It’s a battle of the bottom as the No. 17 Michigan State Spartans visit Lincoln Saturday night to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Along with Penn State, the teams sit at the bottom of current Big Ten standings with a 0-3 record in conference play. It is worth mentioning, though, that Michigan State has not lost four in a row in Big Ten play since coach Izzo’s second season at the helm in East Lansing. MSU lost five in a row in 1997 and hasn’t lost four games in a row including non-conference action since 2001-02.
Saturday night’s matchup marks the 28th all-time meeting between the two programs in men’s basketball. Michigan State owns the all-time series with an 18-9 record. The Spartans also hold a 10-3 record in Big Ten play since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011 and are riding a six game win streak in the series. Michigan State went 4-0 against Nebraska in the first four games against the new conference foe before dropping three straight games from 2013-14 through the 2015-16 season. and winning the past six games since.
8 p.m. EST/7 a.m. CST
Pinnacle Bank Arena - Lincoln, Nebraska
Play-by-play: Larry Punteney
Analyst: Shon Morris
Online Broadcast: Fox Sports app & foxsports.com/live
TCF Bank Spartan Media Network
Lansing: WMMQ (94.9 FM)/WJIM (1240 AM)
Detroit: WJR (760 AM)
Affiliates: 27 affiliates listed at msuspartans.com
Play-by-play: Will Tieman
Analyst: Matt Steigenga
Host: Dalton Shetler
Online Radio: MSUSpartans.com, TuneIn.com and TuneIn App.
SiriusXM (internet): 957
The Nebraska Cornhuskers sit at 4-6 overall on the season to go with their 0-3 start to Big Ten play. The Cornhuskers have wins over McNeese State, North Dakota State, South Dakota, and a win in a replacement game against NAIA in-state foe Doane after Florida A&M had to cancel due to COVID-19 issues. A close loss to Nevada, along with lopsided losses to in-state rival Creighton and Georgia Tech in their ACC/Big Ten matchup round out the non-conference schedule.
The Huskers feature seven newcomers with prior Division I experience to the roster this season in year two under head coach Fred Hoiberg. This also is another mostly turned over roster on the season after last season’s squad featured just one player with returning minutes in a Nebraska uniform, whereas this year at least features two players who saw significant minutes and starts from last year’s squad. A number of players also sat out last season due to transfers but adjusted to the new system in practice.
This year’s Husker squad is led in scoring by Nebraska native Teddy Allen. Allen is on his fourth school after initial stops to West Virginia after graduating from Boys Town High School outside Omaha, then Witchita State, and finally Western Nebraska Community College. The prolific shooter is averaging 17.7 points per game and has scored double-digits in 11 straight Division I games dating back to his tenure with the Mountaineers. Allen is also third in rebounds with five boards per game and tied for fourth on the team in assists with 1.3. He is shooting 40 percent from three-point range in his first three Big Ten games, making eight three-pointers on 20 shots. However, he has also made eight of his 20 attempts from two-point range in that same three-game stretch and averaging just 3.3 boards in conference games.
Something not particularly common, the Cornhuskers’ starting point guard duties fall to 6-foot-9 sophomore Dalano Banton out of Toronto. Banton is second in scoring with 13.4 points per game, but leads the team in both rebounds (7.5 per game) and assists (4.7 per game). Pittsburgh transfer and junior guard Trey McGowens is third in scoring and rounds out the double-digit scorers for the team with 10.6 points per game.
To be frank as there is no polite way to put it, Nebraska is hands down the worst squad in the Big Ten this year. The Cornhuskers are one of just two teams with an overall losing record at this point, and sit at the bottom of all the major advanced statistical rankings. The Huskers are the only Big Ten team to have a loss to a team outside the top-100 of the KenPom rankings, and sit at 120th themselves (next worst is Northwestern at 54th), 163rd in adjusted offense (next worst Northwestern at 56th), and 100th in adjusted defense (next worst Iowa at 97th). In BPI, Nebraska ranks 124th, whereas the next lowest ranked team ahead of the Cornhuskers is Maryland at No. 51.
Coach Hoiberg likes to rely on three-point shooting with his offense, but so far the Huskers rank 11th in conference matchups for made attempts at 6.7 per game. When combined with ranking dead last at 13.3 made two-point attempts per game, it is no surprise the team has extended scoring droughts. Nebraska is a team made up of respectably talented individuals, but clearly hasn’t figured out how to play together as a team at this point in the season. The average score of 58.7 points in the three Big Ten games thus far clearly shows that.
Despite Michigan State discovering a number of daunting issues needing solving in its own lineup of players, the Spartans have no business losing this matchup given the struggles the Huskers have themselves. Down the stretch in the second half Michigan State should pull away and leave with a comfortable victory margin.
Michigan State redshirt junior Jack Hoiberg is the son of second-year Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg. Jack has played in a total of 33 games at Michigan State thus far in his career, but has started in just one. That game came last season in the sole matchup between the Huskers and Spartans in Lincoln. For a fun recap on that, be sure to refer back to last year’s write-up on the family affair matchup here.