By Tommy Rezac
On Monday, Nebraska received a season-high 14 votes in the AP Top 25, 18 votes in the coaches’ poll, and are ranked 28th in the Andy Katz’ “Power 36″ on NCAA.com.
Yet, the Huskers (19-8, 10-4 Big Ten) are in Joe Lunardi’s “last four out” on ESPN. With four games left, Tim Miles and his team are only focused on winning out.
“Obviously, right now, we’re close,” Miles said. “We don’t know where we’re at. Some people have us in. Some people don’t. Most people don’t, probably. But, the season’s not over and our chance at a resume is not over.”
Senior Anton Gill doesn’t even look at the projections. It’s too stressful, he says.
“I just try to come in and get ready for practice,” Gill said. “Just take it day-by-day, I guess.”
Nebraska tips off against Maryland (17-10, 6-8 Big Ten) at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. The Terrapins, winners in two of their last three, are in a similar position when it comes to postseason. Maryland’s RPI sits at 59 as of Monday afternoon, just behind Nebraska’s rating of 54.
While the Huskers have been seemingly more trendy, the Terps outrank the Big Red in scoring offense (75-73.7), scoring defense (69-67.1), field goal percentage (48.1 – 43.6), three-point percentage (39.1 – 35.3) free throw percentage (75.3 – 72.3), and rebounding margin (+5.7 – minus 2.2).
“Maryland’s an impressive team,” Miles said. “First of all, we’re the underdog. I mean, look at all the metrics, and they’re a higher ranked team in a lot of different places than we are, and we’re going to be up against it.”
The Terrapins are 4-1 against Nebraska since the Huskers joined the Big Ten, including a perfect 4-0 at Pinnacle Bank Arena. However, Maryland is just 1-7 in true road games this season.
In terms of RPI, Maryland is Nebraska’s toughest opponent remaining, but Penn State, winners in five of their last six, loom large as Nebraska hosts them for Senior Day on Feb. 25. The Nittany Lions throttled Illinois 74-52 in Champaign on Sunday.
“All we can do is do what’s in front of us now with the rest of the league,” Miles said. “Penn State looked terrific (against Illinois). I mean, they are really good, so they’re going to be an important game, too.”
There’s no single “win and you’re in” game left on the schedule, unlike 2013-14 when the 77-68 win over No. 9 Wisconsin on ‘No Sit Sunday’ all but punched Nebraska’s ticket to their first tournament berth since 1998.
No such opportunity exists this season. Rather, it’s going to be a collective effort to try and win out, and then possibly squeeze out some more Ws in Madison Square Garden from Feb. 28 – March 4 in order to go dancing.
“We’re approaching every game, basically like it’s a tournament game,” Gill said. “Like it’s a must win. If you want to get to where you want to get to, you’ve got to win.”
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