LINCOLN, Neb. – The COVID-19 virus has completely blown up Nebraska's basketball season, but they're back to playing now and on Saturday it's Purdue's turn to give them a shot.
Nebraska had six games canceled or postponed earlier this season because of COVID issues inside its program, and the inability to practice or play made it tough on a roster that was completely rebuilt in the offseason.
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They're healthy now and have been trying to make up all of those lost conference games. This will be their eighth game in 14 days, an intense schedule by Big Ten standards. By comparison, Purdue has played three games thus far in that window.
Here's everything you need to know about Purdue's game with Michigan State on Tuesday night:
- Who: Purdue Boilermakers (14-8, 9-6 in the Big Ten) at Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-14, 1-11 in the Big Ten)
- When: 5:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, Feb. 20
- Where: Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, Neb.
- Latest Line: Purdue is favored by 7 points according to the DraftKings.com website as of 8 a.m. on Saturday.
- Poll rankings: Purdue fell out of both the Associated Press and Coaches top-25 polls this week after the loss at Minnesota. They would be ranked No. 33 in the AP poll this week, and No. 31 in the Coaches poll. Nebraska is unranked.
- Kenpom.com rankings: Purdue moved up one spot to No. 21 in the Kenpom.com rankings after beating Michigan State on Tuesday. Nebraska is ranked No. 117.
- Last time out: Purdue beat Michigan State 75-65 on Tuesday, thanks to 28 points from Trevion Williams. Nebraska has been busy trying to make up a lot of games. This is their fourth game this week, and most recently they lost to Maryland 79-71 after playing on back-to-back nights.
- Series history: Purdue leads the overall series, 16-6.
- Last meeting: Nebraska actually won the last meeting on Dec. 15, 2020, winning 70-56 in Lincoln. They had a game scheduled for Jan. 5 in West Lafayette, but it was postponed because of COVID issues inside the Nebraska program and has yet to be rescheduled.
- TV: Big Ten Network
- Announcers: Kevin Kugler (play-by-play) and Jess Settles (color commentary).
- Radio: Purdue Radio Network
- Announcers: Rob Blackmon and Bobby Riddell
Here are three things to look out for on Saturday against Nebraska:
1. Start making some threes
Matt Painter says it all the time, that Purdue has good perimeter shooters, they just aren't making shots. That's been very true lately, and that needs to change. Against Michigan State, Purdue was 3-for-12 from deep, just 25 percent. Prior to that, they were 2-for-17 (11.7 percent) in the loss at Minnesota.
Despite its 1-11 league record, Nebraska is actually tops in the Big Ten in defending the three, allowing just 31.9 percent from deep. They close out on shooters quickly, so this could be a continued problem. Which brings us to ...
2. Do we need to start worrying about Sasha Stefanovic?
Junior guard Sasha Stefanovic just hasn't been the same since missing three games after testing positive for COVID-19. He has said often that he's 100 percent, but it hasn't translated to results on the floor.
The junior guard from Crown Point, Ind., has played in three games since returning from the virus, and he's yet to make a shot from the field. In games against Northwestern, Minnesota and Michigan State, he's a combined 0-for-10 from the field, and 0-for-7 from three-point range. He didn't score at all in the last two games and had just four made free throws against Northwestern. Purdue needs him at his best to be successful. Maybe this is the game where things start to click.
3. Don't fall for this trap game
A lot of Purdue fans looked at the Boilermakers' soft-ish back half of the schedule, where all 10 games – pending that Nebraska reschedule – were against teams behind them in the standings. They were looking at winning them all and contending for the Big Ten title.
But it hasn't played out that way, with the Boilers losing games at Minnesota and Maryland where they were favored. Both times, Purdue had leads late and let them slip away in the final few minutes. Be on alert Saturday, because Nebraska is scrapping. They took Illinois to overtime and beat Penn State. And let's not forget that Purdue came to Lincoln last year and got blown out. The Boilers need to be at their best on Saturday.