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MSU Hoops Preview: Northwestern

Let's make it ten in-a-row! With Northwestern on a long Big Ten losing streak it's time for the Spartans to "take a step forward."

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern: On a streak of nine losses in-a-row

Northwestern is 1-9 in Big Ten play and has lost nine Big Ten games in-a-row. Northwestern's only in-conference win of the season came against New York-New Jersey market Rutgers, but in their meet-up with MSU earlier this season, Northwestern took the Spartans to overtime in East Lansing before Michigan State pulled out the game in OT, 84-77.

So, what's been up with Northwestern since their last meeting with the Spartans?

These Northwestern Wildcats--they do have the ability to keep a game close.

In the middle of their nine straight Big Ten loss stretch, Northwestern lost three straight games by a combined 5 points with a two-point loss to Michigan, a two-point loss to Ohio State, and then a one-point loss to then ranked #13 Maryland. Those three losses have been the height of Northwestern's conference play as since those three close loses the Wildcats have been handled easily by Purdue, Nebraska, and in last Saturday's game at Wisconsin.

The Chris Collins-coached Wildcats have struggled in Collins' second season. Freshman guard Bryant McIntosh leads the Wildcats in scoring at 12.2 points per game and also serves as the team's primary facilitator with 4.5 assists per game. McIntosh is capable, efficient scorer and has scored over 15 points in a game nine times this season including 21 points against Maryland on 10 of 14 from the field. In Northwestern's overtime loss to MSU, McIntosh went for 18 points, but only shot 6 for 16,while grabbing 5 rebounds and dishing 5 assists.

Junior guard Tre Demps has been a slight thorn in the Spartans' side for going on his third year now. Demps scored 17 points in the last game against the Spartans and in his previous four games against MSU the confident-to-shoot Demps has scored 7, 18, 12, and 11.

Red-shirt senior guard JerShon Cobb has struggled with injuries throughout his Northwestern career. Cobb averaged 12.2 points per game last season coming off of missing the previous season due to team suspension. Cobb has missed 32 games due to injury in the four seasons he's played with the Wildcats, and this season, Cobb has been limited to 22 minutes per game and is only averaging 6.2 ppg on the season. In Northwestern's overtime loss to MSU, Cobb coming off the bench and shooting 5 for 5 from the field to score 12 points in the first half was key in Northwestern's erasing what had been a 14-point first half deficit to enter the half tied with the Spartans at 40-40.

7-foot junior center Alex Olah averages 11 points per game and leads the Wildcats in rebounding with 6 rpg but only seems to cause the Spartan bigs minimal trouble. In the first game against Northwestern this season Gavin Schilling had success against Olah and scored 13 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in 26 minutes.

6'7" freshman Vic Law provides Northwestern another quality rebounder with 4.8 rebounds per game. In his first meeting with the Spartans, Law grabbed 5 rebounds and scored 5 points in 24 minutes played.

6'6" sophomore guard Sanjay Lumpkin was held scoreless in the overtime game against the Spartans and in his four games against MSU has only averaged 3 points per game. Lumpkin plays nearly 25 minutes per game but hasn't consistently filled up the scoresheet in Big Ten play. Lumpkin did hit 3 three pointers and total up 12 points and 6 rebounds against Maryland in Northwestern's one-point loss to the Terrapins this season but Lumpkin has gone scoreless in five of the Wildcats ten Big ten games this season.

The other Wildcats who may contribute include freshman 6'5" guard Scottie Lindsey who has become a starter but plays less than 20-minutes per game for Coach Chris Collins, senior Jeremiah Kreisberg, a back-up 6'10" center and Yale transfer, and senior guard Dave Sobolewski who has had his minutes reduced under Collins and now provides only 8-10 minutes and one or two three-point attempts per game.

Year II of the Chris Collins' Era at Northwestern

Northwestern is in the midst of transforming its roster as Chris Collins has now brought in, and has begun to play more often, talented guard-forward length in Bryant McIntosh, Scottie Lindsey, and Vic Law. Collins has added 4-star recruit 6'7" forward Aaron Falzon to the mix for next season. Northwestern has moved away from the Princeton-offense Bill Carmody-era but Collins, now in his second season at Northwestern, still has those Carmody players who don't exactly fit with where Collins is trying to take this team-and thus this season's struggles. Northwestern gives a strong, energetic defensive effort but as of right now the combined talent and experience is not there to have success in the Big Ten.

In their previous match-up with Northwestern...

When Michigan State met Northwestern in East Lansing, Coach Izzo's assessment after the win was, "every time I think we're taking a step forward, to me, we take a step back." The typically offensively challenged Wildcats (currently ranked 268th in the nation in points per game) scored 40 points in the first half and went on to score their Big Ten season-high of 77 points in the 84-77 overtime loss. The Wildcats shot 47% from the field included 48% on their three-point attempts (12 of 25), and got 18 points from Bryant McIntosh, 17 points from Tre Demps, and 12 first half points from JerShon Cobb. MSU built an 11-point lead in second half but then Demps caught fire scoring 12 points in a Northwestern 17-6 run to close out regulation and send the game to overtime. Against the Wildcats, the Spartans put together a balanced scoring attack with all five starters finishing in double-figures and needing tying buckets down the stretch in regulation, MSU twice called Denzel Valentine's number and he delivered both times, first with a short jumper to tie with 2:08 to play and then by getting to the free throw line (where he knocked down the tying free throws) with 19 seconds to play. In their fourth overtime game of the season the Spartans finally came out of an OT with a victory as successful Trice and Forbes jumpers were surrounded by six made free throws in six attempts. The win over Northwestern was the conclusion of a Spartan three-win in seven-day stretch with a a 20-point win over Indiana, a 14-point win on the road at Iowa, and then the OT win over Northwestern.

A Prediction? The fortune cookie says: A struggling team with more talent should beat a reeling team with less talent...

While Michigan State shouldn't struggle against a reeling Northwestern team, with the game in Evanston, and with how MSU has too often of late failed to play far above lesser competition, this game cannot be taken for granted.

For the Spartans, injuries are a factor. Travis Trice is playing but still affected by his rib injury. Javon Bess, (ankle injury), is not expected to play, and Bess has speculated he may not play the rest of the season, which means that Marvin Clark Jr. or Alvin Ellis II will have to step up for 15 to 20 minutes per game. Clark Jr.  had his most effective Big Ten game this season vs. Northwestern when he scored 6 points and grabbed 2 rebounds in 10 minutes played. Coach Izzo has said that Alvin Ellis III has been playing great in practice and Ellis III was rewarded with 19 minutes on Saturday in the loss to Illinois. One of these two players, or hopefully both, will need to be more productive if the Spartans hope to get to those 21 wins (and the Tournament) by the end of the season.