I am not sure what is more impressive in regards to this game, the fact this is the Michigan State Spartans’s first basketball game in the Breslin Center since Jan. 8 or the fact this is the first basketball game for the Nebraska Cornhuskers since Jan. 10 (and is just the second game since last playing Michigan State over a month ago). Two programs recently ravaged to varying degrees by outbreaks of COVID-19 and the ensuing pauses sitting in the bottom tier of the Big Ten duke it out in game two tonight, however. MSU just in its third game since a 17-day pause in team activities and Nebraska its first since a 20-day pause in team activities.
6:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. CST
Breslin Center - East Lansing, Michigan
Play-by-play: Lisa Byington
Analyst: Stephen Bardo
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
Online Radio: MSUSpartans.com, TuneIn.com and TuneIn App.
SIRIUS, XM, & SiriusXM (internet): 84
The Nebraska Cornhuskers enter this matchup at 4-8 overall and 0-5 in the Big Ten. Following a pause in team activities, the Huskers had just 10 players available in the team’s first practice on Sunday, Jan. 31. Nebraska enters this matchup not having won a single Big Ten game since a 76-70 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes in Lincoln on Jan. 7, 2020. That is right, Nebraska is riding a 22-game conference losing streak right now.
The last time out earlier this season, Michigan State escaped a feisty Husker squad that refused to go quietly as MSU snapped a then three-game losing streak in conference action to leave Lincoln with an 84-77 win. Now the Spartans hope to snap a four-game losing streak in conference play as MSU sits at 8-7 and 2-7 in the Big Ten.
Michigan State leads this one all-time 19-9, including a 9-3 record in East Lansing (no Husker Athletics, the game has never been played in just “Lansing” despite you ignoring my friendly tag on Twitter a year ago mentioning this needed correction). MSU is also 11-3 in Big Ten action, as is Tom Izzo all-time. The teams faced each other six time from 1988 to 1994 when now head coach Tom Izzo was an assistant under then head coach Jud Heathcote.
So how about the Cornhuskers this season? Well, head coach Fred Hoiberg has had a rough start to his tenure in Lincoln. A bleak roster he inherited from former head coach Tim Miles was quickly shown the door for all but two players, only one who saw time in games the season prior, and a makeshift squad of primarily junior college recruits were added to form what people should consider a “year zero” in the truest sense of the phrase. Then this season a lot of promising recruits gained eligibility or were added from the transfer portal yet again. However, this in a year where the Big Ten is at possibly the deepest it has ever been and in a year where a revamped roster is a big disadvantage with the impacts of COVID-19 protocols. Needless to say, it all has added up to a less than stellar start in Lincoln to a far better and more competent hire than Juwan Howard.
The biggest difference Nebraska has as an advantage in game two this season versus Michigan State is the now eligible junior forward Derrick Walker. Walker was serving an 11-game suspension for undisclosed NCAA violations connected to his time at Tennessee last time out against MSU. The forward played against Indiana for the first time since the 2019 NCAA tournament with Tennessee. In that sole game, Walker set or broke career highs in scoring (10), field goals (five), steals (two), and minutes (26) in what was also his first career start.
Beyond Walker, Nebraska is led in scoring by Teddy “Buckets” Allen, a player who would make Carsen Edwards blush at three-point shot selection and frequency to manage his 18.4 points per game average so far this season. To his credit, however, Allen is averaging 40 percent from three in Big Ten action, including three-for-seven against MSU last time out. Of course, he also had three personal fouls, including a flagrant one early on.
Dalano Banton is second in scoring with 12.6 points per game, while leading the team in rebounds (6.8), assists (5.1), and blocks (0.9). The 6-foot-9 point guard out of Toronto certainly helps epitomize the position-less style of basketball the Huskers aim for under Coach Hoiberg.
Between the struggles prior to their pause and the rust Nebraska likely has, this game should probably not be close. I say this knowing full well how badly Michigan State has struggled of late in conference action, but this game has no business being close for the majority of action. Of course, 2021 is fickle and hardly forgiving of how terrible 2020 was on us all.