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Nebraska Wisconsin basketball, 1/30

Nebraska coach Tim Miles gives instructions with Anton Gill alongside during a Jan. 30, 2018, game against Wisconsin in Madison, Wis.

As fans and self-styled prognosticators ramp up the hand-wringing over the Nebraska men's NCAA Tournament chances, all the Huskers can do is get ready for the next game with one eye toward the future.

"It's really fun. I feel like this is what we all came here for," senior guard Anton Gill said Monday. "All the transfers, even the younger guys like Tom (Allen) and all of them. This is what the goal was — to be playing in March and be playing for something bigger for the regular season. So we're all excited."

The next step in the Huskers' march comes Tuesday against Maryland. Tip is set for 6 p.m. at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

It is, as they all are, a critical game for Nebraska's tournament hopes. Maryland is 59th in the latest RPI, four spots behind Nebraska. By several metrics, the Terrapins (17-10, 6-8 Big Ten) rank ahead of the Huskers (19-8, 10-4).

"We're the underdog. You look at the metrics, and they're the higher-ranked team in a lot of different places than we are. So we're going to be up against it," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said.

"I don't believe in must-win games. But we know this time of year, when you're on the bubble, it's either you have to win or you can't afford to lose. That's just the way it is. And we have to play as well as we can to put ourselves in a position to win."

The Huskers have been successful in that regard over the past four weeks, with five wins in a row and seven in their past eight games.

A win Tuesday would hold extra significance. It would mark the first time since the 1992-93 season that Nebraska has won 20 games in the regular season, and give the Huskers just their sixth 20-win regular season in the program's 122-year history.

"I kind of like that we hold our own destiny. If we win out, that'll be what, eight, nine games in a row, top four in the Big Ten," Gill said. "So it's hard to look past that and not see a tournament team. And I think that's kind of what we're looking at."

Miles said he doesn't give his team many numbers in regard to where it stands nationally, other than to remind players once a week or so that they still have work to do.

Most projections have the Huskers among the first few teams left out of the field. A website that projects the NIT field had the Huskers as a No. 1 seed in that event Tuesday.

It's no secret that Nebraska's lack of success in its marquee nonconference games led to this predicament. The Huskers also haven't been helped by teams such as Minnesota, which was ranked No. 14 when Nebraska won the teams' matchup in Lincoln, see their season spiral out of control thanks to suspensions and injuries.

Nebraska's Big Ten schedule hasn't done the Huskers any favors either. NU played the league's top three teams — Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue — once each, and all on the road. Maryland, along with Penn State in the regular-season finale, represent the final two chances for anything close to attention-grabbing victories.

"That's just the way it goes. We haven't won enough big games. And there's no doubt we've had some bad luck with our schedule," Miles said. "So we've only had limited opportunities, and we're going to have to make the most of what we do. All we can do is do what's in front of us now with the rest of the league."

So it goes as it has for a while now: just win, baby, and hope it's eventually enough.

"We've known the talent we have, but we haven't necessarily gotten that respect yet," Gill said. "And losing this game does more bad to us than winning (helps). 

"If you want to get to where you want to go, you've got to win it."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7436 or cbasnett@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.

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Husker basketball reporter

A Ravenna native, Chris covers the University of Nebraska men's basketball team and assists with football coverage. He spent nearly 10 years covering sports at the Kearney Hub and nearly four years at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Mo.

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