Nebraska women’s basketball is 21-10 overall and has five wins in the RPI top 50. It went 9-2 in true road games. It finished in a tie for third in the Big Ten, beat the Nos. 4 and 5 seeds on the road in league play, and finished 8-4 in its last 12 games.
Could the Huskers really be left out of the NCAA tournament?
According to ESPN’s Charlie Creme, yes, it’s possible — even if, as of Tuesday evening, he has the Huskers as the last team “in” his bracket.
Tuesday morning, he had them as the first team out. That’s how fluid it is. South Dakota State winning the Summit League tournament title — beating NU coach Amy Williams’ old team, South Dakota — opened up an at-large spot that the Jackrabbits likely would have taken.
Creme already has Dayton taking one of them after it lost in the Atlantic 10 tournament. George Washington, which won the A-10 tournament, gets the automatic bid. Dayton, 23-6 with a RPI of 33, will presumably receive an at-large bid — maybe. We’ll get back to that in a minute.
Even if you think Nebraska is in right now — and I sense NU’s staff and players believe beating Michigan in the Big Ten tournament was the clincher — the Huskers are right on the bubble anyway.
So are many other Big Ten teams. So is Creighton.
The Bluejays helped their cause with a win over St. John’s in the Big East tournament. CU has three excellent nonconference wins — at Nebraska, at Drake and at home over South Dakota State — and just one bad nonconference loss to Washington. Creme has Creighton — RPI 47 — in the tournament. So would I. Ironically, the win at Nebraska is arguably CU’s second-best win all season. No one would have predicted that when it happened.
Then there are four Big Ten teams — Nebraska, Minnesota, Rutgers and Purdue. Creme has Minnesota, Rutgers and Nebraska — in that order — making the tournament. Purdue is out.
The Boilermakers were in Creme’s bracket until a Big Ten tournament early-round loss to Rutgers. Purdue’s RPI is now 61 — behind Nebraska’s 60 — and it is bound for the NIT.
Minnesota’s RPI is up to 41. The Golden Gophers are 23-8 and have four top-50 wins. They had one bad loss in nonconference play — at San Diego — and a couple of OK wins over Georgetown and UNLV. Minnesota also lost at home to Nebraska.
Rutgers’ RPI is up to 40. The Scarlet Knights are 20-12 and have five top-50 wins. This includes three excellent nonconference wins over North Carolina State, Ivy League champ Princeton and Virginia, another bubble team that Creme has in the tournament. Rutgers has one bad nonconference loss to Washington State. Rutgers also lost at home to Nebraska and swooned hard down the stretch, winning just four of its last 14 games. One of those losses — 63-50 at Northwestern — was as bad as a loss gets this time of year. Nebraska men at Illinois bad.
Yet Creme has Rutgers ahead of Nebraska.
Now, before we start hammering away here at ESPN bias, I don’t think there’s any at work here. Power conference teams with a RPI of 40 or better don’t get left out of NCAA women’s tournaments. Since 2013, here are the 40-or-better RPI teams that have been left out. See if you spot a trend:
2017: South Dakota State (No. 38)
2016: UTEP (37) and Western Kentucky (38)
2014: Southern Mississippi (29), Bowling Green (31) and Central Michigan (40)
2013: Duquesne (36)
Since 2013, the highest power-conference RPI teams left out are Michigan (46) in 2017, Duke (47) and N.C. State (49) in 2016 and Minnesota (47) and Ohio State (49) in 2014.
So the cut-off seems to be about 45. Rutgers will test that barrier, and Rutgers darn well should, with a 4-10 record in its last 14 games. Nebraska finished four games ahead of the Scarlet Knights in Big Ten play. NU beat Rutgers head-to-head — at Rutgers. Rutgers was pummeled twice by Ohio State (22 and 25 points) and twice by Maryland (28 and 18 points). Nebraska lost four games to those teams, but all four were more competitive than Rutgers’ four losses.
So what commends Rutgers? Simple. The RPI. Which is fueled by three nonconference wins.
One would think the Big Ten would prefer Nebraska — with a far superior showing in league play — get the nod over Rutgers. But the league will probably just push for both equally, right?
If Rutgers gets in over Nebraska — which could happen and is predicted — it probably needs to prompt a long conversation with NU and the league on how a No. 9 seed — which exited the league tournament in the quarterfinals — is somehow preferable to the NCAA committee than the league’s No. 3 seed that made the semifinals.
But it may not come down to that. There are two other résumés to examine:
USC: 49 RPI, 20-11 record, just two top-50 wins. USC’s best nonconference win is by 12 over Purdue. Nebraska beat Purdue by 24. The Trojans do have a lot of quality losses — that aren’t wins — and a couple of wins over Washington State, which beat both Nebraska and Rutgers .
Creme has USC as his first team out of the tournament. Oddly, on Monday, USC was in. Nothing changed for USC between Monday and Tuesday.
Dayton: The Flyers have made seven of the past eight NCAA tournaments, so maybe it’s just a foregone conclusion that they’re in. But a glance at the résumé makes you wonder.
Dayton has one top-50 win — over Virginia. (Which is that top-50 RPI team that didn’t really beat anyone but has great losses.) Otherwise, Dayton has a lot of respectable losses. Quinnipiac and Green Bay are the best teams in their respective leagues and both have top-40 RPIs. South Florida is a potential Sweet 16 team.
Now — does Dayton’s relative lack of bad losses offset all of Nebraska’s good wins? That’s a question.
In the past, selection committees have seemed far less concerned with doing right by mid-major teams. But Dayton is a mid-major that’s made seven of the past eight NCAA tournaments. Are the Flyers graded on the same curve?
This stuff is fascinating to me because you can make strong arguments for both sides. Nebraska has a compelling case for making the tournament. If the women’s selection committee used the quadrant system — which it doesn’t — the Husker women would have seven (!) Quadrant 1 wins:
At Drake (RPI 70)
At Minnesota (41)
Vs. Iowa (21)
At Rutgers (40)
At Iowa (21)
At Michigan State (65)
Vs. Michigan (39)
That’s a slam dunk for the NCAA tournament. Nebraska’s women played 13 Quadrant 1 games and finished 7-6. The Husker men finished 1-6. (Side note: Nebraska’s men are headed for the NIT, y’all.)
Rutgers would have been 5-8 in Quadrant 1 games. So the Scarlet Knights weren’t bad.
But Dayton? The Flyers would have been 1-4.
And USC? Hoo, boy. 0-10.
But the women’s selection committee didn’t adopt the quadrant system.
So it looks like it may cut both ways for the Nebraska basketball programs. What hurt the men would have helped the women, but the women don’t get the advantage of the metric.
That’s the way it goes sometimes.
Still, Nebraska’s probably in. For now. Unless something bad happens. That’s life on the bubble.