LINCOLN — Somehow, a team that tied for fourth place in the Big Ten is no better than the 17th-best team in the 32-team NIT and will start postseason play on the road.
Nebraska, already disappointed at getting shut out of the NCAA tournament, learned Sunday night that the consolation tournament sent it to Starkville, Mississippi — where it defeated Mississippi State 76-72 in an exhibition game Oct. 22 — as a No. 5 seed for a rematch with the Bulldogs (22-11).
It remains to be seen if Nebraska coach Tim Miles’ blood pressure gets back to a safe range by then. When asked if he thought his program got slapped in the face Sunday, Miles paused for five seconds before answering:
“Yeah, a little bit. I really do feel like we got slapped in the face. It is what it is. We can still do something about it. That’s the good news.’’
Nebraska on Sunday night was 56th in NCAA RPI and 57th in KenPom ratings. MSU was 73rd and 62nd.
Note the NCAA RPI of some other NIT seeds higher than Nebraska: No. 1 Baylor 68, No. 2 Marquette 58, No. 2 Oklahoma State 88 and No. 3 Oregon 72.
“I just don’t know how seeding works in the NIT,’’ said Miles, appropriately dressed in black slacks and a black sweater for the news his team got. “I don’t know what factors are at large.’’
The NCAA paid $56 million in 2006 to take over the NIT. Since then, a committee has chosen the NIT field supposedly based on the principles through which the NCAA field is selected. Among the committee members is Butler Athletic Director Barry Collier, a former coach at Nebraska.
This season, the Huskers posted a 22-10 overall record, a 13-5 conference mark, a tie for fourth place in the 14-team Big Ten and a 9½-game improvement over last year.
Yet a No. 5 seed means that the NIT thinks that Nebraska is somewhere between the 17th- and 20th-best team in the field.
“If there are 16 other teams ahead of us,’’ Miles said, “I’d have a real problem with the committee on that.’’
The Huskers gathered in the players lounge at the Hendricks Training Complex to watch the NCAA show. The word “Nebraska’’ was never uttered during the two-hour presentation.
Miles said he released the players when those results were announced, then stayed in his office to watch the NIT reveal.
What words came from Miles’ mouth when he saw that Nebraska got sent on the road?
“You know I can’t repeat that,’’ he said. “I was surprised. I think the less I say, the better.’’
It’s Nebraska’s first trip to the postseason in four years. The Huskers have a chance to break a four-game postseason losing skid — NCAA and NIT games — that goes back 10 years.
Nebraska’s 18th appearance in the NIT is the most of any Big Ten school. Rutgers is next with 14. The Huskers are 23-16 all time in the NIT and won the 1996 championship.
NU has lost its past three NIT games, all on the road: to Wichita State in 2011, New Mexico in 2009 and Mississippi in 2008. Its most recent victory was in the first round in 2008 at home over Charlotte.
Mississippi State was 17-2 at home this season and 2-8 in true road games.
The first three rounds of the NIT are played on campus sites, with the better-seeded team as the host. The semifinals and final are March 27 and 29 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
One thing of note is that the NIT will experiment with four rule changes from regular NCAA men’s play:
» The games will be played in four 10-minute quarters, not two 20-minute halves.
» The 3-point line will be moved back 1 foot, 8 inches to the international distance.
» The width of the free-throw lane will be set at 16 feet, which is an NBA standard. The college width is 12 feet.
» The shot clock will reset to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound instead of 30.