Fred Hoiberg looks on the Nebraska men's basketball team as the Huskers defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes 83-69.

Can Nebraska Basketball make the NCAA Tournament?

The Fred Hoiberg era at Nebraska has been nothing short of interesting. Hoiberg replaced Tim Miles in 2019; saying it was a rough start would be an understatement. In 2019-2020, the Huskers went 7-25; in 2020-2021, Nebraska finished season 7-20. Despite landing Bryce McGowens, a five-star guard and ranked in the Top 25 in the 2021 class, the Huskers finished with only 10 wins. However, something changed last season. In February 2023, Hoiberg and Nebraska were sitting at a 10-13 record. The Huskers only lost three more times the rest of the season and finished .500.

After showing at least some improvement every season, now, in 2024, Nebraska has a 16-7 record with a serious case of an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. The question is, can the Huskers make the tournament?

Can Nebraska Basketball make the NCAA Tournament?

The Vault

If you have seen the headlines, you would know that Nebraska seemingly can’t lose at home at Pinnacle Bank Arena, better known as the Vault. This season, the Huskers are 15-1 at the Vault, including two top-10 victories over the No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers and No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers. The game against the Boilermakers was in dominating fashion, 88-72. Nebraska was down by 25-19 with under six minutes left in the first half, but the Huskers came storming back and took a 41-30 lead at the half. Nebraska didn’t look back and took down the No. 1 Boilermakers.

It was the first No. 1 ranked opponent the Huskers defeated since 1982.

Now, the game against the No. 6 Badgers was different. Wisconsin was up 43-27 at the half, and the Badgers had a 19-point lead at one point. However, the Huskers came storming back in the second half and went to overtime with the Badgers at home for the second straight season. Like 2023, the Huskers took advantage of the extra period and Nebraska took down No. 6 Wisconsin 80-72.

The only loss at home came against in-state rival Creighton Blue Jays 89-60, where Nebraska had one of its worst performances, shooting 2-22 from three-point range and 34% from the field. Hopes were crushed after that pitiful performance, but since then, the Huskers have proved to be nearly unstoppable at home.

Road woes

Despite being nearly unstoppable at home, it has been the opposite on the road. Nebraska is 1-6 on the road this season, with its only win coming against the Kansas State Wildcats 62-46. The Huskers’ losses on the road include the Minnesota Golden Gophers, Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins and No. 14 Illinois Fighting Illini. The losses to the Gophers, Scarlet Knights and Terrapins sting a lot. In all three of these games Nebraska had a lead but blew it. In the game against Minnesota, Nebraska held a 39-24 lead at the half but lost 65-76. Against Rutgers, the Huskers had a chance in regulation but lost it in overtime 82-87. Despite holding a 12-2 lead early against Maryland, Nebraska stood no chance, losing 51-73. 

However, things may be looking up for Nebraska. Despite being down 10 points with just three minutes left against the Fighting Illini, the Huskers forced overtime. Nebraska stayed within striking distance but just fell short 84-87. The fight that the Huskers showed gives some hope going forward. 

Tournament bound?

As of February 7, the Huskers have been projected as an at-large bid, ranging from an eight seed to 10 seed in the national tournament in March. Something that has been helping Nebraska in that is their three quad-one victories on the season. That number could increase to four if Kansas State can build off their victory over the Kansas Jayhawks on Monday. Through the games on February 6, the Huskers are No. 52 in the NET rankings and No. 47 in the Kenpom. 

What will be important for Nebraska down the road will be to continue their dominance at the Vault. The Huskers have four home games left against all quad-two or three opponents. Winning at least three or all four of those games will be important. Nebraska also has four winnable away games left as well. The question is, will the Huskers get a win on the road? If anything has been proven in the Big Ten this season, getting wins on the road has been tough. Just ask Purdue; their two losses in conference play have been on the road. 

The Big Ten tournament will be important as well. It seems that Nebraska falls short every season in the Big Ten tournament. The Huskers haven’t won a Big Ten tournament game since 2019. As it stands, Nebraska will have a first-round bye in the tournament and isn’t too far from a double-bye. However, a double-bye won’t benefit the Huskers as it would make it difficult to win a game. 

Making “March Madness” would set the program in a great direction heading into the future and winning a game could change things forever. It is a testament to how hard the team has worked this season. Look at junior guard C.J. Wilcher. Wilcher has been at Nebraska since the 2020-21 season. Now he could potentially make the tournament on the best team since 2014. Wilcher has been the spark off the bench for the Huskers this season and especially against the Badgers last week. He led the comeback in the second half, finishing with 22 point and 5/7 from three. 

So, can the Huskers make it to the NCAA Tournament? The short answer would be “yes”. However, there is a lot of work to do on closing the regular season out strong, starting with Wednesday’s game against the Northwestern Wildcats. 

Main Image: © Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

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