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Northwestern 81, Michigan State 74 -- Up The Cuts

I waited a day to post this because I didn't want the game recap to consist of the words "BACK CUTS ARRRGGH" and me throwing my computer from my apartment. Sure, the game started innocently enough with MSU making 9 of their first 10 shots. Northwestern was getting into the lane just a bit too easily however, bringing Spartan defenders out to the perimeter and cutting to the basket for easy lay-ups. Still, Michigan State would've had a lead at the half if it wasn't for a John Shurna three from about 30 feet out.

The second half...UGH. The offense stagnated for MSU for whatever reason (my best guess -- going small made it harder for to play in the post, leading to more jump shots), while Northwestern kept up their torrid pace. The Wildcats had an answer for everything; when the Spartans would chop the lead to 7, Northwestern had an answer to put the lead back into double digits. The Michigan State Spartans now have their first Big Ten loss, ensuring that no team will be undefeated in the Big Ten this season.

Four factors graph and more after the jump.

Looking at this graph today, I was surprised by a couple things. First, I could've sworn the offensive rebounding was a lot closer than what it actually was, I never would've thought MSU rebounded more than 40% of their misses during the game. Second is turnovers, for however much Gus Johnson accented MSU's turnovers yesterday, their TO% of 21.9 isn't all that far off their average of 20%. The real issue is that Michigan State couldn't force more turnovers out of Northwestern. Lastly, both teams shot well, even if the Spartans didn't appear to in the second half; their first-half effort (5-7 from 3, 8-13 from 2) compensated for a lousy second half (7-21 from 2, 4-11 from 3).

So what happened? The offense (especially in the first half) wasn't the problem, as MSU averaged 1.16 points per possession. That should be good enough to beat anybody. However, the defense let the Wildcats average 1.27 points per possession, easily their worst performance of the year. Izzo laid some of the blame at the feet of the scout team:

I do have a problem with my scout team this week. I did not think they did the job that we needed to do the day we left (Friday). And I let them know that after the practice... we didn't simulate (the Northwestern offense) as well. To be honest with you, Dwayne Stephens had the scout and did an incredible job. I mean, we had everything down. We just didn't have the speed of it.

It's hard not to agree with that statement, as the defense looked ill-prepared to deal with a Princeton offense such as Northwestern's. Unfortunately (or luckily, depending on your view) MSU won't get a chance to settle the score this year, as the Wildcats are one of the Spartans' single plays. A rematch could occur in the Big Ten Tournament I guess, but that seems unlikely.

So where to go from here? Michigan's next on Tuesday, and it's hard to believe MSU won't be focused in Crisler. A win would not only serve to balance the universe once again, but put State at 5-1 at the conference with four road games played. I'm going to chalk this performance up to equal parts bad preparation and a hot shooting afternoon by the Wildcats and move on.