LINCOLN — You can sum up Nebraska's game plan Sunday at No. 9 Michigan State in one word:
The Husker men (13-10, 5-6) — looking for their sixth win in the past eight games — hope to slip into the always noisy Breslin Center, quiet the “Izzone” student section named for MSU coach Tom Izzo and sneak out ahead by any amount.
Defensively, that means forcing the Spartans (21-4, 10-2), who are second in the Big Ten in scoring at 78 points per game, away from the basket.
“On the road, I've always felt like it's better to try to control the paint and high-percentage areas,” NU coach Tim Miles said Saturday. “If they make a whole bunch of 3s, you might be doomed.
“But I think you've got to force them into being a half-court, one-dimensional team so the crowd doesn't get too crazy on you.”
Nebraska practiced Saturday morning at the Hendricks Training Complex with music blaring.
“It wasn't anything I could understand, but I guess it was music,” Miles said. “It's to make them have to communicate. We have to be ready for that. To quiet the crowd, we need to be able to take the air out of it a little.”
Nebraska has played the kind of defense lately that creates hope for controlling tempo. In the past two weeks, the Huskers have held Indiana to 55 points, Northwestern to 49 and Illinois to 58.
“We've been solid,” Miles said. “We're in our spots better. We're handling actions better. And we're running a little better offense so teams aren't 'running out' on us so much.”
The Huskers' volume of defensive mistakes is down slightly, but another category has dropped more.
“We don't have as many catastrophic mistakes,” Miles said. “So we're not taking ourselves out of a play or getting lost on not knowing personnel.”
Michigan State's personnel is widely known. Senior forward Adreian Payne (16.6 points) and sophomore wing Gary Harris (17.4) draw pro scouts to games regularly.
“They've got at least two guys who are going to be NBA players, so they've got an immense amount of talent,” Miles said. “Their transition is terrific. Some of that is 'raiding' on defense and creating turnovers or a quick hurried shot.”
Izzo said he's looking forward to playing Nebraska, “but with great concern.”
“It's a very athletic team,” the coach said. “They have five guys who can shoot the 3. And Terran Petteway is a big-time Big Ten player — a national player.”
Petteway, NU's 6-6 sophomore guard, is second in the league in scoring at 17.4 points a game.
In other NU basketball news:
Ľ A win would give Nebraska a .500 record in Big Ten play for the first time since joining the league three years ago.
Ľ Miles said Benny Parker's strong play at point guard won't lead to a starting lineup change. “I really like Benny's spark off the bench and energy level.”
Ľ With starting point guard Tai Webster struggling, would Miles look at Petteway for minutes at that spot? “No. That would take away from Terran's ability to score. I'd prefer that not to happen. We have trouble scoring anyway.”
Ľ Nebraska assistant Chris Harriman was a proud father Saturday. It was the one-year anniversary of 6-year-old son Avery's successful bone-marrow transplant. Harriman showed pictures of the family celebrating.
Ľ Michigan State is one of Nebraska's “single-plays” in the Big Ten, along with Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Those four teams are 76-24. NU plays all other teams twice this season.
Miles sees signee
Miles spent Thursday night in Oklahoma watching 6-foot-10 Jacob Hammond, who signed a letter of intent in November.
Hammond plays at Comanche (Okla.) High, a school equivalent to a small Class B or large Class C-1 school in Nebraska. Hammond had 19 points in the game Miles saw, then racked up 23 points and 18 rebounds the next night.
“He plays physical,” Miles said. “He's got good length and rebounded well. He still needs strength and to polish up his post moves and interior game. And we've got to get him making his foul shots.”
Hammond was 9 of 19 from the line in the game Miles saw and resorted to shooting one-handed after one stretch of four straight misses.
Nebraska has two scholarships to give for next season and now has offered a scholarship to a 2015 prospect — 6-9 Darien Williams from Iowa Western Community College.
Nee's job in question
Former Nebraska basketball coach Danny Nee's job as head coach at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy may be in jeopardy after an unspecified “incident” that led the Division III school to sideline him since a Jan. 18 game.
The website D3sports.com reported the following statement from the school's superintendent:
“The Academy's first priority is the well-being of its students. Immediately after learning of the incident, I placed the individual on administrative leave. A full investigation will be conducted.”
Nee's biography is still on the Merchant Marine Academy's website. He is in his fourth season there.
Nee led Nebraska to five NCAA tournaments and five NITs in 14 seasons from 1986-87 through 1999-2000.