I do not envy Nebrasketball. Then again, people rarely do. They have the ignominious honor of being the only Power conference team to never win an NCAA Tournament game. That’s right: They are 0-7 all time in the Big Dance. Even Northwestern won a game when they finally made it. They often languish near the bottom of the league standings and even with decent fan support, there is little payoff.
This is especially true this year, as they had a 27 day COVID layoff and now have a ton of games they need to make up. One of those games was against Purdue. We were originally slated to host the Cornhuskers at Mackey back on January 5th. It was expected to be a needed tune-up game as the lone home game in a five game stretch.
Well, that didn’t happen, and now we need a make up date.
When Nebraska shut down after playing at Indiana on January 10th they had played just 5 Big Ten games. That means to get to the full 20 they needed to play 15 games total between their February 6 restart at Michigan State and the end of the regular season March 7th. They are doing their best, so far:
February 6: at Michigan State
February 8: at Minnesota
February 10: Wisconsin
February 12: Illinois
February 14: at Penn State
February 16: at Maryland
February 17: at Maryland
Tonight marks the near halfway point there, as they agreed to play a doubleheader in College Park to make up their second Maryland game. After tonight they need 8 games before March 7th, and their next game is slated for Saturday in Lincoln against Purdue. That’s 8 games in 16 days.
So when will the Purdue game happen? Well, here is their known schedule:
February 20: Purdue
February 23: Penn State
February 28: Rutgers
March 1: at Illinois
March 7: at Northwestern
The good news is that they already know five of the eight dates. They still have at Purdue, home for Minnesota, and at Iowa to make up somewhere in there. I had originally thought they would play a doubleheader against Purdue Saturday and Sunday with us already being in Lincoln (like they agreed to last night and tonight at Maryland), but with the Penn State game announced for next Tuesday that seems unlikely.
Here is what coach Hoiberg had to say about the make up dates:
Nebraska is then scheduled to host Rutgers on Sunday, Feb. 28, which may be the last day the Huskers can play a home game because the Nebraska high school girls state basketball tournament is scheduled to begin Tuesday, March 2, at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
There is room on the schedule for Nebraska to play a home game Thursday, Feb. 25. NU would then spend the final week of the season on the road. It plays at Illinois sometime during the week of March 1, and at Northwestern on March 7. The Big Ten tournament begins March 10.
After Nebraska’s 64-50 loss to Maryland on Tuesday, Husker coach Fred Hoiberg said it’s possible NU will play “every other day” after its Purdue game Saturday.
When it comes to Purdue, here is our remaining schedule as it stands now:
February 20: at Nebraska
February 26: at Penn State
March 2: Wisconsin
March 6: Indiana
Purdue has a little more flexibility in there with the gap after Saturday and a small gap between Wisconsin and Indiana. Since the game is not likely to be in Lincoln now it means we get to play in Mackey again.
The key phrase in Hoiberg’s statement is “at Illinois sometime during the week of March 1”. With them already doing the Maryland DH after Penn State as a “We’re already on the East Coast, so why not?” There is a nice little slot there were they are already nearby. I can see them playing Rutgers the 28th, moving the Illinois game to the 2nd, coming to West Lafayette on the 4th, then going to Northwestern on the 7th. Their game with Minnesota could be on the 25th as the Gophers are free that day. As for Iowa, who knows? Iowa also has no game right now between February 21 and 28.
I am betting that unless a DH is announced for this weekend soon we will see the Cornhuskers come to Mackey around March 4th. As to why this game would be made up the answer is simple:
Nebraska is not going to the NCAA Tournament, but dragging their exhausted corpse around the Midwest over the next two and a half weeks allows the rest of the league to improve their tournament profiles with raw wins, thus increasing the chances of wins in the NCAA Tournament and further TV shares because teams may have slightly better seeds. In the case of Maryland, getting two wins on consecutive nights lifts them over .500 overall and back into at large consideration. By having Nebraska as a whipping boy to elevate Maryland’s overall record it can even buy the league an additional team in the Tournament. The same could be said for Penn State (though the Nittany Lions did botch their end of the deal by losing to the Cornhuskers on Sunday).
For Purdue, two more wins just makes the record look cosmetically better, and if BOTH were to come in Lincoln the committee can see an additional pair of true road wins and be impressed. The other side of the coin is they are the only two games left where a loss would be considered a “bad loss”.