at Big Ten-leading Michigan State, Nebraska improved to 14-10 overall and 6-6 in the conference. In the last month alone, the Huskers have won six of eight and have defeated Ohio State, Minnesota, Indiana, Northwestern, Illinois and now Michigan State.
That resumé probably wouldn't put Nebraska into the field of 68 if Selection Sunday were today, but the Huskers have time to pile up some more wins and a remaining schedule favorable enough to make it realistic. Up next for Nebraska are home games against Penn State and Purdue, followed by a road game at Illinois, a home game against Northwestern, a visit to Indiana and a visit from Wisconsin.
A 5-1 record during that stretch would give Nebraska a 19-11 overall record and a 11-7 mark in the Big Ten, good enough credentials that the Huskers might not even need a league tournament win to snare an NCAA bid. Anything short of that would surely leave Nebraska with work to do in the Big Ten tournament, but that's a heck of a lot better position than where most thought the Huskers would be in Tim Miles' second year in Lincoln.
The key for the Huskers will be avoiding a letdown in their upcoming two home games and giving themselves a bit of margin for error down the stretch. That should be no problem if Nebraska can duplicate the effort it gave Sunday in East Lansing.
Terran Petteway scored 23 points including a back-breaking 3-pointer after the Spartans had trimmed an 11-point second-half deficit to two in the final minutes. Forward Walter Pitchford added 18 points and the rest of the Huskers played relentless defense to harass Michigan State into 34 percent shooting.
It's worth noting Michigan State was without starting forward Branden Dawson and only got an ineffective 19 minutes off the bench from injured point guard Keith Appling. It's also worth noting that Adreian Payne sat for long stretches of the first half in foul trouble and that the Spartans rushed shots and made sloppy turnovers in their haste to come back from their deficit.
None of that should detract from what Nebraska accomplished though. The Huskers secured a win that alters the national perception of what they're capable of accomplishing this season.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK ROSE SUNDAY
• St. John's (17-9, 7-6): Sunday's bubble game with the highest stakes pitted St. John's and Georgetown in a duel of teams that have surged into NCAA tournament contention after being left for dead a few weeks ago. The Johnnies controlled the game from start to finish on their home floor, moving to one game over .500 in Big East play after dropping their first five league games. St. John's probably needed this game more than Georgetown because the Johnnies don't have the quality non-league wins that the Hoyas do. Their RPI was 57 entering the day and their lone top 50 RPI win came against Creighton. As a result, they need to keep winning to feel confident about their chances.
• Oregon (16-8, 4-8): If Oregon is going to salvage a once-promising season after a 3-8 start to Pac-12 play, the Ducks will have to reel off a win streak the next few weeks. They got off to a good start Sunday with a comfortable 93-83 home win over rival Oregon State behind 25 points from Joseph Young. Oregon did not lose a game in non-league play and notched victories over fellow bubble teams Georgetown, BYU and Ole Miss, so a .500 or worse record in the Pac-12 won't necessarily spell doom. The Ducks probably need at least four wins in their last six games to give themselves a chance, and a win over either Arizona or UCLA certainly would help too.
• Minnesota (17-9, 6-7): Having already lost to Northwestern at home this season, the Gophers could not afford another a season sweep. They avoided that fate Sunday with a 64-58 road win fueled by their defense. JerShon Cobb scored 23 points to keep the Wildcats competitive, but the rest of his teammates sank as many baskets in 40 shots as he did in 13. Minnesota's victory keeps it in decent position entering late February. With an RPI of 36 and victories over Wisconsin and Michigan, the Gophers would probably be narrowly in the field as of today, but they need to avoid bad losses and secure one more marquee win to feel secure on Selection Sunday.
BUBBLE TEAMS WHOSE STOCK FELL SUNDAY
• Georgetown (15-10, 6-7): Georgetown could have taken a big step toward the NCAA tournament had it managed to win at St. John's on Sunday. Instead the Hoyas fall back below .500 in the Big East with five league games left to play. What still gives Georgetown a good chance to make the field are three huge non-league wins against Kansas State, Michigan State and VCU. The problem is the Hoyas also already have 10 losses including RPI killers against Northeastern and Seton Hall. Getting to .500 in league play would go a long way toward helping Georgetown but that's no easy task. The remaining games on the Hoyas' schedule include Villanova, Creighton, Xavier and Marquette.
• SMU (20-6, 9-4): Every time SMU seems to be on the verge of attaining lock status for the NCAA tournament, it throws in a terrible road loss just to keep things interesting. First the Mustangs lost at woeful South Florida on Jan. 28. Then SMU fell at last-place Temple on Sunday afternoon even though it had beaten the Owls by 23 just weeks earlier. SMU entered the day with a top 4o RPI and marquee home wins over Cincinnati, UConn and Memphis, so the Mustangs are certainly still in the field as of today even with their bad loss. Nonetheless, they would probably be wise not to take another loss to a team outside the RPI top 100.
More from the bubble breakdown series:
• Saturday, Feb. 15: Disastrous week sends Indiana tumbling out of contention
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