At 13-14 overall and 1-11 in Big 12 Conference play, some would say Nebraska has nothing substantial left to play for the rest of the season.
NU head coach Doc Sadler would disagree with those people, though.
Even though the Huskers would need to put together a miracle run through the Big 12 Tournament to have any chance at qualifying for the post-season, Sadler said his team still has no shortage of motivation for its final four regular season games and subsequent trip to the conference tournament March 10-13 in Kansas City.
Along with ending the collegiate careers of seniors Ryan Anderson, Sek Henry and Ben Nelson on a high note, Sadler has his team believing that the season isn't officially over until there are no more games left on the schedule.
Next up for the Huskers is tonight's trip to Ames, Iowa, to take on Iowa State at 6:35 p.m., who sits just one game ahead of NU in the conference standings with a 2-10 league record.
"I think we have a lot to play for," Sadler said. "One thing, for three guys there's only four games left in their college careers. As much as you're around your teammates, you hope that you'll want to play not just for them, but play for your team. I'm not saying I'm real smart, but there's a lot of things that you're still playing for."
With a 1-11 record in the Big 12, Nebraska is dead last in the league standings and would be the 12th seed if the season ended today. However, Sadler said all it takes for any team is to find a way to get hot at the right time and make a run through the tournament
He pointed to a perfect example of just that when Baylor nearly went from the bottom end of the Big 12 standings to the NCAA Tournament after an impressive conference tournament run. After ending the regular season with a 5-11 Big 12 record, the Bears went all the way to the Big 12 title game as a No. 9 seed before eventually losing to Missouri.
"That's the beauty about being in a tournament situation in a league that has a tournament," Sadler said. "I think you always have that opportunity to get hot, and if you do get hot, you could knock somebody else out who's probably more deserving."
Nebraska's players appear to have bought into Sadler's optimism. With heavy outside criticism surrounding the program's recent struggles, the Huskers say they are approaching the final stretch of the season with an us-against-the-world mentality.
"I just kind of brush that (criticism) away," sophomore guard Brandon Richardson said. "It's been a frustrating season, but at the same time, this is the game of basketball. We came here to play basketball. It's not been a great year for us, but at the same time, we still have to drive to compete. That's why I like this group of guys. They're not going to give up, and they're not going to quit. We're just going to keep pursuing it and keep fighting until the end.
"It's about the guys and coaching staff that are here everyday with us. That's all we have to look forward to."
In a season where absolutely nothing has seemed to go Nebraska's way, the fact that the Huskers still put fort an aura of confidence is certainly commendable. That mentality can be directly attributed to their head coach.
"The thing that I've told them is at times like this, you've got to rely on just the people that are in this locker room," Sadler said. "The only people that can make a difference are the people that go up (to Ames) on Wednesday. So if that's us against them or us against the world, I don't know. I don't like our chances against the world. But at least we understand if anything good is going to happen, we're the ones who are going to have to make it happen."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
Because of injuries and the unexpected departure of former guard Lucca Staiger earlier this season, Iowa State comes into tonight's game with just eight scholarship players on its roster. Ss result of their limited numbers, the Cyclones have already had to shorten the length of their practices in recent weeks to avoid over-working the players they do have available. Keep an eye on whether Nebraska tries to take advantage of ISU's lack of depth by running the floor as much as possible and rotating more players in off the bench to match up fresh legs against tired legs.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE HUSKERS:
Senior Ryan Anderson has put together two of the best offensive performances of his career the past two games, scoring 22 points each of Nebraska's losses to Kansas State and Missouri. In particular, it's been Anderson's accuracy from 3-point range that has made him especially dangerous. He's hit 11 of his past 15 from beyond the arc, and needs just five more 3's to move into fourth place on NU's all-time list for career 3-pointers.
WHO'S HOT FOR THE CYCLONES:
Junior forward Craig Brackins may get the majority of attention when it comes to Iowa State, but since the start of Big 12 play, fellow forward Marquis Gilstrap has been equally as productive. The senior has averaged a double-double in Big 12 action with 14.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, including a 15-point, 12-rebound performance in the first meeting with Nebraska in Lincoln.