Nebraska-Michigan St. Preview
Few mismatches exist within Big Ten play given the depth of the conference, though Michigan State is in the midst of a seemingly favorable stretch.
The 22nd-ranked Spartans seek their 29th straight home victory over an unranked opponent when they host injury-plagued Nebraska on Sunday night.
Michigan State opened league play with a 76-63 loss at then-No. 9 Minnesota on Dec. 31, but it responded with an 84-61 home win over disappointing Purdue on Jan. 5.
The Spartans (13-3, 2-1) then sent Iowa to 0-3 in conference action with a 62-59 road win Thursday. Nebraska (9-7, 0-3) also is without a victory in conference along with Penn State, which visits Purdue on Sunday before hosting Michigan State on Wednesday.
Branden Dawson scored a career-high 17 points Thursday for the Spartans, who needed a clutch bucket and four free throws down the stretch from Keith Appling to grind out a victory.
Michigan State is one of six ranked Big Ten teams, including three - No. 2 Michigan, No. 5 Indiana and No. 8 Minnesota - in the top 10.
''It's going to be like that every night, pretty much," Appling said regarding the toughness of conference play.
The Spartans have won eight of nine and committed only 12 turnovers for the second straight game, though they still rank last in the league averaging 15.1 giveaways per game.
Michigan State makes up for an inconsistent offense - it's shooting only 43.7 percent over its last four games - with a solid defense that ranks second in both scoring defense (57.8) and opponents' field-goal percentage (37.4).
Coach Tom Izzo knows his team needs more well-rounded efforts going forward in order to keep pace in a loaded conference.
''There's a lot of things we need to get better at," Izzo said.
Michigan State has won 51 of its last 52 versus unranked opponents at the Breslin Center, with the only defeat in that stretch a 61-57 loss to Michigan on Jan. 27, 2011.
It shouldn't have much trouble with Nebraska, which will be without 6-foot-10 senior Brandon Ubel because of a small fracture in his right elbow suffered in the closing minutes of Wednesday's 62-47 loss at Michigan.
Ubel is third on the team in scoring (12.1) and minutes played (32.3) while averaging a team-best 6.8 rebounds. He scored a team-high 13 points as the Cornhuskers shot 29.2 percent and fell 62-34 in the most recent meeting with the Spartans on Feb. 25.
Coach Tim Miles said he isn't sure how long Ubel will be out. Andre Almeida, a 6-foot-11 senior averaging only 16.9 minutes, likely will start in Ubel's place.
The Huskers also will be without reserve guard Mike Peltz, who will have season-ending surgery on his left knee.
"We're going to have to get some guys on the floor that haven't shown the consistency to deserve to be on the floor," Miles said.
Nebraska will rely heavily on guards Ray Gallegos and Dylan Talley, who each are averaging a team-best 13.4 points. Gallegos scored the team's final 13 points and finished with 19 on Wednesday. Talley, though, is shooting only 28.3 percent over his last five games.
"(Ubel) is the biggest leader on this team. Having him gone, other people are going to have to step up, including myself," Gallegos said. "I just have to try and lead them, same with Dylan and Andre, too."
Michigan State has won five of the six all-time meetings in East Lansing, with Nebraska's only victory there coming in 1993.