Northwestern plays Michigan State tomorrow in East Lansing. For most of my life I would have written this game off as a loss and moved on to the Wildcats next contest. However in 2008-09 Kevin Coble, Juice Thompson, and a major clutch three by Craig Moore made me believe that beating Michigan State at home wasn’t a pipe dream for Northwestern hoops. Tomorrow, the Wildcats will have a legit chance to score a major significance victory. The Wildcats had a chance to beat Michigan State at home, but imploded in the game’s last 30 seconds. Along the same lines, Wisconsin had a chance to upset the Spartans in East Lansing, but imploded in the game’s final three minutes. To some extent those games prove Michigan State is good enough to eek out wins, but it also shows they aren’t the invulnerable Spartan teams of years past. That means the Wildcats have a chance, although it might be slim, to pull off an upset that will certainly look favorable to tournament selection committees.
In order to pull that upset Northwestern must play defense. The Wildcats have been mediocre on defense all year, but actually defended the Spartans well in Evanston. NU needs to be truly good on defense if they want to pull the upset in East Lansing. That’ll mean causing Spartan turnovers. In Evanston NU didn’t play much 1-3-1, but the fact is that although Kalin Lucas is a great point guard, MSU is turnover prone. If NU can pressure Lucas and force him to give up the ball they could create a number of turnovers. Korie Lucious is a decent ball handler as is Draymond Green, but still MSU has a number of players like Durrell Summers who are great overall players, but tend to turn the ball over. Summers is the Spartans leading scorer, but also has basically a 1-to-2 assist to turnover ratio. The other reason I think NU could benefit from more 1-3-1 or other pressure defense vs the Spartans is that MSU isn’t a great three point shooting team. Yes, they make about 38% overall, but if you can contain Lucas, Lucious, and Green you have a chance. I still would love to see Bill Carmody use a triangle and two defense as I think a number of Big Ten teams are basically two player shows and a good triangle and two would cause major trouble.
NU’s offensive game plan has to be a total team game plan. MSU has very athletic forwards in Green and Delvon Roe, but they are smaller than Luka Mirkovic and John Shurna. Shurna is getting healthier by the day and needs to get involved as both a shooter and driver. Luka had a number of good looks inside that he missed due to the more physical Spartans when the teams met at Welsh-Ryan. NU needs to get him those same looks on Saturday and Luka needs to toughen up and make them count. That’ll be the key to the game as far as I’m concerned. If Northwestern gets inside points from Luka it’ll open up three point looks for Thompson, Crawford, Marcotullio, Shurna (as shooter), and Cobb and then NU will have a chance. If the ‘Cats fail to make easy baskets inside the Spartans will dominate the glass, score easy baskets of their own, and it’ll be a rough day for NU.
I honestly think Northwestern can win this game. However, I think the key to that success is Luka Mirkovic playing a good road game. As these stats from Wildcat Report poster Dugan15 prove, that’s no bargain, therefore, I predict: Michigan State, 72 Northwestern, 65