The No. 10 Michigan State Spartans are back in the familiar confines of the Breslin Center in East Lansing with a visit from the Nebraska Cornhuskers scheduled for Wednesday night. The game is the only scheduled matchup between the two conference foes during the regular season.
Tomorrow’s game is the lone home matchup for Michigan State in a three-game stretch over seven days. Similarly for Nebraska, it is the second game in a seven-day stretch, but the first of two home games. Michigan State enters the matchup following a win at Northwestern on Sunday afternoon and will head to Ann Arbor on Saturday for an afternoon game against in-state rival Michigan. Nebraska, meanwhile, hosted a rusty Ohio State squad in an overtime loss for the Cornhuskers on Sunday night, and will hit the road for East Lansing on Wednesday and then visit Rutgers for a Saturday afternoon game.
The Huskers continue to struggle under third-year head coach Fred Hoiberg. After being hired to replace Tim Miles following the 2018-2019 season, Hoiberg has gone 20-53 in Lincoln to date during his time leading the program. While UNL forced overtime against Ohio State this past Sunday, the Buckeyes were coming off a weeks-long pause as a result of COVID-19 issues within the program. The rust certainly proved a factor to the advantage of Nebraska in that one. Additionally, the loss of senior guard Trey McGowens to a broken foot in November has hurt the Huskers at point guard. While McGowens is expected back later this month, the offense has struggled with ball movement during his absence.
Despite the struggles, some of the Huskers are putting up noteworthy numbers. Eight different players for Nebraska have posted double-doubles in the first 14 games of the season thus far. Five-star recruit and freshman guard Bryce McGowens leads the team with 15.8 points per game. That ranks Bryce McGowens third nationally among freshmen in scoring, trailing Auburn’s Jabari Smith (16.2 ppg) and Duke’s Paolo Banchero (17.1 ppg). The younger McGowens is also second on the team in rebounds and assists, averaging 5.9 boards per game and 1.6 apg.
Transfer graduate point guard Alonzo Verge leads the team in assists and steals, with 5.8 helpers and 1.6 steals per game, while ranking second in scoring with 15.6 points per game. He is third on the boards with 5.5 rebounds per game. Verge has posted three games with at least 10 assists, which is tied for third nationally, and matches Kentucky’s Sahvir Wheeler for most of any Power Six player. He is also currently the only Big Ten player this season to average at least 15.0 points, 5.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game. He joins Duke’s Wendell Moore and Wake Forest’s Alondes Williams as the only power conference players posting those figures.
Finally, Tennessee transfer Derrick Walker is one of just 11 players nationally who is shooting better than 70 percent from the field and the free-throw line. Among the Big Ten, only Purdue’s Zach Edey is in that club. Walker is averaging 9.4 points per game and leads the team in rebounds with 6.6 boards per game. He is also averaging a team high 1.3 blocks per game.
Nebraska’s offense focuses on three-point shooting as an emphasis, but as a team has been struggling from deep. On the season, the team is hitting just 27.9 percent of its shots from deep. Xavier transfer guard CJ Wilcher is the highest percentage shooter from three-point ranger, averaging a mere 36.1 percent. In December against Power Six opponents, the Huskers went 31-of-134 from three-point distance (23.1 percent). Only one game saw UNL dip just slightly above 30 percent (31.8 percent against Auburn), while the team hit just 14.3 percent and 17.9 percent against Michigan and Kansas State, respectively, in home matchups at that.
As a program, though, Nebraska is no stranger to upsetting a Michigan State program. UNL has just three wins over top-10 teams on the road. One of those wins came at Michigan State in a 60-51 victory over then No. 9 MSU in February 2014. Another almost top-10 win came in a close 72-71 victory against the then No. 11 Spartans in East Lansing in January 2016. Michigan State is riding an eight-game winning streak in the series, however.
The keys to victory for the Spartans will be to limit turnovers on offense and going after second chance points. Nebraska is a poor rebounding team, so combining that advantage on offensive possessions to maximize efficiency while preventing baskets down low for the Huskers on the defensive end will quickly put this game out of reach. Forcing Nebraska to rely on contested outside shots has proven to be a game-winning strategy for opponents thus far on the season.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-8, 0-3 Big Ten) vs. No. 10 Michigan State Spartans (11-2, 2-0 Big Ten)
When: 7:00 p.m. EST/6:00 p.m. CST
Where: Breslin Center - East Lansing, Michigan
TV: Big Ten Network
Online Broadcast: Fox Sports Live/Fox Sports App
Announcers: Brandon Gaudin (play-by-play), Robbie Hummel (analyst)
Radio: 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/Internet: Channel 84 (Sirius) and Channel 84 (SiriusXM App)
All-Time Series: MSU leads 20-9
Record in East Lansing: MSU leads 10-3