The eighth-ranked Michigan State Spartans will try to continue as the hottest team in the Big Ten Conference, as they challenge the Nebraska Cornhuskers at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Saturday night.
Michigan State has won four straight games, and 10 of its last 11 to improve to 21-4 overall, with its latest triumph coming in convincing fashion over No. 4 Michigan at home on Tuesday night, 75-52. The Spartans' hot streak has allowed them to move to 10-2 in conference, which ties them with Indiana for first place.
In a Big Ten chock full of outstanding teams, Nebraska has failed to impress, as it sits below .500 overall (12-13) and just 3-9 in league play. The Cornhuskers were able to claim a home win over last-place Penn State last Saturday (67-53), but they fell back to their losing ways at Indiana on Wednesday, ending up on the wrong end of a 76-47 final.
Michigan State dismissed Nebraska in East Lansing on Jan. 13, 66-56, to take an 11-6 lead in the all-time series.
The Spartans impressed at the offensive end against Michigan earlier in the week, shooting 48.4 percent from the floor, but the real story was their ability to stifle one of the nation's top scoring squads. They held the Wolverines to under 40 percent field goal shooting while forcing 16 turnovers on their way to the 23-point statement victory. Gary Harris put on a display from 3-point range, shooting 5-of-9 from beyond the arc for 17 points. Derrick Nix was also solid with 14 points on 6-of-9 from the floor, while Keith Appling and Branden Dawson added 11 and 10 points, respectively. Michigan State is no stranger to outstanding defensive efforts, as it holds opponents to just 58.9 ppg on 39 percent shooting, and it scores more than enough points (69.9 ppg) to keep pace. The team's top scorers reside in the backcourt, with Appling (14.0 ppg, 4.0 apg) and Harris (12.9 ppg, .436 3PT FG percentage) both putting forth strong seasons. Rounding out the starting five is a solid trio of forwards in Dawson (10.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.0 bpg), Nix (9.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg), and Adreian Payne (9.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.2 bpg).
Nebraska had its hands full on the road against one of the nation's elite teams on Wednesday, and it left Bloomington with a 29-point defeat by shooting just 36.2 percent from the floor while allowing Indiana to shoot nearly 46 percent. It was also outscored at the foul line, 24-9, and lost the rebounding battle by a 36-24 margin. Dylan Talley had the only noteworthy performance with 16 points on 7-of-12 from the field. The Cornhuskers are oftentimes able to hold the opposition to low point totals (62.4 ppg), but unfortunately they don't do much to support that defensive effort, as they rank last in the Big Ten in putting up only 58.6 ppg. Talley is the team's leading scorer with 13.2 ppg, but his poor field goal percentage (.359) has been a detriment. Ray Gallegos (13.0 ppg) is active from 3-point range (63-of-207), while Brandon Ubel mans the trenches with 11.6 ppg and 6.9 rpg.