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No. 9 Michigan State suffers worst loss of the year to Nebraska at home

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Terran Petteway scored 23 points and hit a pair of ridiculous threes to stave off No. 9 Michigan State’s comeback attempts as Tim Miles’ Cornhuskers picked themselves up a statement win by going into the Breslin Center to knock off the Spartans, 60-51.

Nebraska isn’t quite on the bubble yet, and while this win certainly will put them within striking distance, the bottom line is that this was a program win. Nebraska has a tough home court. They can play with anyone in Pinnacle Bank Arena, especially when it’s packed, but going into the toughest environment in the Big Ten?

Beating Tom Izzo in his own building?

That’s not something that anyone can do.

The future is bright in Lincoln, but that’s not the biggest story coming out of this game.

Michigan State has now lost four of their last seven games. Granted, they are not playing at close to full strength just yet. Two of those losses came without Adreian Payne in the lineup. One of them came with Keith Appling on the bench. He returned to action today, but came off the bench, played limited minutes and was largely ineffective and clearly not at 100%. Branden Dawson is still a week away from returning from his broken hand.

In fact, I think you have to go all the way back to their loss to North Carolina, when Gary Harris was battling an ankle issue and Appling first injured his wrist, for when the Spartans were last completely healthy.

That’s more than two months ago, which begs the question: How do we judge this team when it comes to the tournament? They beat Kentucky in the Champions Classic and they beat Oklahoma in Brooklyn, but beyond that, everything that they’ve done this season has come without one of their Big Four players in the lineup.

The eye test — and common-sense — will tell you that a team with that much talent and a head coach the likes of Tom Izzo will be an immediate tournament favorite, but can we really seed a team in the Big Dance based off of that? The Spartans need to prove it with results on the court, they’ll have a chance to in their last four games.

Here is the remainder of Michigan State’s schedule: at Purdue, at Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, at Ohio State. Appling should be back to 100% by next weekend, when Sparty makes the trip to Ann Arbor, and Dawson shouldn’t be out of the lineup much longer than that. They’ll play some tough games with their entire roster, which means that they’ll have a chance to show the selection committee what seed they deserve.

Because on Sunday, it was quite evident just how badly the Spartans miss Appling’s presence at the point.

Credit where credit is due: Nebraska played a heckuva game. But Michigan State made it easy on them. Outside of a 12 minute stretch in the middle of the second half, the Spartans put on a clinic on how to play dumb basketball. They forced quick threes, they committed costly turnovers, they took shots that were too difficult with time left on the shot clock. It seemed like every big possession for the Spartans, every chance they had to take firm control of the momentum, ended up poorly.

Nebraska didn’t make many mistakes. They didn’t turn the ball over and they didn’t let the Spartans get much, if anything, in transition. It all came in the half court, and Michigan State’s execution was, frankly, not good for most of the game.

When that happens, all it takes is a couple of ridiculously difficult threes to end up on the wrong side of an upset.

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.