THE BRESLIN CENTER, EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN
7:00 P.M. (ET), SATURDAY
TV: BTN, ONLINE RADIO FEED: WJR
Since we last faced off with our esteemed rivals from Evanston, they've done the following:
- Beat 4 teams: Texas-Pan Am, Michigan, Purdue, and Illinois (all but Michigan at home).
- Lost to 3 teams: Wisconsin, Ohio State, Minnesota (all but Wisconsin on the road).
At 14-6 overall and 3-5 in Big Ten play, the Wildcats look like they're in decent position to finally make the NCAA Tournament this season. Given the relatively weak nonconference schedule Northwestern played, they need to make a pretty strong run down the stretch, but the opportunity is there. After tomorrow night's game, 4 of their next 5 games are at home--and the one road game is against Iowa.
John Shurna--who dropped 29 on MSU in the first meeting--continues to lead the way for Northwestern in the scoring department, having scored 19+ points in each of their last 3 games. Freshman Drew Crawford, meanwhile, continues to be an all-around force for the Wildcats. He's scored in double digits in each of the last 5 games and is averaging 6.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game over the same time period.
Having beaten Northwestern convincingly on the road, taking care of them at home would seem like a fairly straightforward task. Except that:
- Home/away doesn't seem to matter as much for Northwestern--perhaps due to their less-than-deal home court situation.
- They play a pretty high-risk/high-reward game on both ends of the court (highly reliant on 3-point shooting on offense; trapping zone designed for force turnovers and 3-point shooting on defense).
- Um, they kind of beat us at our place last year.
On that second bullet: Northwestern has been particularly volatile on defense this year. In 8 conference games, they've allowed opponents to post efficiency marks above 113 four times, but also held two opponents below 97. One of those opponents was an otherwise pretty-offensively potent Purdue team.
To ensure a repeat performance by MSU on offense (128.9 the first time, fueled by an eFG% of 63.9), they'll need to do what I said they needed to do the first time around:
Going into any game against Northwestern, you know what you have to do to win: make smart passes, knock down 3-pointers, and get out on 3-point shooters (without giving up easy baskets on back cuts). Basically, Bill Carmody forces you to beat his team at its own game. (Just as the Wildcats take a lot of 3-pointers and record assists on a high percentage of made fields goals, they force their opponents to do the same.) The difference so far this season has been that have opponents have had less margin for error in doing those things, as these Wildcats have shown a more well-rounded skillset within Carmody's traditional system.
One positive indicator for MSU is that the Wildcats aren't forcing turnovers with the 1-3-1 zone as frequently during conference play as they did in nonconference play. Only 2 of their 8 Big Ten opponents have turned it over on more than 25% of their possessions, and Northwestern is down to 139th in the nation in defensive turnover percentage. But, of course, our turnover issues have a habit of cropping up when we least expect them to.
KenPom predicts a 73-62 MSU win in 65 possessions.