SCHOOOOOOOOOL’S OUT. FOR. WINTER! WOOOOOO!!!
Finals are over, Michigan State Basketball is back and all is right with the world. The Spartans are approaching the end of their non-conference slate and are set to play host to Northeastern (7pm EST, BTN). It may sound like Northwestern-light, but these Huskies should be taken anything but lightly. To the tape...
- Record: 5-5 (2-4 away)
- Best Win: @ Vermont (RPI: 116), 59-57
- Worst Loss: @ Cornell (RPI: 282), 77-80
Last Five Games
- 12/10 — @ Vermont, W 59-57
- 12/6 — @ Harvard, L 80-86
- 12/3 — @ Stony Brook, L 75-77
- 11/30 — @ Cornell, L 77-80
- 11/25 — vs Kent St, W 73-70
Northeastern enters Sunday’s game with a measly 5-5 record, which doesn’t sound like much, but their margin of defeat has been razor thin. The Huskies’ five losses are by a grand total of 17 points (!!!) with the most lopsided L coming by six on the road at Harvard.
Sunday will be their fifth-straight road game, and although they are 1-3 on that swing — with all three losses coming by 11 total points — their latest win, a two-point squeaker at Vermont, was also their best, in terms of RPI. The most recognizable win, however, came on the road at UConn.
They’ve lost to some subpar competition but considering MSU’s struggles against teams like Florida Gulf Coast, Oral Roberts and Tennessee Tech, they pose a very real threat.
Huskies to Know
- G #10 T.J. Williams (6’3” 205, Senior) — 21.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 6.0 apg, 41.7% 3PT
- F #0 Alex Murphy (6’8” 225, Senior) — 14.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.4 apg, 31.0% 3PT
- F #11 Jeremy Miller (6’10” 230, Soph) — 10.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.4 bpg, 41.4 3PT
The Huskies are led by a pair of seniors, T.J. Williams and Alex Murphy, who carry most of the scoring load. Williams has scored at least 17 points in every game this season, and Murphy has only two single-digits scoring efforts. 6’10” sophomore Jeremy Miller also averages double digits, and is second on the team behind Murphy in rebounding average.
Williams is having a huge breakout in his final collegiate season. As a junior, he averaged, 6.8 ppg, 2.7 apg and shot 21.4% from deep. Contrast that with his 21.9 ppg, 6.0 apg and 41.7% range shooting and you’re looking at one of the most improved players in the nation.
Northeastern has a fairly limited seven-man rotation but four of those players shoot at least 38% from beyond the arc. Murphy — a willing shooter — also hits just over 30% of this three’s, but is averaging 19.5 ppg with 40% 3PT in his last four games.
How Does MSU Match Up
This could be the game where Miles Bridges’ absence comes back to haunt Tom Izzo’s team defensively. Not that is hasn’t already, but you get the point.
Murphy and Miller bring both size and shooting and must be accounted for on the perimeter. Normally, Bridges would be the perfect counter but without him MSU is left in a precarious position.
Kyle Ahrens and Matt Van Dyk, both listed at 6’5”, have been called on to defend bigs recently and, while they are undoubtedly undersized, have the athleticism to at least get in the way of the two, but Nick Ward could get exposed. If they can get Ward away from the middle, the paint is wide open for drives from Williams and the other guards, and MSU has no weakside shot-blockers to speak of.
The lack of size, as always, puts a lot of pressure on guards like Tum Tum Nairn and Eron Harris to play sound perimeter defense. If Williams is able to get to the rack at will and make plays to his perimeter shooters, things will get dicey.
Speaking of shooters, MSU might actually be catching a break, as Northeastern’s best, Donnell Gresham Jr., will likely miss his 7th straight game with an injury. The sophomore was shooting almost 60% from beyond the arc to start the season, hence the “catching a break” tag. On the flip side, Matt McQuaid will play after missing the last game with a head injury and was showing signs of life pre-injury.
On the other end of the floor, the most exciting development of late has been the rapid maturation of Cassius Winston. In his past three games, the freshman point guard has 27 assists to only 5 turnovers, good for a 5.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover rate. He has always been able to push the fast break, but his growth in the half court offense has helped jumpstart his productivity. They’ll need him to keep that up in what should be a competitive game.
This could be a tough one for MSU. Williams, Murphy and Miller are a potent offensive trio, and the latter two pose particular challenges with their size.
One idea for slowing the Northeastern offense? Put them at the line. Just like the Spartans, the Huskies struggle mightily from the charity stripe, hitting only 68%....which is still somehow better than MSU (61.4%).
Offensively, scoring in the paint will remain challenging without Bridges. In lieu of his size, perimeter efficiency is critical. Harris, McQuaid and Josh Langford each have key roles to play.
Winston and Harris have big games while Ahrens and Van Dyk do enough to slow down the versatile Northeastern frontcourt.