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Basketball Preview: Northwestern

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MSU returns home to take on the last place Wildcats

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

After an actual road trip last week, that saw the Spartans travel directly from Bloomington to Minneapolis, the team returns home for a mid-week game against Northwestern tonight. MSU split their games last week, and now find themselves tied atop the Big Ten with Illinois.

The matchup with Northwestern tonight is the only one not currently labeled as a Tier A or B game on Kenpom in the entire Big Ten schedule. The Wildcats come in at 6-13 overall, and just 1-8 in league play. Their lone road win was back in early December against Boston College. Northwestern is 114 in the Kenpom rankings entering tonight’s game.

Let’s get into the stats for the Wildcats.

On offense the four factors are not too kind. They are 242 in eFG%, 291st in offensive rebounding, and 294 in free throw rate. The one area they do well is not turning the ball over, where they rank 27th nationally.

As you might expect from that eFG number, Northwestern is below the national average in both three-point and two-point shooting. They are a pretty good free throw shooting team, but they don’t get to the line often enough for it to make a difference.

On defense it isn’t much better. They are middle of the pack in eFG% and defensive rebounding. They do not force turnovers, 310th nationally in that department. They also allow the third highest assist rate to their opponents, and Michigan State is tops in the country in that department.

Meanwhile, on the Spartans side of things, the defense has been catching up to the offense, which has had some up and down performances of late. MSU is now 20th in AdjD, boasting the fifth lowest opponent eFG% and fourth lowest three-point shooting percentage.

Despite the fact that Northwestern managed to average a little over a point per possession last time these two teams met, I would be shocked if they can do it again, especially in Breslin.

Players to Watch

Sophomore Miller Kopp is the leading scorer for Northwestern, averaging 13.6 points per game. He is also the team’s best three-point shooter at an even 40 percent. In the first meeting, Kopp was held to nine points on 2-of-9 shooting.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Illinois Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Senior point guard Pat Spencer leads the team with 3.9 assists per game and is second with 11.1 points. Spencer played only 18 minutes in the first game and scored just four points.

The leading scorer in the first game was freshman guard Boo Buie, who poured in a season high 26 points, in large part to a 5-for-7 shooting performance from three. On the season he is a 34% shooter from deep and is averaging 10.2 points per game.

Up front Northwestern has a pair of 6-10 forwards in Ryan Young and Pete Nance. Both players average over nine points and six rebounds per game. Nance had 14 points and seven rebounds in the first game, while Young was held to six points and seven rebounds.

Overall

While there are no easy games in the Big Ten, this should be one that shouldn’t give the home team too much trouble. Since the loss to Duke, the Spartans have won every game at Breslin by at least 12 points, and no opponent has gotten to 70 points. As mentioned, I don’t think Northwestern has the offensive firepower to be the team to come in and break that streak.

Kenpom has this as a 16 point Michigan State advantage and by far the easiest remaining game. As long as the team stays focused this one should be a win and hopefully build some momentum into this weekend’s trip to Madison.