Pick – Analysis
Nebraska had a great non-conference, but already sits with three Big Ten losses, which is three more than Michigan State. Of course, anyone can pile up losses in this Conference and that’s exactly what happened to the Cornhuskers as Four of their first six Games were on the road. They’ve at least rebounded since those losses highlighted by Monday’s excellent 66-51 win at Indiana.
As for the Spartans, they’ve rolled through a somewhat easy early Conference slate with a trip to Ohio State being the most difficult, though they also had tons of tests in non-Conference and already lost to Kansas and Louisville. They battled with OSU and were actually down by seven points at halftime until they put things together. The problem for this Game is that guards Joshua LAngford (28.6 mpg) and Kyle Ahrens (19.8 mpg) are likely out with injuries. LAngford has missed the last Four Games while Ahrens didn’t play at Penn State on Sunday.
Those absences mean more time for senior Matt McQuaid along with freshmen Aaron Henry, Gabe Brown and Foster Loyer. All of them played well in the win, but Pinnacle Bank Arena will likely bring more pressure as the Huskers still haven’t lost at home. Not to mention, not many PSU fans showed up to Sunday’s Game with the Philadelphia Eagles in action at the same time.
Nebraska has the roster to take down Michigan State, it’s only a matter of getting the job done at home. The Cornhuskers have the bodies down low to deal with Nick Ward and Xavier Tillman as Isaac Copeland and Isaiah Roby bring experience, while Tanner Borchardt and Brady Heiman bring a little more size off the bench. Copeland’s (14.3 ppg) and Roby’s ability to step back and shoot threes could be an issue for Ward, who struggles to defend bigs that can stretch the floor. The loss of LAngford could also be problematic in defending leading scorer James Palmer (19.0 ppg), who does a lot of his damage by getting to the free throw line. McQuaid and Henry will likely be the two that are asked to mark him after they did a great job on Carsen Edwards a week ago.
However, the backcOurt battle goes to Michigan State because while Glynn Watson (13.5 ppg) is playing well for the Huskers, he’s struggled in previous matchups. In last year’s trip to East LAnsing, Watson had just six points and shot 2-of-11 from the field. Cassius Winston is the logical player to defend the point guard, but he may be tasked with the less offensive Thomas Allen to help save energy.
And while the Cornhuskers have some matchup advantages, they don’t have anyone to stop Winston, who has been excellent averaging 17.6 points and 7.4 assists per Game. He runs the show for the Spartans while Ward does the dirty work down low. Nebraska may have some bodies, but stopping Ward is something only Kansas and Texas have done this season, and that was back in November. Plus, Nebraska ranks terribly in defensive rebounding percentage (13th in Big Ten), which could be a huge issue against Ward and Tillman. The key for the Spartans will be to again get production from McQuaid and a couple freshmen in bigger roles. McQuaid has double digits in three of the last Four Games while Henry may be the best rim attacker on MSU. Then there’s Tillman, who will have a few pounds on whoever Nebraska throws at him.
Nebraska still hasn’t lost at home and has the team to upend a rolling Michigan State. If not, the Cornhuskers definitely won’t have a chance of winning the conference. But if the freshmen struggle for the Spartans and Nebraska can contain either Winston or Ward, there will be plenty of chances for an upset.
Our Pick – Nebraska +2