NEW YORK — With more than a week between the end of the Big Ten tournament and Selection Sunday, the league’s only two bubble teams will have a long time to sit and wait to see if the résumé that they have put together will be strong enough to get them a bid to the Big Dance.
And considering that there will be six power conference tournaments played during their week off, it’s hard to imagine that what Nebraska and Penn State are sitting on in the clubhouse will be enough to last. There are going to be a lot of bubble teams playing a lot of games in the next eight days, and rooting for them all to lose is going to be a grueling task.
It will, however, give those two coaches — Tim Miles and Pat Chambers — plenty of time to think about all that went wrong this season, and what they could have done differently.
“I might have switched a screen against Kansas,” Miles said. “That would have made me feel a hell of a lot better.”
Nebraska, after getting smoked by Michigan in the quarterfinals on Friday, is projected by most bracket experts as ending up on the wrong side of the bubble despite a 13-5 mark in Big Ten play. They have just a single Quadrant 1 win — Michigan at home — and will enter Selection Sunday with a 4-9 record against the top two Quadrants with a road loss to Illinois.
“To be 13-5 and we’re sitting here asking if they’re going to be in the NCAA tournament, almost sounds ridiculous to me,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said on Friday.
If it wasn’t for Ohio State, the Nittany Lions wouldn’t even be that close. Penn State has Chris Holtmann’s number. They swept the Buckeyes, beating them at home, in Columbus and in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. That, however, is the only team they beat in Quadrant 1. They’re 3-8 against those Quadrant 1 opponents with just five total wins against the top two Quadrants with a pair of Quadrant 3 losses and the black mark of a Quadrant 4 loss to Minnesota.
“I’m an optimist. I’m very positive. I believe we’re going to be in,” Chambers said, adding that his team has, as he put it, “NCAA tournament talent.”
“You can ask the Big Ten coaches that we played the last month. No one wants to see us in the NCAA tournament.”
Unfortunately, no Big Ten coaches are on the Selection Committee, which is unfortunate because that is what it may have taken for the committee to look at the Big Ten and think of it as anything more than a four-bid league.
Case in point: “I’ve read that this is a decidedly down year [for the Big Ten],” Miles said. “I don’t know who the hell decided that.”
I understand he’s campaigning for inclusion into the dance, so I’ll forgive Miles for this one, but if we’re being honest here, the Big Ten made that decision. And in the end, that may be what the killer is for both of these teams. Losing at home to Minnesota was not, at the time, a terrible loss for the Nittany Lions — not when Josh Reaves was not on the floor. Losing at Northwestern would not have appeared to be a bad loss at the start of the year, not when the Wildcats were projected as a top 20 team in the preseason. A home loss to a program like Wisconsin should not be a bad loss for a bubble team, but it is this season, same with a loss at Indiana.
And that is, quite simply, what it comes down to.
There weren’t enough good wins available in the league, not when the teams that were, and are annually, supposed to be good drove off a cliff.
It was particularly difficult for Nebraska, who only had one game against each of the top four teams in the conference. Three of those games came on the road, and they won the one they got at home.
“I believe we’re an NCAA tournament team,” Miles said. “I don’t think [today] undoes what we’ve already accomplished.”
“We’ve won games away from home. We’ve beaten teams that we should beat. To go through that type of season, won eight of our last nine, we showed we can win away from home. Thirteen league wins.”
If Nebraska didn’t have bad luck, they wouldn’t have any luck at all.
And what that likely means is that Nebraska will have to sweat out eight days of agony before going through the Selection Show without hearing their name called.