Now the Nebraska women’s basketball team gets to sit tight, get healthy and try to keep some semblance of on-court chemistry. For almost two weeks.
The Huskers bowed out of the Big Ten Tournament Saturday in their 77-64 loss to Purdue. Though football kept me in Lincoln, I watched both the rout over Iowa and the loss to the Boilermakers, and neither result particularly surprised me. The margins did. But not the results.
Purdue and Nebraska had played three straight overtime games heading into Saturday, with the Boilermakers winning two of them. For ten minutes of Saturday’s game, it looked like another overtime game was in the cards. The play was fast, physical and entertaining. Nebraska trailed 22-21.
Then Purdue did something it doesn’t generally do that well: It hit two straight 3-pointers for a 28-21 lead. And once the Boilermakers showed they could hit perimeter shots with some consistency, Nebraska’s defense had to react to it, which opened up Purdue’s inside game with Taylor Manuel and Sam Ostarello, who scored 11 of their team’s final 15 points in the first half.
Nebraska has the scheme and athletes to take away an opponent’s inside game, or an opponent’s perimeter game. But NU is not defensively good enough to take it all away in a single game. The post player depth isn’t there.
Purdue went on to win the Big Ten title and, since it’s beat Nebraska twice during the season, I suspect the NCAA Tournament committee may view the Boilers as the Big Ten’s No. 2 team over NU, which finished two games ahead during the regular season schedule. Purdue surged ahead of Nebraska in the RPI — No. 15 to NU’s No. 19 — and is likely to stay there. If Purdue is a No. 3 seed, Nebraska could get a No. 4. If Purdue slips down to a No. 4, I’d see NU in the No. 5 slot.
So where could be the Husker be headed? As some know, the women’s basketball tournament hosts the first and second rounds at 16 campus sites as opposed to neutral sites. Here’s the campus sites that I think Nebraska can safely cross off the list:
Storrs, Conn. (UConn is a lock as a No. 1 seed, and NU is safely ahead of the No. 8/9 line.
Waco, Texas (Baylor is a lock as a No. 1 seed, and NU is safely ahead of the No. 8/9 line.)
Stanford (Stanford is a No. 1 seed, and NU is safely ahead of the No. 8/9 line).
Columbus, Ohio (Either Ohio State squeaks in, disqualifying Nebraska that way, or Notre Dame, a lock as a No. 1 seed, heads there, and NU is safely ahead of the No. 8/9 line).
Durham, N.C. (Duke, the ACC champ, is a solid No. 2 seed, and NU is safely ahead of the No. 7/10 line)
College Park, Md. (Maryland played Nebraska in the regular season, don’t see NCAA rematching that)
Iowa City (Thanks to sweeping Purdue, Iowa appears a relative lock in the tournament, albeit as a No. 10 or No. 11 seed, so Nebraska’s not going there.)
That clearly leaves a ton of sites open. Ones that I see as likely:
Boulder, Colo. (The Buffaloes are somewhere in that No. 4/No. 5 range, and old Big 12 partner Nebraska would be a good fit requiring mild travel.)
Louisville (The Cardinals are also in that No. 4/No. 5 range once they lose by 40 tonight to Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament)
Knoxville, Tenn. (The Volunteers are right on the line of that No. 3/No. 4 slot.)
Newark (Rutgers, at 16-14, probably isn’t going to make the tournament, leaving this as an open pod)
Of course, other spots could open up, too. Little Rock wasn’t on my radar until Nebraska got placed there, in a seed (No. 6) better than I expected. Not that the seed did NU much good; it drew Kansas in the first round, and NU lost.
Is this Husker team better positioned for a run to the Sweet 16? From a health standpoint, I suspect it is. Ditto on the experience angle.