LINCOLN — Nebraska isn’t the first 20-win college basketball team to suffer a cringeworthy loss this February.
Among this week’s Top 25 teams alone, No. 9 Purdue has fallen to 11-16 Wisconsin; No. 12 Auburn to 13-13 South Carolina; No. 13 Wichita State to 11-10 Temple; and No. 22 Saint Mary’s to 14-13 San Francisco. (Records listed at the time of the game.)
That’s not to diminish the harm of the Huskers’ 72-66 setback to Illinois, which entered Sunday’s game 12-15 and last in the Big Ten.
“It’s tough,” NU forward Isaiah Roby said. “At this time of the season, every loss hurts. It just hurts extra.”
The loss dropped Nebraska (20-9, 11-5) from 55th to 60th in the NCAA RPI, even though NU picked up its first Quadrant 1 victory because Michigan — a 72-52 loser at NU — moved into the top 30 this week.
The national NCAA tournament speculation for Nebraska on Monday was, in a word, gloomy. ESPN analyst and former coach Seth Greenberg said on ESPNU radio, “I don’t see how Nebraska gets in.”
CBSsports.com bracketologist Jerry Palm told the Big Ten Network that Nebraska “hasn’t got much.”
“Nebraska’s loss at Illinois is its worst of the year, their first Quadrant 3 or worse loss,” Palm said. “It was a bad time for that. They beat Michigan at home, but that’s it. And it’s just not enough.”
The Huskers, who host Indiana on Tuesday and Penn State on Sunday, have Big Ten concerns along with NCAA worries.
The Illinois loss allowed Michigan to tie Nebraska for fourth place. That means NU must sweep this week or, with a split, hope for at least one Wolverine loss to hang onto fourth and the double-bye to Friday’s quarterfinals at the Big Ten tournament on Feb. 28 to March 4 in New York.
As of Monday, Nebraska was in position to finish as high as fourth or as low as seventh by the end of the regular season.
“The coaches and the players have both got to find ‘it,’ and not give up on our season,” Roby said. “It’s not over. There’s a big opportunity ahead of us. We’ve got to get back to practicing hard and start another winning streak.”
To start a winning streak, Nebraska will have to end the four-game string Indiana (16-12, 9-7) has going under first-year coach Archie Miller.
The Hoosiers are coming off an 84-82 win at Iowa in which guard Robert Johnson scored a career-high 29 points and tied a school record with nine 3-pointers. The other wins in the streak were over Illinois, Minnesota and Rutgers.
Nebraska has just one day of preparation after travel, but that hasn’t been a problem. The Huskers are 6-0 in one-day prep situations.
Coach Tim Miles said Monday he’s glad there is a quick turnaround from Illinois.
“You don’t want to sit there and feel sorry for yourself,” he said. “While the wounds are still fresh, let’s get out there and battle.”
» Nebraska, after two weeks of getting votes in the Associated Press poll, got none Monday. The coaches’ poll had seven points for NU.
» Last season, Nebraska won at Indiana 87-83 to break the Hoosiers’ 26-game home winning streak.
» Indiana forward Juwan Morgan is one of the nation’s most improved players. The 6-foot-8 junior, who averaged 7.7 points last season, is at 16.6 now.
» A fourth straight sellout at Pinnacle Bank Arena is expected as just a few single tickets were still for sale late Monday afternoon.
Indiana at Nebraska
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena
Radio: 1600 AM, 105.5 FM
Nebraska (20-9, 11-5)
F Isaiah Roby, 6-8, So., 8.1
F Isaac Copeland, 6-9, Jr., 13.0
G James Palmer, 6-6, Jr., 17.7
G Anton Gill, 6-3, Sr., 8.3
G Glynn Watson, 6-0, Jr., 10.6
Indiana (16-12, 9-7)
F Juwan Morgan, 6-8, Jr., 16.6
F Freddie McSwain, 6-6, Sr., 4.1
G Zach McRoberts, 6-6, Jr., 2.6
G Robert Johnson, 6-3, Sr., 13.9
G Devonte Green, 6-3, So., 8.0