Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Texas A&M Aggies Pick & Prediction MARCH 22nd 2024

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MEMPHIS — Most of the time, when a team from one of the major conferences gets an NCAA Tournament bid, the reaction is happy but understated. Especially when that team owned high expectations coming into the season.

But at Texas A&M on Sunday, the Aggies celebrated like a mid-major when they found out they earned the No. 9 seed in the South Region opposite No. 8 Nebraska for a Friday first-round game in Memphis.

And after the road they took to get to this point, who could blame them? They were ranked 15th when the season started, reached No. 12 just before Thanksgiving and then fell out of the polls for the rest of the campaign after a Dec. 10 home loss to Memphis.

A five-game losing streak to end February appeared to play them into contention for the three-letter tournament. Then Texas A&M suddenly pieced together five straight wins, including a neutral-court defeat of Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference quarterfinals.

Goodbye bubble, hello field of 68.

“The reaction you saw from the guys,” said coach Buzz Williams, “was raw and genuine. We’re excited and we’re grateful. It’s been a crazy last five and a half weeks but I’m thankful for their resiliency and their resolve. We’re grateful that we get to keep playing.”

And the Aggies (20-14) are playing with their best player playing at the top of his game. Guard Wade Taylor IV is coming off consecutive 30-point efforts that included six 3-pointers in both games. Taylor has been a high-volume shooter this season without the efficiency but has still averaged 18.9 points per game.

Tyrece Radford is scoring 16.0 points per game on the year and also stepped up his game in the SEC tourney, averaging 19.7 points and living at the foul line.

Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers (23-10) are making their first NCAA appearance in 10 years and are chasing history. They have never won an NCAA tourney game (0-7).

Fred Hoiberg’s team earned this seeding, though, going 12-8 in the Big Ten Conference with big home wins over then-No. 1 Purdue and then-No. 6 Wisconsin. They were finally able to play the free-flowing, high-scoring style of ball Hoiberg envisioned, averaging 77.6 points and placing four players in double figures.

Hoiberg took time after Saturday’s 98-87 loss to Illinois in the Big Ten semifinals — the first time Nebraska’s even been to that point in this conference — to praise his team for what it’s done.

“I’m proud of our guys for accomplishing something that has never been done in the history of Nebraska basketball,” he said. “We’re going to have the opportunity to continue to compete and hopefully make a little run.”

Keisei Tominaga leads the team in scoring at 14.9 points per game, while Bradley transfer Rienk Mast adds 12.5 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds. Brice Williams chips in 13.1 points and Juwan Gary hits for 11.7.

The winner advances to the second round Sunday to play eitherf top-seeded Houston and No. 16 Longwood.

–Bucky Dent, Field Level Media

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