CHICAGO — Fred Hoiberg broached the topic Wednesday night without even being asked.
After his team’s 78-75 Big Ten Tournament loss to Minnesota, Nebraska’s basketball coach had scant hope NU would be playing beyond a half-filled United Center. The 16-16 Huskers’ late run toward making the NIT may fall short because of three other letters that serve as a key metric for determining postseason inclusion and seeding.
“I don’t understand the NET,” Hoiberg said.
The rating is a tool, a metric, for determining a team’s strength. In it, the Huskers rank 92nd, which is generally worse than other “bubble” NIT at-large teams. The event, one notch below the NCAA Tournament, is required to take any regular season conference champions who do not qualify for the NCAA event, but otherwise fills its 32-team pool with mostly Power Six conference teams.
With the losses in the Big Ten Tournament, Wisconsin (NET 81) and Michigan (NET 54) likely fell out of the NCAA Tournament and into the NIT. NU’s loss may have bounced it out of the NIT.
The NCAA uses the NET as a tool to help determine the top teams for seeding and inclusion in the NCAA tournament. One part of the NET system breaks games down into four quadrants, with Quadrant 1 wins being the best and Quadrant 4 victories being the worst. NET rankings are to some degree affected by a team's opponents and margin of victory or loss in games.
NU won six of its last eight Big Ten regular season games, but none by more than 11 points. Meanwhile, the Huskers lost Big Ten games in January and February all by double digits.
Hoiberg speculated that NU’s four-game losing streak that started with a season-ending injury to Emmanuel Bandoumel adversely affected the Huskers’ profile. The Huskers lost those four by 11, 15, 19 and 16 points as they adjusted to the absence of Bandoumel and Juwan Gary.
Fundamentally, he’s right. On Jan. 23, NU’s NET was 92. Six weeks later, it still is.
“We win at Iowa, we go up two spots,” Hoiberg said, bemoaning the small bump. “I just don’t get it.”
Hoiberg noted NU’s rankings in the KPI metric (No. 67) and Strength of Record metric (61). In KenPom, NU is 96th — worse than the NET. And the Huskers’ RPI — 115th — is worse still.
The Huskers’ loss to Minnesota didn’t help matters. The Gophers’ NET is 218, so the defeat went down as a Quad 4 loss — Nebraska’s only such loss this season.
It’s not clear whether the Huskers’ four Quad 1 wins — three of which came on the road — will be enough to offset the big midseason losses and a clunker right at the end.
“Hopefully, somebody recognizes what this team did and sees this is one of the hotter teams — or was one of the hotter teams — in the league,” Hoiberg said. “And they give us a chance.”
* It was one of Keisei Tominaga’s best performances of the year — 23 points — in front of an audience of Big Ten fans who seemed to cheer louder for him than any other player on the court.
Tominaga said he had fun with his team over the last six weeks, when he caught fire and played his way onto the All-Big Ten honorable mention squad. If Nebraska doesn’t make the NIT, and the season is over, Tominaga will have a decision to make about whether he wants to come back to Nebraska or turn pro.
Tominaga received Senior Day honors, Hoiberg said Feb. 27, because his parents were in town and, technically, he’s a senior in academics.
“We’ve talked about the different options that he will have after the season is over,” Hoiberg said in late February, “but there’s been no decision made on what exactly is going to happen on Keisei’s future…there’s pros and cons to both, and we’ll talk about all those and, at the end of the day, make the best decision for Keisei.”