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Michigan State opens up the new year with conference clash against Northwestern

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The eighth-ranked Spartans start 2019 with a Big Ten clash with the Wildcats.

NCAA Basketball: Green Bay at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Following a 28-point win against Northern Illinois five days ago, No. 8 Michigan State (11-2, 2-0 B1G) will open up the new calendar year Wednesday night against Northwestern (9-4, 0-2 B1G).

The Spartans, who’ve won their last six games and 11 of their last 12, enter Wednesday’s contest playing in their fourth straight game at the Breslin Center.

Junior Cassius Winston has led the way for MSU thus far, recording a team-high 17.5 points and 7.5 assists per game. The 6-foot-1 guard has been one of the premier guards in the country, as he’s tied for sixth in the Big Ten in scoring and fourth in the entire country in assists per game.

NCAA Basketball: Oakland at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The last time these two teams met back in February of 2018, Winston helped the Spartans come all the way back from 28 points down, as he poured in 17 points, with 14 of those coming from a scorching shooting performance in the second half, to knock off the Cats 65-60.

Northwestern has had a tough start to conference play, dropping both of its league games to Michigan and Indiana by a combined total of just four points. The Wildcats are led by their senior forward Vic Law, who leads the team with 18.9 points per game. Law, a versatile and athletic wing, is one of only eight players in the country to be averaging 18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in at least 13 games played this year.

Senior forward Derrick Pardon has been a solid big man for the Wildcats and has had a nice start to the season thus far, averaging 13.8 points per game. While undersized for a big at just 6-foot-8, Pardon has still managed to find himself third all-time in program history with 134 blocks and is currently second among active Big Ten players.

The Spartans have been awfully familiar with Pardon over the years, who has a unique and versatile skillset. However, with his lack of size, Pardon simply doesn’t have the length to affect junior forward Nick Ward on his own. Pardon’s matchup with Ward, who’s second on the team with 16.1 points per game and is having a heck of a year thus far, will be the big matchup to watch down low.

Northwestern is turning teams over 14.5 times per game, which ranks fifth in the conference. Turnovers, as they’ve been all season, will be an area of great focus for a Michigan State team which is coughing it up 12.8 times per outing.

Michigan State’s 87.6 points per game ranks ninth in the country, but something will have to give as it goes up against a Northwestern defense which is allowing just 61 points per contest. The Wildcats, who’ve been great at defending the 3-point line this season, stifling teams to just 28.3 percent, have held their last seven opponents below their season-scoring average in regulation.

In his sixth season on the sidelines in Evanston, head coach Chris Collins has had an up-and-down season after a rough 15-17 campaign a year ago. With no bad losses to date on its résumé, NU has found itself a bit as of late, winning three of its last four games, with the one loss coming to Oklahoma in overtime.

Wednesday’s contest marks the 129th time the two programs will meet, with MSU leading the all-time series 90-38, including a 50-8 edge in games played in East Lansing. Tipoff for the game is set for 8:30 p.m. and will be televised on BTN with Dave Revsine and Jon Crispin on the call.