Nebraska Cornhuskers (7-18, 2-12) vs Michigan State Spartans (17-9, 9-6)
Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 – 7:30 p.m. CT
Pinnacle Bank Arena
Radio: Husker Sports Network
Internet: Fox Sports App
1. Bring it on both ends of the floor
Statistically speaking, there might not be a more difficult matchup on either end of the floor for Nebraska than Michigan State. While the Spartans have lost four of their last five games, they’re still a team that was the nation’s preseason No. 1 and rank among the Big Ten’s best offenses and defenses. Led by All-American point guard Cassius Winston, MSU averages 75.1 points per game, leads the conference in assists (17.6 apg), and ranks second in field goal percentage (.453). Defensively, Michigan State gives up just 64.1 ppg and leads the league in field goal percentage defense (.377), 3-point percentage defense (.289), and blocked shots (5.2 bpg). On top of all that, the Spartans rank second in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (+7.5). In other words, the Huskers need to play their most complete game of the season to pull off an upset tonight.
2. Winston vs. Mack
Tonight’s game will feature two of the most dynamic point guards in the Big Ten when Michigan State’s Winston faces off with Nebraska’s Cam Mack. Both players make everything go for their respective offenses, and both try to do so at a blistering pace. Winston ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring at 18.2 ppg and fourth with 5.7 assists per game, while leads the Huskers with 12.4 ppg and is ahead of Winston with 6.6 apg. That individual battle will be especially interesting when NU has the ball. Mack has been one of the most efficient point guards in the conference, ranking third with an assist-to-turnover ratio at +2.4. On the other side, Winston has feasted on opposing ball handlers with 1.3 steals per game, which ranks second in the league.
3. Hoiberg vs. Izzo
Stylistically speaking, the similarities between what Fred Hoiberg wants to do at Nebraska are striking with what Tom Izzo has thrived on for decades at Michigan State. Both coaches want to play in a track meet, with 3-pointers and layups being the most preferred shots on every possession. The Huskers rank 10th nationally in average possession length at just 15.4 seconds, while MSU is 60th at 16.4. The more interesting layer here is the friendship Hoiberg and Izzo formed in recent years, especially since Hoiberg’s son, Jack, walked on at Michigan State. After Hoiberg was let go by the Chicago Bulls, he spent a lot of time with Izzo in East Lansing and talked shop with the Hall of Fame coach. In fact, Izzo used a few actions that Hoiberg drew up for him during the Spartans’ NCAA Tournament run last season. Tonight’s coaching chess match will be fun to watch.
Michigan State 81, Nebraska 70
Robin’s 2019-20 record: 15-10
vs. the spread: 10-15