The Matchup: Northwestern (14-6) @ Michigan State (18-3)
Location: Breslin Center (East Lansing, MI)
TV: Big Ten Network (6:00 PM January 30th, 2010)
Radio: WYLL AM 1160
Fun Fact: Northwestern’s win over Michigan State in East Lansing last season was the Big Ten Network’s Game of the Year for 2008-09.
About the Game
Michigan State enters this game undefeated in the Big Ten and ranked #5 in the nation. Northwestern enters with a respectable 14-6 overall record, but NU’s loss to Minnesota dropped the Wildcats to 3-5 in the Big Ten and out of most NCAA Tournament predictions. If Northwestern can beat Michigan State, though, they’ll be right back in those tournament projections and probably have an even bigger win on their resume than last season’s titanic upset.
In early January these two teams met in Evanston and Michigan State lit up Northwestern’s defense. MSU scored 91 points and the Wildcats looked entirely helpless against Michigan State’s athletic skill. The good news for NU fans is that the Wildcats seemed to recommit to defense after that loss. The bad news is most of the recommitment occurred in the matchup zone or switching man-to-man. Even matching up and/or switching, it’ll be tough for NU go toe-to-toe with MSU’s athletes. That means the Wildcats might have to get back into the 1-3-1 which produced a ton of Michigan State turnovers last year. Unfortunately, Tom Izzo seemed to have his Spartans more than prepared for the 1-3-1 earlier this year in Evanston. Choosing a defense will be a tough, but very critical decision for NU coach Bill Carmody. The truth is Michigan State isn’t a great three point shooting team. Kalin Lucas makes 38.6%, Chris Allen makes 38.4%, and Korie Lucious makes 34.8%, but none of the other Spartans are great shooters. In fact, Durrell Summers is the only other Spartan who even considers trying threes, but he makes just 25%. Given those numbers, it might make sense to try the 1-3-1 as it looks as if NU won’t get beat from the outside. The 1-3-1 might also help deny the ball inside to Draymond Green (10.4ppg and 58.3% FG) and Raymar Morgan (11.7ppg and 58% FG). Green is closer to a classic post player who wants to catch with his back turned while Morgan can take a lesser athlete off the dribble. Either way, NU’s front court would be best served in keeping the ball away from those guys. To do so, John Shruna and Luka Mirkovic will need to hit the defensive glass. MSU has 290 offensive rebounds already this season.
Michigan State’s other great skill is how fast they push the ball. If you miss a shot you must get back on defense, if you turn the ball over you must get back on defense, and if you make a basket you don’t have time to feel happy because you need to get back on defense. MSU took advantage of some NU laziness in January and got some easy baskets. For Northwestern to win they can’t allow those easy baskets and they must get some easy baskets of their own thanks to turnovers and the open threes the Princeton Offense will produce.
I think Northwestern is a better team now than they were in January. I would be shocked if this game is decided by more than 12 points, but I also don’t think NU can duplicate their feat from last season. Michigan State, 71 Northwestern, 60