Michigan State teammates help pick up point guard Keith Appling, center, after he was fouled in the first half against Nebraska on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)
Lincoln, Neb. — Once Michigan State was done with Nebraska on Saturday night — a far tougher task than most people thought — it talked a good game about not overlooking the Cornhuskers and hardly thinking about the fact it faces the No. 1 team in the nation in three days.
It lasted for a little while, complete with the requisite phrases about knowing Nebraska would play tough and that no team can be overlooked.
That's fine, and for the few minutes it lasted, it was perfectly reasonable and likely necessary. It's true, in the Big Ten, no victory can be taken for granted.
But it didn't take long for the talk to turn to Indiana. Much like last Saturday when Michigan State had dispatched Purdue and could turn its attention toward an upcoming game with Michigan, the Spartans again were pressed on another colossal showdown at the Breslin Center.
And in just a few seconds, it was clear where their minds were.
"I'm excited to play at Breslin again," said Adreian Payne, who had just scored 15 points and grabbed a career-best 14 rebounds. "The Bres is gonna be shaking and that's what we came here for. The fans and Spartan Nation will be behind us and will be ready for the game, same as we are."
Yes, as the Spartans went through the process of dispatching the Huskers on Saturday, there's a pretty good chance the Hoosiers snuck their way into the thoughts of some, if not all, of the Spartans.
And that's not exactly the worst thing, and it's absolutely not hard to understand.
In a season of epic showdowns, this will be just another, and this time it comes against the team ranked as the best in the nation.
Even Michigan State coach Tom Izzo couldn't ignore the fact all eyes will be on East Lansing again, much like they were last week when Michigan State rolled over Michigan.
"It's gonna take everything we've got," he said, "but I'm not trying to make it like it's David and Goliath cause it's not. But Indiana is the No. 1 team in the country."
And you better believe the Spartans know it.
They know the Hoosiers are No. 1, and they know they are a minute or two from already owning a victory over the Hoosiers. Instead, they have a five-point loss.
If revenge was a factor, they did a good job of hiding that.
No, this group, one that has done an amazing job of not looking ahead, knows it will take an effort much better than the one put forth Saturday. It will take something on par with what produced the 23-point win over Michigan.
"We have to have (that same energy)," guard Keith Appling said. "Indiana is a very good team and if we come out lackadaisical we're gonna come up short. We don't want that to happen so we've got to come out and play as hard as we can for 40 minutes and see what happens."
There is also the reality the Indiana game is just the first of a brutal four-game stretch, one that includes road games at Ohio State and Michigan and is capped off at home against Wisconsin.
But even discussion of that didn't take long to turn back to the Hoosiers and Tuesday night.
"We have no choice but to let it all hang out each game," Izzo said. "I said all along Indiana was the best team in the league. Them and Michigan were a head above the rest. Indiana, just with its size and depth, they can bring in 9-10 guys. (Victor) Oladipo is shooting better and Yogi (Ferrell) shooting better. They beat you in so many ways. It's going to take an incredible effort by my assistants, an incredible effort by my team and an incredible effort by the fans. I do think they're worthy of their ranking and we're worthy of being a very good team."
How good might just be answered Tuesday. It already has been in some ways with the win over Michigan, but a victory over No. 1 is something different. Michigan State has pulled off the feat just twice in 20 tries. The only time it happened at home was in 2007 against Wisconsin.
This one will be as difficult as any, but if the effort is the same as it was against Michigan, one would wonder why the result couldn't be, as well.
"They're the No. 1 team and they've earned it," senior Derrick Nix said. "It's gonna be a blood bath."
Where have we heard that before? That's right, before the Michigan game.