With Tuesday’s rivalry game now in the rearview mirror, the next challenge posed by the schedule might be one of the toughest yet for the Michigan State Spartans.
Can the team, coming off an emotional win over the Michigan Wolverines prior to a huge match up with the Indiana Hoosiers, find enough focus to beat the below average Nebraska Cornhuskers on the road? A month ago, the Huskers pushed Michigan State to the limit at the Breslin Center, adding nervous uncertainty to this return date. Spartan Jump Shots attempts to guard against a let down with today’s preview.
Michigan State’s Key To Victory: Explosive guard play.
In the last match up, the Nebraska guards dominated Michigan State’s to the tune of a 29-17 scoring advantage. Keith Appling and Gary Harris, both coming off fantastic performances against Michigan, cannot let this happen again, much less on the road. The Spartans must play much better defense against Cornhusker guards Ray Gallegos and Dylan Talley, and not allow either the space to make plays in the lane or outside the three point line.
Nebraska’s Key To Victory: Win battles in the paint.
Given Michigan State’s power down low, this will not be an easy task. Last time, Nebraska almost won despite getting no points from their center Andre Almeida and getting outrebounded by five. All in all, that was a decent performance for the Cornhuskers. If they want to upset the Spartans, however, those numbers will have to improve. Derrick Nix will have to be stopped and Adreian Payne controlled, given both splashed in 17 and 14 points the last time around. Nebraska will also have to be watchful of young Matt Costello, who has seen an uptick in minutes and production lately. It will be vital for the Cornhuskers to win a good percentage of these one on one battles with all of these players to have success.
The X-Factor: Matt Costello
A moment ago, we touched on Costello’s surprising impact. Tom Izzo has shown more faith in the youngster, as he played 13 minutes on the road against Purdue and 11 minutes in a big game against Michigan. In both those contests, Costello was important for the Spartans, grabbing rebounds, playing defense and even scoring. Playing against a team short on depth down low, Costello could be the trump card for Michigan State. Knowing they have a capable player waiting to back them up, Nix and Payne might be able to get more aggressive early on. Should the Spartans play with that mindset, they’re likely winning big.
Most Important “State” Stat Of The Game: 8, the number of free throw attempts Nebraska had at the Breslin Center on January 13 compared to 28 by Michigan State. Expect Big Red’s number to rise significantly at home. The Cornhuskers need to attack the lane and attempt to get the Spartans in foul trouble if they wish to win. Whoever wins the free throw line battle (and makes a majority of their attempts) will have a major leg up in the game.
Intangibles: Sandwich game mindset
Michigan State has entered the most delicate part of their schedule. In between the gigantic win over the Wolverines and another Tuesday showdown with the Hoosiers lies this road game with Nebraska. Will the Spartans be focused and impassioned enough to get the job done? Given they’ll want to pull the upset, the Cornhuskers will be impassioned and ready. Michigan State will need to match that intensity from the first minute on in order to avoid an embarrassing and catastrophic loss.
Prediction: Michigan State has too many weapons and is playing too well to fall victim to this road trap. They’ll get pushed a bit by Nebraska in the first half, but the Spartans have too much depth down low and too much big play capability outside. Appling and Harris won’t play as bad as they did a month ago in this match up, and they will be the reason Michigan State wins, along with Dawson’s play. Michigan State sets up a big game next Tuesday with an important win.
Michigan State 70, Nebraska 55
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax