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2/23 Big Ten Preview: Michigan State Clings to NCAA Tournament Hopes

Two Thursday night games are on the Big Ten schedule.

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

ESPN clearly doesn’t agree with my ‘Game of the Night’ assessment. Michigan State-Nebraska is buried on ESPNU, while Wisconsin-Ohio State gets the star treatment on ESPN.

From a national perspective, I get it. Wisconsin’s ranked, and has struggled recently a bit, so a road game at Ohio State holds more appeal (upset potential). I guess the game is somewhat intriguing as far as the Big Ten title race goes. (The Buckeyes just aren’t very good.)

But, from a Big Ten perspective, I’m more interested in Michigan State. The Spartans have been inconsistent this year, and really, to stay in the tournament, can’t afford any bad losses. Plus, it’ll be their first game without Eron Harris, who suffered an ugly knee injury. Emotionally and functionally, how will they respond?

So, let’s take a little closer look at the Big Ten’s Thursday Night games.

Big Ten Game of the Night:

-Nebraska Cornhuskers at Michigan State Spartans

  • TV/Time: 6:00 PM CT on ESPNU
  • Covers Spread: Michigan State (-6)

Right now, Michigan State is in the NCAA Tournament as a 10 seed (according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi). However, the Spartans can’t afford to exhale or to lose; much can happen over the last four games (especially with games against Wisconsin and Maryland upcoming).

The Spartans won at Nebraska three weeks ago (72-61). Miles Bridges had 16 points and six rebounds, while the Michigan State bench outscored Nebraska 31-9. The Cornhuskers struggled from the field, and despite a large advantage at the free throw line (22 attempts to six attempts for Michigan State), hit seven fewer from three.

Michigan State ought to leverage its size and athleticism advantage, with Bridges and Nick Ward. Even Kenny Goins scored 10 points (5-for-5 from the field) in the first Nebraska game. For the Spartans, it’s critical to avoid turnovers, which has been a struggle, and really lock in defensively. (Nebraska’s offense has struggled; they’re 310th in effective field goal percentage according to KenPom.)

To win, the Cornhuskers need better offense, but they also need to play with energy on the glass and on defense. (Nebraska’s actually a sneaky good offensive rebounding team.)

Tim Miles has had success in East Lansing. But, I’ll take Michigan State to cover at home.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Michigan State (-6)

The Rest:

-Wisconsin Badgers at Ohio State Buckeyes

  • TV/Time: 8:00 PM CT on ESPN
  • Covers Spread: Wisconsin (-5)

Wisconsin traveling to Ohio State is sort of interesting, but I’m not overly excited. It feels like the Badgers are a lock to cover, despite their recent struggles.

Ohio State has been moving in the wrong direction more recently. The Buckeyes have lost three in a row, and five of seven. The game could get interesting if they’re motivated to beat Wisconsin (just to put a feather in their cap).

The Buckeyes, though, lost the first meet by 23 (89-66). Wisconsin’s struggled since then, but maybe figured out the offense late against Maryland, despite shooting 16 percent from three. Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes both scored over 20. And, Wisconsin dominated the glass, lock in on defense and only committed eight turnovers (a vintage Badger performance).

The game will be tight if Ohio State plays with offensive discipline, and Wisconsin struggles to shoot. (It’s unlikely the Badgers get 37 free throw attempts on the road.)

Normally, I’d lean toward the home dog, but I’ll take Wisconsin to cover.

  • Pick Against the Spread: Wisconsin (-5)