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2/2 Big Ten Preview: Michigan State Travels to Nebraska

The Spartans and Cornhuskers meet in the only Big Ten game of the night.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

We’re starting to get a little more clarity in the Big Ten race. Wisconsin and Maryland have separated, just slightly. Northwestern and Purdue are lingering within a couple games. Michigan State is only three back, with nine to play. Unfortunately, the Spartans have five of their remaining nine on the road, and have to play Maryland, Wisconsin and Purdue. It’s a great opportunity to move up the standings, but the schedule’s a tough finish.

At 4-1 in conference not that long ago, Michigan State looked like it had overcome a bumpy non-conference schedule. However, the Spartans promptly lost three straight and are clinging to fifth place in the Big Ten, and any slim hopes of making the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan State is in Joe Lunardi’s recent NCAA Tournament bracket (as an eighth seed), but Nebraska’s not. After a great start in conference, the Cornhuskers cooled off to the tune of a five game losing streak. Granted two one-point losses (Ohio State and Rutgers) stung, but Nebraska broke the streak by beating Purdue.

That’s the interesting thing about the Cornhuskers’ season thus far. It features some really good wins (Purdue, Maryland), some OK wins (Iowa, Indiana), but some pretty strange losses (Ohio State, Rutgers). It’s likely too late for Nebraska to make the tournament, nearly winning out and making a run in the Big Ten Tournament might do it though.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the Michigan State-Nebraska Thursday night matchup.

Big Ten Game of the Day:

-Michigan State Spartans at Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Time/TV: 6:00 PM CT – ESPN
  • Covers Spread: Nebraska (-1)

This is the first of two games between these two programs. (They meet again on February 23rd in East Lansing.) It’ll likely be a great atmosphere in Lincoln, which will have an impact.

If Michigan State wins, the Spartans need to lock down Nebraska’s offense, which is 132nd in adjusted efficiency according to KenPom. (Meanwhile, the Spartans have a top-50 defense.) It’s also imperative that Michigan State take care of the ball; something they’ve struggled with at times.

Part of it is pace. Tom Izzo wants Michigan State to run whenever possible, and that could lead to more turnovers. The issue is when it happens on the road, and turnovers embolden the opponent (and the crowd).

For Michigan State, Miles Bridges has really been turning it on lately. He’s scored in double figures five straight games, including 33 points in a loss to Purdue. Beyond his scoring, during the five game streak, he’s had three games shooting over 70 percent from the floor. A great performance from Bridges will be necessary for a Spartan win. He’s playing (pretty significantly) the most minutes on the team, and he’s Izzo’s most dynamic offensive talent.

I’ll be very interested to see how Nebraska’s defense plays. They’ve struggled on that end, and Michigan State will apply stress with their tempo and size. Bridges and Nick Ward are physically imposing.

I’ll go with Michigan State (and grab that point), but I think it’ll be close. The Spartans have a bunch still at stake, and can’t afford to slip, particularly if it wants to make a run at the Big Ten title.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Michigan State