EAST LANSING — With a tough loss, big win and nail-biter victory already in their Big Ten arsenal, the No. 22 Michigan State Spartans (13-3, 2-1) will look to get back to their dominant ways against Nebraska (9-7, 0-3) this Sunday.
The Spartans are coming off of a close 62-59 victory in Iowa City on Thursday, while the Cornhuskers are coming of their second double-digit loss in the Big Ten season by the hands of the Wolverines.
Michigan State will need Sunday’s game, and the following game against Penn State, to iron out some wrinkles on the offensive end before heading into a hectic string of Big Ten matchups.
The Spartans are ranked 117th in the nation in scoring — averaging 70.6 points per contest — and in the last five games they have only broken 70 points once.
It seems like a lot of the Spartans scoring problems are stemming from inconsistency in the backcourt.
Since entering Big Ten play, Michigan State’s leading scorer Keith Appling has been very up and down scoring the ball. Appling — who averages 14 points per game this season — is only averaging 11 ppg in Big Ten season and is shooting 34 percent from the field.
Freshman Denzel Valentine and sophomore Travis Trice seem to have also been bitten by the inconsistency bug.
Trice is averaging 7.6 ppg in the last three Big Ten games, but he is shooting 31 percent from the field. The sophomore from Ohio scored 12 points in 23 minutes in the victory over Purdue, but had two points in 25 minutes in the win over Iowa.
Valentine is averaging five points, four assists and four turnovers since entering Big Ten play. His field goal percentage has been very solid — 63 percent in three games — but the freshman can’t seem to stop turning the ball over.
This offense doesn’t get enough scoring production from other positions to shoot this low of a percentage and have such a high turnover ratio, so these three guards will need to be more efficient in order for the Spartans to not play to the level of their competition (something that happens way too much).
Nebraska will be without their best player forward Brandon Ubel who is out with an elbow injury. The senior averages 12.1 ppg and 6.8 rpg. This is a huge loss for the Cornhuskers especially since the Spartans are ranked 33rd in the nation in rebounds per game with nearly 40.
If the Cornhuskers want to put up a fight they will need junior guard Ray Gallegos to get hot. Gallegos — who averages 13.4 ppg — is averaging about 14 ppg in Big Ten play. The junior is a volume scorer who clearly has the green light — averaging 12 shots per game this season — but has the potential to put a lot of points on the board.
The Cornhuskers are going to have their hands full with MSU freshman Gary Harris who also has been lighting up the scoreboards, but doing so efficiently. Harris is averaging 16 points in the past three games and is shooting 50 percent from the field.
Regardless of the level of their opponents, the Spartans have continued to play at the level of their competition for the majority of this season, and they need to pull out a few dominant victories to build confidence before they get into the belly of Big Ten play.