Even though it started out a bit sloppy, the Big Ten opener did not disappoint. Minnesota exposed the Spartans lack of size, go-to scoring and went into halftime up 13. Overcoming a big deficit like that on the road is no easy feat, but that is exactly what Michigan State did, battling their way back to grab the 75-74 win in overtime.
So if you weren’t able to force yourself to watch the entire Big Ten opener no one would blame you, but we here at The Only Colors hope you’ve reconsidered changing the channel just a bit to early and watch the Spartans next matchup versus Northwestern at the Breslin Center (Friday, 6 p.m. BTN).
The non-conference schedules are officially over, a part of the schedule where the Wildcats performed very well finishing 11-2. Their only losses came against Butler and Notre Dame, by a total of 6 points. The Big Ten schedule began yesterday, where Northwestern beat Penn State by 10 points. Lots of potential surrounds this years Northwestern squad, what are your expectations for the team?
This is squarely a bubble team, so I think the expectation should be that the Wildcats are in a position to be watching with much interest on Selection Sunday. The Big Ten has been a six-bid league at minimum, so Northwestern should be right in that middle/upper-middle pack.
Last year Head Coach Chris Collins led this team to a 20-12 overall record, (which was the first 20 win season in school history) but they finished in the bottom half of the conference going 8-10. What kind of adjustments do you see Collins making this year?
The biggest thing is consistent outside shooting. This team relies a ton on wing scoring, and those wing scorers in turn rely on knocking down the long ball. Last year is a prime example of the three-pointer's importance. Just days after beating Wisconsin, the Wildcats made just three of 26 threes in a deflating loss at home to Penn State. A second thing is Collins has to help his team win close games, something he has struggled with. Whether that's personnel adjustments or gameplan adjustments, they have to be made.
How much better do you think the 2016 Wildcats are going to be compared to the 2015 version? Most importantly, what is going to be the thing that pushes this team over the edge and makes them a top contender in the Big Ten?
This team is significantly better because of the return of Vic Law and emergence of leading scorer Scottie Lindsey. It's that pair that will push the Wildcats into a contender. They're experienced, they're talented on both ends, and when Northwestern needs a bucket, those guys can get one. If starting center Dererk Pardon can get healthy so he can help out on the glass, that would be a major plus.
Scottie Lindsey has really come onto the scene this year, we all saw the performance he just had in the Wildcats Big Ten opener where he posted 31 points, 5 boards and shot 5-8 from deep. What are you expecting out of him during Friday's game vs Michigan State?
Lindsey, as you mentioned, is a great outside shooter, but he has also diversified his game so he can score in the midrange and even take guys into the post with some nifty moves. He's also a vastly improved defender compared to last year. I'm expecting Izzo to zero in on limiting him and seeing if Law or point guard Bryant McIntosh can manufacture points, but he won't be taken away entirely. Lindsey has scored in double digits every single game this year, so a reasonable expectation is 15 points and three three-pointers as well as five rebounds.
What is one match-up you will be paying close attention to throughout the game?
Northwestern's big men versus Nick Ward. Ward took over against Minnesota, and if Pardon is still out, the Wildcats might have trouble guarding him with undersized Gavin Skelly and true freshman Barret Benson. If Pardon is healthy, that's a huge boost because he's a great athlete, lanky and active on both ends of the floor. Skelly can stretch the floor and has a nice offensive skill set, but he's prone to foul trouble. Benson has a bright future and has shown major progress, but I'm not sure he's completely ready for a guy of Ward's caliber.
This Michigan State team lacks size, they are riddled with injuries, and still lack a go to shooter. These are the kind of headlines Michigan State fans have become accustomed to seeing all year long, yet they just grinded out a victory on the road against Minnesota where they showed tremendous heart. What are three things Northwestern would need to do well in order to win another tough game on the road against the Spartans?
- The Wildcats must shoot the ball well from the outside. Skelly and Pardon don't provide much of a traditional post scoring presence, so the Wildcats are heavily dependent on making threes, and they have a lot of guys who can do so.
- Stay out of foul trouble. The Wildcats can get handsy on defense instead of moving their feet. If Lindsey, Skelly, Benson or especially defensive standout Sanjay Lumpkin are in foul trouble, it could be a long afternoon at the Breslin Center.
- Keep the turnovers down. Northwestern doesn't turn the ball over much in normal halfcourt sets, but if teams extend their defense or just play very aggressively, McIntosh and others struggle with both decision making and ball handling. That's how Dayton nearly overcame a 23-point halftime deficit. If in the lead, the Wildcats have to keep the foot on the gas pedal and avoid bad turnovers.
Prediction Time. What is your final score and Why?
Michigan State 78, Northwestern 74. Northwestern will lead for a significant portion of this game, but a short bench and an inability to put opponents away will come back to haunt the Wildcats in a winnable game in East Lansing.
Thanks again to Zach Pereles and everyone over at Inside NU!