When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena
Radio: 590 AM (Omaha), 1400 AM (Lincoln)
Online stream: foxsportsgo.com
2018-19 record: 15-2, 6-0 Big Ten
Offensive efficiency (KenPom): 3rd
Defensive efficiency (KenPom): 9th
Trending: Up. Way up. The Spartans haven’t lost since Nov. 27. In that span they’ve handled Iowa, Florida, Ohio State and Penn State. They outscore opponents by an average of 18.7 points. Most recently MSU beat Penn State — which Nebraska struggled with — by 15 on the road. They’re atop most Big Ten statistical categories, both offensive and defensive. Tom Izzo has his guys playing tremendous basketball.
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Players to watch
» Junior guard Cassius Winston has turned into arguably the best point guard in the conference over the last few weeks. He scores 17.6 a game with 7.4 assists and 2.4 rebounds. He had 13 points and 12 assists against Northwestern, then followed that with 25 and 23 points against Ohio State and Purdue. He can pick teams apart in every conceivable way. Glynn Watson will have his hands full.
» Nick Ward is a problem down low. The 6-foot-9, 245-pound junior is a force defensively and shoots 65.4 percent from the floor. He scores 16.6 a game with 6.9 rebounds. He's a double-double waiting to happen and could seriously hurt the Huskers in the paint.
» With Joshua Langford out, Michigan State will likely start Aaron Henry, a 6-foot-6 freshman from Indianapolis. He played 25 minutes and scored seven points against Penn State on Sunday. Nebraska could exploit that matchup, but then again, you don’t start for Izzo as a freshman if you’re a chump. Matt McQuaid is also worth watching. He’s a senior sharp-shooter who makes 47.4 percent of his 3-point shots.
Three keys for Nebraska
1. Accept you won’t win the rebound game. Be so good at something else it makes up for it. If Nebraska hits 15 3-pointers, it won’t matter how many rebounds Michigan State gets. If Nebraska scores 25 points in transition, it won’t matter how many offensive rebounds MSU snags. Don’t try and beat Michigan State at their own game. Counter it with something they have to stop.
2. Treat this like a road game. Start hot, make Michigan State come from behind. This game will be so much easier for Nebraska if it is up most of the game. That’s the case for most games, but Nebraska has to keep its head above water. Like Tim Miles said, the Spartans are sharks. And they can bury teams in four minutes. Nebraska has to stay afloat.
3. Take Winston out of the game. He’s MSU’s leading scorer and averages 7.4 assists per game. Pressure him and Michigan State gets a little worse. You have to hope he has an off night, but Nebraska also has to make his life difficult.
Vegas: Michigan State is a 1-point favorite
KenPom: Michigan State wins 74-73
Chris Heady’s take: It’s easy to imagine Nebraska winning this game, sending the hype for this season into the stratosphere. But it's also hard to picture Nebraska actually winning. Michigan State is so good at taking away your strengths. They’re so big, they rebound so hard, they move the ball. On paper, Michigan State should win by 15 on a neutral court. But at PBA? That’s what makes this game so interesting. There are special nights at The Vault, and this seems like it could be a good one. For that reason, I think it’s close, despite how great Michigan State is. But give me the Spartans 65-58.