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March 4, 2014

Pressure is on as Huskers look to close season strong

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Tim Miles does his best to not get caught up in the ever-changing NCAA Tournament bubble talk, but even he can't resist peeking at where Nebraska stands in the conversation every once in a while.

With the Huskers still on the outside looking in per most bracketologists, this week could be one of the most significant for the program in recent memory in terms of deciding whether the team will end its streak of 15 seasons without an NCAA Tournament berth. Beginning with Wednesday's road game at Indiana and then the regular-season finale at home against No. 9 Wisconsin on Sunday, Nebraska is could just as easily punch its ticket to the Big Dance or officially burst its tournament bubble.

That being said, Miles's message to his players hasn't changed from what it was back when NU was just starting to make a little bit of noise in the Big Ten a month ago.

"We really haven't," Miles said when asked if he's talked with his team about how important these next two games were. "We just said, 'Listen, play hard and have fun.' We've got to be a great defensive team to win. If we're any less than that we don't have a chance."

Generally speaking, road wins are given a little more value than wins at home when it comes to boosting a team's RPI, making Wednesday night's trip to Bloomington, Ind., even more significant that it already was. That's especially true seeing how the Hoosiers come into the contest having won three of their past four outings and will be playing their third straight game at Assembly Hall.

Of course, given how well Wisconsin has been playing as of late, Nebraska's final regular-season game at Pinnacle Bank Arena carries just as much weight. The Badgers have been one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten, having won seven in a row with a chance to make it eight straight with a victory over Purdue on Wednesday.

"They're both big, and probably almost equal because Wisconsin's going to be two or three (in the Big Ten), and so that's got some weight regardless of where it's at," Miles said. "I think road wins are important. You have to prove you can win away from home. Like I say, this time of year, every time you're either just inside the bubble or just outside the bubble or anywhere, there's 40 teams, 30 teams out there going, we can't afford to lose or we have to win, so what's your alternative?"

For the Huskers to have any chance at winning either of their remaining two games heading into the conference tournament, they'll not only have to continue their stingy play defensively - they've held their past seven opponents under 40-percent shooting from the field - they will also have to find a way to pick up their struggling offense. Nebraska has averaged just 51.5 points in its last two games, including a season-low 49 points in its most recent road trip in a loss at Illinois.

"I think our pace on offense the last two games has been poor," Miles said. "Maybe the other teams having a week off, they looked sharper than we did, just cutting harder into screens, coming off the screens harder. I just think we kind of walk around to our spots, and that's a team to me that needs more inspiration. Maybe they need more rest, but we definitely need a kick in the butt to have a little more pace. Because I think that's been the most disappointing part the last two games, is we just didn't have a lot of pace. For me, pace is not up and down fast-break. It's half-court stuff in how hard you cut, how hard you run into a screen, whatever it might be."

Because it's still unsure exactly what needs to happen for Nebraska to make the NCAA Tournament aside from winning out this week and making a run in the Big Ten tourney, there has been some discussion over whether the Huskers might be better off being the No. 5 seed or higher in Indianapolis and play an additional game as opposed to earning a first-round bye by being one of the top-four seeds. As of today, NU would be the fifth seed with Iowa owning the tie-breaker as the No. 4 seed.

Does Miles have a preference on getting a bye one way or another?

"You'll have to ask me that on Monday or Sunday after the game," Miles said.





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