Nebraska Cornhuskers 12-0 (1-0 Big Ten) vs. Michigan State Spartans 7-6 (1-1 Big Ten)
When: 3:00 p.m. EST/2:00 p.m. CST
Where: The Breslin Center - East Lansing, MI
TV: Big Ten Network
Online Broadcast: Fox Sports Live/Fox Sports App
Announcers: Chris Vosters (play-by-play), Stephanie White (analyst)
Online Radio: MSUSpartans.com, TuneIn.com and TuneIn App.
After a nine-day break, the Spartan women return to the hardwood to take on the undefeated Cornhuskers of Nebraska at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 30. The game offers a fantastic opportunity for fans to tune in, as it will air on the Big Ten Network, and cheer on the women to victory ahead of the Peach Bowl kicking off at 7 p.m. Michigan State is also 6-1 at home in the Breslin Center this season.
Michigan State and Nebraska both wrapped up non-conference action and begin the remainder of Big Ten play against each other in the sole matchup between the two teams during the regular season this year. It marks the third-straight game in the series at the Breslin Center after last year’s late season game in Lincoln was canceled just hours before tip-off due to contract tracing concerns among the Husker program.
The Spartans lost last season in a close one, falling 68-64. However, the previous matchup in the 2019-2020 season on Dec. 31 was a thrilling 78-70 overtime win by MSU. The all-time series is a short one, and lopsided in favor of UNL, though two of the 13 games have gone to overtime. The Huskers hold a 9-4 advantage overall and have never lost back-to-back games in the series. Michigan State is 4-3 in East Lansing, however.
Nebraska enters the matchup with all of the momentum on the season. With a perfect 12-0 record (one of just five Division I teams still undefeated along with South Carolina, Arizona, North Carolina and Colorado) and a head coach who earned ESPN National Coach of the Week honors last week, most media are focusing on the criticism that Nebraska has yet to be ranked this season.
However, RealTimeRPI ranks the strength of schedule as just 152nd in the country and the wins over top-80 teams in RPI have all been relatively tight. Needless to say, it likely leaves the Husker women hungry to prove the doubters wrong in a venue like the Breslin Center.
Sophomore guard Jaz Shelley is the team’s leading scorer with 14.3 points per game. That puts her at 17th in the Big Ten in scoring. Nebraska also has three players among the top 15 in the league in rebounding. Junior forward Bella Cravens averages 6.8 rebounds, Shelley 6.6 rebounds, and freshman center Alexis Markowski is grabbing 6.4 rebounds per game. That is good for 10th, 12th, and 13th in the Big Ten, respectively. Shelley is also the team leader in assists with 4.8 assists per game, good for seventh in the conference.
As a team, Nebraska leads the Big Ten in scoring margin (+28.1 points per game), rebound margin (+9.9 rebounds per game), and total rebounds (44.8 rebounds per game).
Michigan State, meanwhile, is averaging 76.9 points per game while shooting 46.5 percent from the field, including 37.5 percent from three-point range. MSU is also shooting 78 percent from the free throw line with Clouden attempting more than 40 percent of the team’s free throws.
Speaking of Clouden and her 1,564 career points, she now sits just 25 points shy of Maxann Reese (1996-2000) in the all-time scoring list at Michigan State. Reese sits at No. 9 with 1,589 points. Clouden is also at 381 career assists, good for No. 10 in a tie with Kim Archer (1983-1988). One more assist will move her up to No. 9 on the list. While Clouden can only continue to climb the rankings, she has already secured a rare spot in Spartan history as she joins Tori Jankoska as the only other Spartan to finish her career in the top-10 in scoring and assists.
Q&A With Corn Nation
Jill Heemstra, aka “Ranch Babe,” of Corn Nation was kind enough to do a Q&A with me about the Husker women. You can find my own answers with Corn Nation’s Q&A here.
The Only Colors: Nebraska is one of just two Power Six teams remaining who are undefeated and unranked. Colorado, the other team, was at least briefly ranked in the AP Poll. Is the skepticism of the Huskers justified given UNL has beaten three teams in the top-80 of RPI and are 12-0?
Jill: I’m not put out by the lack of ranking yet, they are getting votes and are No. 7 in NET. The next few games will be important. After the Spartans, the Huskers face three ranked teams (Michigan, Iowa and Indiana) over four games with two of those teams being top-10 (as I write this). That is a killer stretch and will tell us a lot about this team.
The Only Colors: Nebraska features an incredibly balanced attack with seven players having been the leading or co-leading scorer in the 12 games played thus far. What is the secret to try and slow them down defensively? Are there any weaknesses like rebounding, ball security issues, or any other flaws the Spartans could exploit?
Jill: It starts with shutting down Jaz Shelley. The transfer point guard started the season on a tear but teams are keying in on her with mixed success. If the Spartans can slow her down, other Huskers will step up, but if they don’t, she will score at will AND other Huskers will step up — Nebraska is the No. 2 offense in the conference. The Huskers are pretty good at defense too (No. 2 in the conference). Rebounding might be a weakness...oh wait, the Huskers rank No. 1 in the conference for defensive rebounds and rebounding margin (No. 5 for offensive rebounds). Maybe turnovers? Nope, the Huskers have a positive turnover margin and rank No. 2 in the conference for assist-to-turnover ratio. Three point shooting? Nope again. The Huskers have made more three-pointers than any other team in the conference, rank No. 2 in three-point field goal percentage and No. 1 in defending the three point shot. Let’s settle on free throw shooting; Nebraska only makes 71 percent of their charity shots. Again, I should mention that these impressive stats have been accumulated against a fairly weak schedule.
I think that a good transition team can sneak some easy points past Nebraska. Two of the Husker starting guards are excellent rebounders (Shelley and Sam Haiby) leaving Ashley Scoggin to be the main backstop for transition. The Huskers are not always great at offensive rebounds either, the Spartans can probably keep Nebraska from racking up second chance points. Mainly, the Spartans need to be defensive bullies to keep the game low scoring and depend on the offense to hold their own.
The Only Colors: Given the depth of the Big Ten this year, where do Husker fans think this team can finish given the hot start? Is this the year Amy Williams can repeat or best her 2017-2018 season when her squad tied for third in the league?
Jill: I think this team might be better than the 2017-2018 squad, but the Big Ten is better too. It is possible I suppose, but I still think a better than .500 record would be a good showing. I’ll answer this question again in two weeks after that gauntlet the Huskers have to start the main conference schedule.
The Only Colors: Nebraska managed to get the close win, 68-64, last season in East Lansing and fell 78-70 the season before (if I recall, there were heavy complains from Husker fans about biased officials in that loss). But those close games are mostly outliers as seven have been by double-digits in a series Nebraska owns 9-4 overall. Do you think this one is going to revert to the norm of double-digit margins, or will it be another close one? Let’s hear your prediction.
Jill: Suzy Merchant always puts a good team on the floor and MSU is tough to beat at home. This series has gone Nebraska’s way, but you don’t ever underestimate a team with Nia Clouden. A double-digit win would be nice but Nebraska’s toughest competition thus far (Creighton and Minnesota) were only five-point wins.
I think this one will likely be close going into the fourth quarter but Nebraska’s depth will pull them through. I’ll predict a 78-71 win for the team in red.
A big thank you to Jill for talking with me ahead of the game!