I'm posting this preview for the 'Cats home game vs MSU today as I'll be focused on the Outback Bowl on the 1st. However, NU fans should not forget about the women's basketball team's game vs top-10 team Ohio State today.
The Matchup: Michigan State (10-3) @ Northwestern (10-2)
Location: Welsh-Ryan Arena (Evanston, IL)
TV: Big Ten Network (5:30 PM CT January 2nd, 2010)
Radio: WYLL-AM 1160
Fun Fact: Northwestern beat #7 Michigan State 70-63 in East Lansing last time these teams meet.
About the Game
The Wildcats were on the verge of returning home for this game as triumphant heroes, however, they failed to hold a lead against Illinois and instead return 0-1 in the Big Ten. Odds are the Wildcats will survive if they fall to 0-2, but if NU wants to maintain their national ranking and media focus it will be important to pull of the upset at home in Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Like every Michigan State vs Northwestern game since about 1998, the Spartans feature a team that is more athletic than Northwestern. This NU team, though, might be the closest the Wildcats have come to being able to compete with the Spartans athletically in the last decade. Drew Crawford is already a Big Ten caliber athlete as a freshman and other than center Luka Mirkovic, the older ‘Cat starters offer a range of athletic skill as well. In fact, coming off a better performance in man-to-man than in the 1-3-1 against Illinois, I wouldn’t be that surprised to see the ‘Cats attempt to play some man against the Spartans. However, no fan can forget how well NU played the 1-3-1 against MSU in East Lansing last winter. Of course, I doubt Tom Izzo forgot either. For what it’s worth, Michigan State has had trouble with turnovers. They have 191 turnovers in 13 games this year. That’s nearly 15 a game. The key will be for Northwestern to figure out what type of defense is best to force turnovers from the athletic Spartans because NU will need points off turnovers to counter MSU’s second chance baskets.
Michigan State is probably strongest in the transition game so it will be important for NU not to have turnovers of their own and get back on defense after long rebounds. When the Spartans run traditional offense they aren’t complex, but they’re very good at setting up open shots for Chris Allen (10.6 ppg, 38.3% three), inside looks for Draymond Green (11.0 ppg), or one-on-one matchups for Kalin Lucas (15.7 ppg, 40.5% three) and Raymar Morgan (10.1 ppg).
Michigan State has also traditionally been a team who scores a lot of second chance baskets. After giving up two key second chance baskets to Illinois in overtime I’m sure NU will be aware of keeping Green (8.2 rpg) and athletic forward Delvon Roe (7.4 rpg) off the glass, but it’ll be tough. Michigan State averages about 14 offensive rebounds a game and Coach Izzo’s fine ability to coach aggressive intensity in the reason why.
Kyle Rowley played his best game of the season (career?) against Illinois, but NU still got outmanned inside. His partner Luka Mirkovic struggled mightily. The good news is that MSU doesn’t have a 7-1 guy like Mike Tisdale who will score at will and grab rebounds with total ease. The bad news is they’ll be better athletes who can out jump Mirkovic and Rowley when guys like Korie Lucas and Durrell Summers miss threes. NU needs to produce turnovers to win which is why I think Bill Carmody will play 1-3-1 against the Spartans (at least to start), but I think Tom Izzo will have Michigan State ready for that defense. I mean he is generally accepted as the Big Ten’s top coach for a reason. If NU does cause 20-25 turnovers I think the ‘Cats can (and will) win, but I think a Michigan State team that has probably been prepping for NU for the last week plus (which is why they played so-so vs UT-Arlington) will avoid turnovers and get just enough points inside to beat NU. Michigan State, 77 Northwestern, 68