Minnesota and Nebraska might have each finished in the bottom four of the Big Ten standings during the regular season, but each squad is actually feeling good about itself going into their first-round matchup on Wednesday at the Big Ten tournament in Chicago.
Seeded No. 11 after a 9-11 record in conference play, Nebraska (16-15 overall) enters as maybe the hottest team in the entire league.
The Cornhuskers have won five of their last six games, the latest being an 81-77 road win at Iowa on Sunday.
In late January, Nebraska saw starters Juwan Gary (shoulder) and Emmanuel Bandoumel (knee) go out with season-ending injuries, but it has picked up the pieces in a hot finish.
“This team has a lot of resiliency to it,” Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s been the thing I’ve been the most pleased with this last month of the season. We were down 17 to Wisconsin and eight to Maryland in the last five minutes and found a way to get wins in overtime. Just keep our head up.”
In particular, two players have emerged for Nebraska.
Keisei Tominaga has scored at least 20 or more points in six of Nebraska’s last eight games, while freshman Jamarques Lawrence has scored in double figures in four of the team’s last six games after previously doing so only twice this season.
Despite being the conference’s bottom-feeder all season long, Minnesota is also feeling confident.
The 14th-seeded Golden Gophers (8-21, 2-17) upset Rutgers at home last Thursday to end a 12-game skid and nearly pulled off another upset against Wisconsin on Sunday, losing 71-67 at home.
Leading scorer Dawson Garcia (15.6 points per game) returned to the lineup on Feb. 18 after missing nearly a month with a foot injury. Jamison Battle is averaging 12.8 points per contest.
“I know our guys believe in there,” Minnesota coach Ben Johnson said. “When you give yourself (a chance to win), you have to find confidence in that. Even though Wednesday is going to be a tough challenge, we should go in there expecting to win.”
Nebraska swept both regular-season meetings with the Golden Gophers.
The winner will meet No. 6 seed Maryland in a second-round game on Thursday.
–Field Level Media