Northwestern (8-3 overall, 0-1 in the conference)
vs. Florida State 73-59
at Butler 57-53
at Stanford 65-59
at Penn State 61-57
Why they could win:
1. Statistically, they are playing really good defense. The Wildcats lead the conference in scoring defense allowing only 53.8 ppg. They are holding opponents to 39% shooting from the field which is second in the Big Ten, but 24th nationally. They are also second to Purdue in the Big Ten with regards to turnover margin with a +3.8 value.
2. Hot shooting. So far this season, the Wildcats are shooting 40% from behind the arc. Their best three point shooters are Kevin Coble and Craig Moore. They are shooting 40% and 47% respectively. Mix that in with the fact that Michigan State is notoriously bad at defending the three and this could be trouble. Northwestern is also making nearly 48% of their two-point shots.
3. Inspired play. Not only are the Wildcats playing to save the job of Bill Carmody, they also could be motivated by Craig Moore eclipsing the 1000 career point mark. This will most likely happen during the game.
Why Northwestern could lose:
1. Poor rebounding. Despite holding teams to poor FG percentages, the Wildcats are not rebounding very well, especially on the defensive end. They even rank worse than Minnesota with regards to cleaning the glass.
2. Lack of athleticism. If MSU gets out and running, Northwestern will have essentially no chance of winning this game. The Wildcats will need to slow it down, be patient, and run the Princeton offense effectively to beat the more athletic Spartans.
3. Their defense is likely overrated. Although statistically the Wildcats look amazingly competitive on the defensive end, their numbers are likely overinflated due to their lack of quality opponents. They are 0-3 against teams ranked in the top 50, but have played them all on the road and were extremely competitive in every game.
This contest has all of the hallmarks of being a trap game. The Spartans are coming off of their best performance this season and face the perennial doormat of the Big Ten in Northwestern on the road. But this Northwestern team on paper appears to be cut from a different cloth. They are shooting the ball very well and forcing their opponents to take bad shots. The key to the game will be how do these stats translate against the most athletic team they have seen all season.
In the end, I see the Spartans coming home with the victory, but unimpressively. It will be a grind it out game and the Wildcats will hang around because of excellent three point shooting.
MSU over Northwestern 68-61.
Tomorrow: Northwestern Post Game.