WHO: No. 9 Michigan State (21-4, 10-2) vs. Nebraska (13-10, 5-6)
WHAT: Big Ten matchup
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 16, 3 p.m. (BTN)
WHERE: EAST LANSING, MICH. (Breslin Center)
FUN FACT: ONE AND ONLY
Tomorrow’s matchup between Michigan State and Nebraska will be the only meeting between the two schools during the regular season. The Spartans also play Minnesota, Wisconsin and Purdue only once.
MATCHUP TO WATCH FOR: GARY HARRIS (MSU) VS. TERRAN PETTEWAY (NEB)
After an abysmal shooting performance — 3 for 20 from the field and 0 for 7 from the 3-point line — in the Spartans’ 60-58 loss to Wisconsin on Feb. 9, Michigan State sophomore Gary Harris retaliated with 14 points — 6 for 13 from the field and 2 for 4 from 3-point land — in MSU’s most recent victory over Northwestern. Harris has been heralded as arguably the best shooting guard in the Big Ten conference by pundits, and when it comes to the next level, he’s been a projected first-round pick — some say even lottery — for about a year now.
With injuries still plaguing MSU, the Spartans can’t afford for Harris to have an of night — similar to the game against the Badgers — if they want to continue to battle through this nightmare. And while the Cornhuskers find themselves in the middle of the Big Ten standings, they are a team that has reputation for haunting teams this season.
Terran Petteway has been one of the biggest surprises in the Big Ten this year. The 6-foot-6 sophomore is averaging 17.4 points per game (tied for second in the Big Ten with Harris) and 5.2 rebounds per game (third on the team). He’s been the heart and soul of a Cornhuskers team that hasn’t had great success in the win column during conference play, but they’ve played opponents tough over the past few weeks.
Nebraska is 5-3 in its last eight games, and aside from the 79-50 loss to Michigan, the other two losses were by less than seven points — and on the road. The Cornhuskers also have victories over Ohio State, Minnesota and Indiana during that eight-game stretch.
Against four of the Big Ten’s top-5 teams — Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa — Petteway is averaging nearly 15 points per game while shooting 44 pecent (27 for 61) — the same as his season average.
Both Harris and Petteway understand their importance to their teams success, and regardless of the outcome, this will be a battle within the war that could heavily inlfluence the final result.
X-FACTOR: MSU’S TRAVIS TRICE
Junior point guard Travis Trice has been the starter over the past three games for Tom Izzo’s ball club while Appling has sat out with a wrist injury. While Trice hasn’t had eye-popping stats in his three starts, it’s been his efficiency that has been the most impressive. Trice is averaging 9.7 ppg, 5 apg and 0 turnovers since taking over as the starter. And while the absence of turnovers is by far the stat that makes Izzo happiest, his 50 percent shooting from 3-point range (7 of 14) is something to rave about due to the fact he was struggling from the field in the month of January.
Trice doesn’t bring the athleticism and defense that Appling possesses on a nightly basis, but if he can continue to play efficient, than it’s as if the Spartans aren’t losing that much offensively when he is starting.
PREDICTION: MSU 72, NEBRASKA 60