Big 12

Nebraska playing to an NCAA audience

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Nebraska coach Doc Sadler has sorted through the Big 12 bracket scenarios in his head, and he has no problem letting you know that, yes, he's looked ahead.

His Cornhuskers are teetering somewhere near the edge of the NCAA Tournament bubble, and anything less than a deep run here at the Big 12 tournament is likely to relegate his team to the NIT.

So, he says, there's no point in holding in those thoughts now.

If No. 8-seed Nebraska can knock off ninth-seeded Oklahoma State today in the first round at the Sprint Center, Sadler's Huskers will earn one more shot at No. 1-seed Kansas in the quarterfinals.

And in Sadler's scenario, that's one more opportunity to send a message to the NCAA selection committee.

"Most of us sit here and say we don't think (about it)," Sadler said. "Gosh, yeah, we think about it. I mean that's just normal. We had some opportunities going down the stretch and just got beat by some better teams. But now you get another chance."

That's all Sadler could ask for as he stood near the Sprint Center court during the Huskers' open practice session on Tuesday.

Just two weeks ago, the Huskers were 18-8 after a shocking upset over then-No. 3 Texas on Feb. 19 — Nebraska's first win over a top-three team in the Big 12 era.

A collection of winnable games remained on the schedule, and it wasn't inconceivable to think the Huskers could play their way into the NCAA field with a late-season surge.

Well, that was the thought anyway.

But Nebraska stumbled across the finish line, losing at home to Kansas State and road games at bottom-feeder Iowa State and Colorado.

A 69-58 victory over Missouri last week in Lincoln, Neb., provided a few days of hope, but the Huskers must now grapple with their present reality: To keep their NCAA hopes alive, their final trip to the Big 12 Tournament must include a weekend stay.

"We gotta beat Oklahoma State first," said sophomore Brandon Ubel. "But I think we gotta get in the finals at least to try to be in the discussion."

On Tuesday, Sadler talked about dividing the season into four parts: nonconference, Big 12 play, league tournament and the postseason.

And perhaps it's a positive sign that Nebraska — a program with just one 20-win season during Sadler's five years — enters the third leg of its schedule still worried about its final destination.

"If you beat Oklahoma State," Sadler said,"... you've got the best draw that you could ask for. And that's playing Kansas, because them and Texas are the two teams that are in this tournament that you're going to have to beat if you're in our situation."