Michigan State lost at home to Nebraska Wednesday night 72-71 for its third loss in a row. So it’s time to worry about the Spartans, right?
No way. Not a chance. We’ve seen this flick more than a few times before with Tom Izzo teams. In fact, we’d go as far as saying if there was ever a three-game losing streak that would cause less concern than this one, it’ll be hard to find.
Though Darnell Valentine is back, it’s crystal clear he is still working back to his previous level, and the Spartans have hit a speed bump. Most notably, Bryn Forbes is 3 of 15 from three-point range in the last three games, and Lourawls Nairn has battled a foot injury all year and missed his second straight game Wednesday night. The bench also has provided little at times, a concern especially if Forbes is having one of his occasional off nights shooting.
Give credit to Nebraska, too. Shevon Shields was sensational-28 points-and this was the Cornhuskers’ third straight win in the series over the Spartans. Quietly, Tim Miles’s team is now 4-3 in the Big Ten after four straight wins, three of them on the road.
MSU lost to the Huskers just over a year ago, though-perhaps the highlight of a rough 13-18 year for Nebraska-and it hurt the Spartans so much that they advanced to the Final Four. In fact, Michigan State posted more disappointing losses like this one later last season.
There was a 59-54 defeat to Illinois on Feb. 7. The Fighting Illini went on to become a first-round loser in the NIT. There also was a Feb. 26 loss in overtime to Minnesota, a team that didn’t even make the NIT. Oh yes-both games happened at the Breslin Center.
If you want to go back before last year, the 2013-14 Spartans lost seven of 12 coming down the regular season stretch before getting healthy and advancing to the Elite Eight. The year before, there was a three-game losing streak late in the regular season before a run to the Sweet 16. All the way back in 2009-10, Izzo’s bunch lost three straight late in the regular season, flamed out in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament…and went all the way to the national semifinals.
It’s natural to be concerned in the moment, but we know from earlier this season just how good Valentine can be. And we know from seven Final Four appearances that Tom Izzo’s teams routinely play their best in March and April. It’s possible that perhaps Nairn doesn’t return at all, the reserves stagnate, and State never recaptures its form from earlier this year, when it was arguably the best team in the country. But we wouldn’t bet on it. Michigan State will be just fine.
- In honor of the 60th anniversary of the Philadelphia Big 5, the Palestra went old school with one of the doubleheaders that once were a staple of the series and the building. Temple continued its mini-roll, winning for the fourth time in five games by beating La Salle 62-49. Tough year for the Explorers, who had just seven scholarship players, played the starting five for all but six minutes and on offense simply bled the clock most possessions before shooting very late. In the second game, Saint Joseph’s disposed of Pennsylvania 75-60.
- Texas became the latest team to beat a top 10 team on the road, winning at West Virginia 56-49. Strange game, felt like the Mountaineers just never had their usual intensity. Credit a good share of that to the Longhorns for dictating this game and keeping WVU from doing so.
- North Carolina eased past Wake Forest 83-68. Brice Johnson was back to dominating with 27 points and 11 rebounds. Also: how is it that Nike has made the beautiful Carolina Blue look so dull on the UNC home uniforms?
- Villanova and Seton Hall put on another terrific game, with the Wildcats pulling it out on the road 72-71. Ryan Arcidiacono scored the go-ahead layup with 32 seconds left and the Wildcats posted their third road win against an RPI top 50 team. Few are more battle-tested than Jay Wright’s team.
- Baylor is now atop the Big 12 after outlasting Kansas State 79-72 in overtime. This one wasn’t pretty, and the Bears’ 16-for-29 performance at the free throw line doesn’t inspire confidence, but there’s no apologies for wins in the Big 12.
- VCU continues to roll-make it nine straight wins now after a 93-71 roll over Duquesne. We always enjoy seeing good bench production, and Doug Brooks and Justin Tillman combined for 31 points in reserve roles in this one. Seven of those 10 wins are by 16 points or more.
- Wichita State also stayed hot, pulling away late to beat Northern Iowa going away, 74-55. Ron Baker scored 21, while the Panthers continue to sputter when Wes Washpun isn’t dominating. Also in the Missouri Valley, Southern Illinois won again, moving to 17-3 with a 79-66 win over Indiana State.
- Later in the evening, UCLA outplayed Oregon State all the way in an 82-73 win, continuing the Bruins’ up-and-down season with a terrific win here. Isaac Hamilton continued to shine with 25 points. Speaking of foul foul shooting: the Beavers hit 12 of 24 from the charity stripe here.
- High Point is now tied with UNC Asheville for the top spot in the Big South after defeating the Bulldogs 73-69. John Brown scored 26 points.
- Terrible news from Tuesday night as Colorado State forward Emmanuel Omogbo lost his parents and twin daughters of his sister in a house fire in Maryland. Omogbo’s sister-the mother of the twins-survived. Omogbo played in the Rams’ 83-79 win over Air Force last night and is averaging 11.4 points and 7.4 rebounds this year. In compliance with the NCAA, CSU has established a GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/Omogbo, and as of this morning it has already raised more than $50,000.
- Perhaps the rivalry game of the night is in the West Coast Conference with Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s (11 p.m. EST, ESPNU). The Bulldogs have looked vulnerable of late, making this a prime chance for the ultra-efficient Gaels to burnish their resume and plant a flag as the team to beat in the conference this year. A Zags’ win, though, would be a resounding statement that it’s way too soon to be writing the eulogy for their time at the top of the WCC.
- Given its recent struggles, it’s not inconceivable at all that Kentucky could lose at Arkansas (7 p.m., ESPN). The Razorbacks are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country and are 8-2 at home.
- Ohio State had a nice surge but has lost two of three, both in ugly fashion. That doesn’t bode well for its trip to Purdue (9 p.m., ESPN).
- Still a good city rivalry after all these years, Memphis plays at Cincinnati (7 p.m., ESPN2), and if we’re lucky, ESPN will even send the announcers to the game. Swept by Temple now, the Bearcats can’t afford a whole lot more losses in games in which they’re favored.
- After six games, there is a six-team tie for first place in the CAA. Yes, six. The only two of those six playing each other Thursday are Hofstra and Northeastern up in Boston.
- The best games in the Pac-12 tonight include USC on the road at Oregon and Arizona in Maples Pavilion to face Stanford.
- Monmouth has a slippery game in the MAAC as it travels to Manhattan.
- Co-leaders in the Sun Belt face off as surprising Arkansas State is at Texas-Arlington.
- If you want a rare chance to check out the Northeast Conference, league leader Mount St. Mary’s and Sacred Heart square off on CBS Sports Network (7 p.m.).
Have a great Thursday.