Spartans on Cornhuskers: 'Can't sleep on any team'

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Nick Ward (44) and Michigan State will ride a 10-game win streak into Thursday's matchup at Nebraska.

East Lansing — Breaking down film of its next opponent is standard practice at Michigan State.

Like most other teams around college basketball, the work in the film room is vital to getting prepared for quick turnarounds, especially now with the Big Ten playing 20 conference games.

On Monday, however, the Spartans took advantage of a lull in the schedule by watching their next opponent — Nebraska — as the Cornhuskers hit the road to take on Indiana.

“Almost everyone on team last night watched that game,” senior forward Kenny Goins said. “Not whole game but three-fourths until it was really out of hand.”

What No. 6 Michigan State watched was Nebraska walking into Bloomington and knocking off the Hoosiers, leading for nearly the entire game and never truly being threatened. It was the second straight win for the Cornhuskers (13-4, 3-3 Big Ten), who started slowly in conference play but have begun to look more like the conference contender many thought they would be.

The Spartans, who take on Nebraska at 8 p.m. Thursday in Lincoln, have been paying attention to the entire Big Ten, a conference many believe might be the toughest in the nation.

And what they’ve seen is what they’ve understood since Big Ten games began back in late November — don’t take any team for granted.

“You can’t sleep on any Big Ten team,” junior forward Nick Ward said. “On any given day you can get beat."

Michigan State admitted it might have had a problem with that at different points in non-conference play, but the Spartans are confident there will be no looking past any team at this point in the season.

“We got caught up with that a little bit earlier this year, not being ready or not taking a team seriously,” Goins said. “It seemed like it was a couple guys at different times, so we’ve tried to correct that just by explaining there are not any off nights in the Big Ten this year.

“We’ve got a million different good teams and players that are ready every time they step on that court.”

More: Predictions: Will MSU, UM be unbeaten in Big Ten when they meet?

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Nebraska fits the bill as one of those teams. The Cornhuskers were picked by many to contend this season in the Big Ten, and despite losing three of their first four conference games, they’ve gotten their record back to .500 and are riding a bit of momentum.

The Huskers also happen to be welcoming Michigan State during a 20-game home winning streak, which matches a program record that dates to 1967.

“They’re embracing that they’re a good basketball team,” junior guard Cassius Winston said of Nebraska. “It seems like the year before they had good players, maybe a couple good pieces, and they were satisfied with winning, just being in the conversation. Now they’re playing like they want to be at the top of the league and that mindset makes a total difference.

“It’s a really good team, really good players and they’re embracing that they’re a good basketball team.”

Michigan State (15-2, 6-0) will face Nebraska without guard Joshua Langford (ankle) for the fifth straight game and likely without guard Kyle Ahrens (back) for the second straight game. It’s a matchup that could provide the toughest test the Spartans have had this season, but a win will keep them tied atop the conference standing with Michigan.

And while being near the top of the standings matters, it does come with the added incentive of battling for first place with the Wolverines. If both teams keep up the pace they’re at right now, it could lead to huge implications when the rivals square off twice in the final two weeks.

But getting tough road wins like at Nebraska comes first, something the Spartans understand.

“We’re trying to win every single game, focus on each and every game,” Winston said. “That’s how you get in the situation where you can be a 1-seed (and win the Big Ten), if you focus on each game at a time, play best in that game.

“It’s gonna be tough. We got a tough stretch ahead of us. It’s not gonna be easy, but if we just focus on one game at a time and keep adding win by win, the wins add up and you’ll put yourself in a great situation.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau