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BASKETBALL PREVIEW: Nebraska

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The Spartans face a must-win at home against the Huskers

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

So, it’s come to this: a must-win home game against Nebraska.

Needless to say, there have been better days for the Spartan Basketball program but the team must carry on and try to secure the school’s 20th straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. The first step back to the promised land comes against the Cornhuskers who, at 12-14, don’t have much more than pride to play for.

If there is a mental edge to be had, it should belong to the Spartans. Between playing for their injured teammate, Eron Harris (knee), being planted firmly on the bubble and the fact Nebraska has won in East Lansing each of the past two seasons, there is no lack of pre-game speech material.

Which side will emerge victorious in this clash of the “teams that are not really very good”? Who knows, but let’s guess!


The Basics

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The Numbers

  • Record: 12-14 (6-8 Conference / 3-6 Road)
  • Best Win: @ #20 Purdue (RPI: 16), 83-80
  • Worst Loss: vs Gardner-Webb (RPI: 215), 62-70

Since Last Time

  • 2/18 — @ Ohio State, W 58-57
  • 2/14 — vs Penn State, W 82-66
  • 2/9 — vs #7 Wisconsin, L 69-70 (OT)
  • 2/5 — @ Iowa, L 70-81

The last time these two teams met, the Huskers had just shocked the Big Ten by knocking off #20 Purdue. However, that unexpected win came in the midst of a brutal 1-8 stretch that included a loss at (remember to breath) Rutgers.

Quick sidebar — I don’t know what’s worse: the fact that someone actually lost to Rutgers in a sport or the fact that Nebraska-Rutgers was a BIG TEN BASKETBALL GAME THAT HAPPENED IN REAL LIFE.

I realize it has been years since expansion took root, and these teams have played before, but it feels so gross. You can’t convince me that when Jim Delaney saw “Nebraska at Rutgers” on the Basketball schedule, he didn’t have even the briefest “What have I done?” moment. The man does have a soul, but I digress.

During that horrible stretch, Nebraska’s record went from three games over .500 to four games under, but Tim Miles has righted the ship of late. After falling by a point in overtime to #7 Wisconsin, his team has won two straight, over Penn State and Ohio State, two teams that have beaten the Spartans this season.

Combine those wins with early season road W’s in Bloomington (beat IU 87-83) and College Park (beat Maryland 67-65) and it’s obvious that this is a talented, if wildly inconsistent squad.

They’ll have to bring a better effort than they did in Piscataway if they want to win tonight.

Huskers To Know

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Guards Tai Webster and Glynn Watson Jr. get all the headlines and deservedly so. The backcourt duo account for almost 32 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists a game and represent the only two double-digit scorers on the team. If they’re not going, neither is Nebraska. But there are two other players that will probably cause issues for MSU; Ed Morrow and Jordy Tshimanga.

Morrow, a sophomore from Chicago, missed a seven-game stretch, including the previous game against Michigan State, with a foot injury. The 6’7” 234-pound forward is both a capable scorer and rebounder — his 2016-17 season high in boards (18) almost matches his 2016-17 season high in points (19) — and he brings size and toughness the Spartans didn’t see from the Huskers last time. It’s no coincidence that Nebraska has pushed Wisconsin to the limit and beaten Ohio State and Penn State since his return.

The 6’11” 275-pound Tshimanga has heated up of late, as well. His last showing against OSU was a dud (0 points, 4 rebounds) but before that, the freshman center was averaging 10.8 points and 8.5 rebounds over his previous four games, including a career-high 15 points and 9 rebound effort against MSU.

The two guards might do the bulk of the scoring, but Morrow and Tshimanga are the type of players that have given Tom Izzo nightmares all season and will probably do so again this evening.

How Do The Spartans Match Up

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

I feel bad airing any grievances about Miles Bridges.

The freshman is a future lottery pick, otherworldly athlete and has carried his team to several victories.....but sometimes he falls in love with the deep ball.

Case in point: last game against Purdue, he shot twice as many triples (6) as two-point shots (3). Granted, he is shooting 40.6% from deep and scoring in the paint against Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas is no picnic, but he’s put up at least four triples in each of his last nine games. That is a problem, one that is exacerbated by the structure of this team.

Without any real frontcourt depth, Bridges is forced to play out of position at, more-or-less, power forward. Without a dynamic guard to consistently create lanes for him below the elbow, his scoring tendencies become that of a combo guard but because he isn’t a great ball-handler, he ends up settling for a lot of three’s.

Now, if he had Gavin Schilling out there to help Nick Ward out on the offensive glass? Sure, shoot away and they’ll clean up the mess. If there were fewer players on the roster whose main/only value to the team wasn’t (for better or worse) shooting open three-pointers then by all means launch! That, however, is not the case.

This team needs him driving to the basket for a variety of reasons.

1) To get more efficient shot attempts

2) To get opposing bigs into foul trouble

3) To create space for the glut of players who are out there to shoot (Ellis, Langford, McQuaid — they’re not a bunch of Ray Allen’s but that is their biggest asset to the offense)

Is it what’s best for Miles? Probably not, but it is what his team needs from him right now if they want to make it to the tournament.

This is has been “Austin complains about the best player on the team and feels bad about it”. I’m sorry.

Prediction

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Spartans haven’t been the most focused team this season but with only a few games left to earn a tournament berth, they are going to have to start playing with a sense of urgency. We didn’t see it against Purdue, but I think that type of play starts tonight — limiting turnovers, not settling for shots and playing more cohesively on defense.

Morrow, Tshimanga and Michael Jacobson make this a tough matchup for MSU physically, but at this point in the season, there are other factors that can win you games. This time it’s Izzo’s experience.

MSU 74 Nebraska 69