It's Big Ten Season - Michigan State 91, Northwestern 70

After a rusty win over Texas-Arlington on Wednesday, it was completely reasonable to worry about the Northwestern game.  Even though Welsh-Ryan arena is the least imposing Big Ten venue, the loss of Kevin Coble seemed to galvanize the Wildcats, and played Illinois tough in their Big Ten opener.  Seeing Ed Hightower in stripes at the tip-off only intensified my anxiety; one never knows how tight a game will be called with Eddie at the whistle.

Luckily, the Spartans would not be Hightowered. Michigan State showed the same focus they did in their opener last year against Minnesota, and after a somewhat shaky first 18 minutes, State responded with 22 minutes of their most inspired basketball of the year.  The Spartans outscored the Wildcats 50-37 in the second half on the way to a 91-70 victory in a 70 possession game.

Four factors graph and breakdown after the jump.

 

Here's the four factors graph:

As you can see, Michigan State shot the lights out - an effective FG% of 63.9%, a FG% of 57.4 and a three point FG% of 43.8% will result in victories nearly every time. The TO% of 20% isn't great, but won't kill the Spartans either.  The biggest eyebrow raise was the free throw rate: 55.6%, which is a result of the Spartans being in the bonus before the second media timeout in the second half (as well as the Wildcats - HIGHTOWER!). 

Now let's take a look at the players:

  • Kalin Lucas - 21 points on 8-12 shooting (1-3 on threes), 6 rebounds and four assists.  The only blemish was his six turnovers on the night.  Otherwise, he penetrated at will and seemed to have no hangover from his and Izzo's drama during the week.
  • Raymar Morgan - 17 points on 5-9 shooting (6-7 FTs), a clutch three to end the first half, and one awesome half-court alley oop from Chris Allen.  He also had 5 rebounds and 5 assists against one turnover.  If Raymar can play like this for the whole Big Ten season, look out Purdue.
  • A quiet night for Chris Allen where points are concerned (9 points on 3 for 8 shooting), but led MSU with six assists.   Another highlight - he only committed two turnovers, an improvement over his previous performances.
  • Durrell Summers carried the offense for the first half, and finished with 17 points, going 6 for 10 from the field and making all 3 of his threes.  He also led MSU in rebounds with seven.  The only nit I have to pick is that he picked up 4 fouls pretty quickly.  Reason to get excited - he scored those 17 points in only 14 minutes.
  • Draymond Green gave his usual swiss-army knife performance, finishing with 13 points (5-5 FG), 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 blocks.
  • All but one of Korie Lucious' six shots were from behind the three-point arc.  He shot 40% from three (2-5), and finished with eight points.
  • Delvon Roe had an off night, scoring four points and collecting two rebounds in 21 minutes.  When only one player in the seven-man rotation has an off-night though, that's pretty good.

If this game is any indicator, Izzo seems pretty set that the seven aforementioned players are going to get the vast majority of the minutes from here out (those seven played 90% of the game's total minutes).  Garrick Sherman only got five minutes, and Derrick Nix and Austin Thornton each got four.  I wish Nix and Sherman would receive a little more playing time, as the Spartans might need the height against taller opponents.

One more small point of concern - The defensive efficiency isn't improving, as Northwestern had an offensive efficiency of 1.00 PPP (points per possession).  However,  MSU's offensive efficiency was pretty darn impressive tonight at 1.30 PPP, and while it's good to have an efficiency margin of 0.3, I'd much rather have MSU accomplish that by scoring 1.20 PPP and allowing 0.90 PPP; the Spartans aren't going to shoot the lights out every night.

However, those are all small nits to pick in an otherwise impressive night.  Michigan State now comes back to the Breslin to play Wisconsin on Wednesday.  Wisconsin's blown out Ohio State and Penn State so far and ranks in the top 25 in Kenpom in offensive and defensive efficiency.  It's Michigan State's first Big Ten test, and if the Northwestern game is any indication, they'll be more than ready.

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