29 January 2010

Countdown to Northwestern at Michigan State

Northwestern (14-6, 3-5 Big Ten) travels to the Breslin Center to take on Michigan State (18-3, 8-0) at 6PM Central on Tuesday January 26. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network and radio coverage is on WYLL-AM 1160 and wgnradio.com.

Michigan State leads the series 78-37 which includes the game played earlier this year in which Sparty ran the Wildcats out of the Welsh en route to a 91-70 drubbing. Northwestern shocked Michigan State at the Breslin last year and left East Lansing with a 70-63 victory in its pocket. In that glorious game the stars aligned with Kevin Coble knocking down a variety of circus shots while Juice Thompson and Craig Moore were knocking down bombs from the parking lot. It was Northwestern's first ever victory at the Breslin and snapped MSU's home winning streak over NU which dated back to 1984. Since that game MSU has dominated NU to the tune of 44-4. Wow!

MSU got off to a slow start this year (by their lofty standards). MSU lost three non-conference games including head scratchers against Florida and at North Carolina. These losses can be partly explained by Izzo's tendency to use the non-conference schedule to test his team with good competition while at the same time trying different things to see what works best. Who can argue with this formula as Sparty has raced off to an 8-0 record in Big Ten play?

Early in Big Ten play MSU was playing so well that we weren't sure if Michigan State would lose any conference games. However MSU squeaked out road victories over Minnesota and Michigan in its past two games. Are teams figuring out how to attack MSU? Is MSU losing its competitive edge as they have raced off to a large conference lead? Is this just simply a reflection of how difficult it is to win on the road? Or is MSU just going through one of its down periods that temporarily happens to all teams? We think it's a combination of all the above.

As for Saturday's game the best thing Northwestern has going for it is that Michigan State held on for victories in its last two games and kept its perfect conference record intact. It also helps that Sparty humiliated NU at the Welsh since it gives NU the motivational edge in the rematch. On the flipside Sparty will be motivated to avenge its loss last year at the Breslin. And then there is the fact that MSU is uber-talented and will blow away Northwestern if they bring their "A game."

In the rematch a no-brainer adjustment will be for NU to slow down the tempo and keep Sparty within range for a final game push. In Evanston MSU built up a sizable lead that forced NU to take more risks and opened up the flow of the game. Sparty with its superior athletes was able to take full advantage and pulled away. In this game Northwestern will want to slow the Spartans down and keep MSU transition baskets to a minimum. With this strategy and MSU's dominance of the boards in mind we don't expect NU to crash the offensive boards. NU shooting accuracy will be a necessity in this game. Some long rebounds off missed bombs would also be helpful.

What to expect? We hate to say it but even with the emotional edge NU doesn't stand much of a chance. Then again we thought the same going into last year's game. Nothing would make us happier than for Mssrs. Thompson, Shurna, Crawford, et al. to make us eat our words.