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Previewing MSU vs. Northwestern

Gregory Shamus
Your Michigan State Spartans vs. the Northwestern Wildcats
Welsh-Ryan Arena - Evanston, Ill.
Jan. 15, 2014, 7 p.m.

Online streaming: BTN2Go

I wasn't sure if Northwestern was going to win a Big Ten game this year, but the Wildcats come into Wednesday's game against MSU having defeated a nationally-ranked Illinois team in their most-recent game.

Northwestern lost to DePaul. Northwestern lost to Illinois State. Northwestern lost its first three Big Ten games by an average of 25 points per game. Then, out of nowhere, they beat Illinois with Dave Sobelewski out (which, admittedly, some figured was a good thing beforehand).

Northwestern is 8-9 overall, ranked No. 159 in KenPom. Before Illinois, the best win was against KP No. 166 Western Michigan. And that was a final score of 51-35. It's the only other KP top-200 win outside Illinois. But we all know momentum is as good as the next day's starting pitcher. Northwestern looks to turn one upset into two upsets.

As evidenced by that WMU score, Northwestern is a very poor team offensively, ranked No. 303 in adjO. They don't shoot well from three-point range, they don't shoot well from two-point range. They get a lot of shots blocked. They don't get to the free-throw line frequently. The one thing the offense does OK is hold on to the ball, with a turnover rate of 17.4 percent (No. 104 nationally).

Drew Crawford leads the way with 15.6 points per game, 7.0 rebounds and a usage rate far ahead of anyone else. JerShon Cobb averages 11.9 points and 4.1 rebounds. Tre Demps can get hot and hit some big shots against Illinois.

I was surprised when I saw Tom Izzo say he was worried about Northwestern's defense, but that was before I looked at the numbers. Believe it or not, the Wildcats are No. 42 in adjD. Opponents shoot 46.3 percent on 2s (No. 106) and just 31.2 percent on 3s (No. 64). This has been a good defensive team.

Even more surprising than the defense are some rebounding numbers. Under Bill Carmody, Northwestern was, annually, one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. The Cats are still poor on the offensive end (24.4 percent, No. 333), but they're pretty good on the other end, with opponents grabbing 28.7 percent, No. 61 nationally.

It sounds like Adreian Payne is going to be rested until he's as close to 100 percent as possible. I'm not sure how realistic that is, but I wouldn't be surprised if Payne doesn't play. Travis Trice and Matt Costello have been coming back from illnesses. Northwestern opponents take 28 percent of their shots from behind the arc, so scoring inside, even without Payne, will be key.

Northwestern is No. 317 in tempo. This has the makings of a potentially ugly game, especially if MSU's jump-shots don't fall. The Spartans would be advised to run as much as possible, but when Northwestern doesn't try to get an offensive rebound, it can be difficult.

KenPom predicts a 67-57 MSU win, giving the Spartans an 86 percent chance of winning.