Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Northwestern Preview #2

Michigan State looks to beat Northwestern for the second time this year. Their previous contest featured one of Raymar Morgan's best games of the year where he went for 22 points and 13 rebounds. Today, it is uncertain whether or not Raymar Morgan will play due to an illness. Can the bench provide enough to overcome the outside shooting Wildcats? Joe Rexrode discusses it here.

Northwestern (9-6 overall, 1-4 in the conference)

Key Wins:
vs. Florida State 73-59
vs. Minnesota 74-65

Key Losses:
at Penn State 61-57
at Wisconsin 74-45
vs MSU 77-66
vs Purdue 63-61

Why Northwestern Could Win:
1. Hot shooting - We all are aware of how much Northwestern likes to shoot the three ball. In fact, 36% of all of their points this year have come from behind the arc. Craig Moore continues to be hot shooting 45% from three point land on the season. Kevin Coble can also convert from distance. If they shoot the lights out in the Breslin, we could see another overplayed BTN commercial featuring an upset of MSU.
2. Turnover Margin - Northwestern is a top the Big Ten with regards to turnover margin at +4.33. The Wildcats lead the Big Ten in steals per game averaging over 8 swipes per contest. Add that to a very efficient offense that scores on an assist 68% of the time and you have a recipe for success. If the Spartans turn the ball over like they did in the first half of the Illinois game, we will be in big trouble.
3. Look Inside More - During last matchup against MSU, Northwestern got a lot of easy buckets down low. Luckily for us, the Wildcats insisted on chucking up threes from nearly half court. If they play more disciplined and only shoot threes when they are open, they could make this a close game. Also look for them to exploit Suton's apparent lack of quickness out on the perimeter. He had a hard time defending against the drive the last time we played them probably due to his knee injury.

Why Northwestern could lose:
1. Poor Rebounding - The Wildcats are dead last in conference rebounding margin at worse than -14 per game. This is horrendous. The next worse is -4.4 per game. Look for Michigan State to dominate on the glass and probably increase their current rebounding margin of +15.
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. MSU is Shutting Down the Three in Conference - Currently Michigan State leads the Big Ten in conference 3-pt FG defense holding opponents to just under 29%. While I would hope that this is due to great Spartan defensive pressure, I'm concerned that our conference opponents have just been cold so far this year. Historically, we have not defended the three well but if we continue our current pace, we will be very successful through the end of the season.

On paper, it appears that Michigan State will dominate nearly all aspects of this game. They should be able to dictate tempo, outrebound, and have success defending Northwestern's three point shooters without difficulty. Then, add in the fact that the game is going to be played in the Breslin Center and you have to wonder how Michigan State could possibly lose this game. Statistics do not always translate onto the court however.

The only way that Northwestern wins this game is if Coble and Moore get extremely hot and the team creates 20+ Michigan State turnovers. Don't be surprised if the Wildcats achieve one of these two goals, but I don't think both will happen. In the end, the more athletic Spartans will prevail.

Michigan State over Northwestern 72-56

"They're a lot different, they're going to more of those 6-7, 6-8 guys. ... They're turning people over a lot, they're a lot different team than they were, and (Craig) Moore has been pretty effective as of late. ...This is a better team than the one we played earlier, and we are, too."
--Tom Izzo on Northwestern

I agree with all of the above except for how we are a better team than when we played them earlier. Since then we have been Helter Skelter with great wins over Ohio State and Kansas, but then struggling badly against Penn State and Illinois.

"They are a fast-paced team, they get the ball out and go. We have to get back, stop the ball and make them play against our 1-3-1 zone."
--Michael Thompson, NW sophomore guard

The first step is believing. The next is going out and doing it.

Around the Big Ten
1) Michigan Destroyed by Penn State 73-58 - Michigan's insistence to jack up threes is ridiculous. They started this game with 8 three-ball attempts in the first three and a half minutes. They finished 5-30 from behind the arc while DeShawn Sims was dominating inside. Sims finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds on 10-14 shooting. Hopefully Michigan will continue to ignore Sims when we play them down in Ann Arbor.

Michigan's current 3-game skid is starting to make Brian Ellerbe and Tommy Amaker proud. Could they be going into their typical January and February disappearing act? No way this Michigan team misses the tournament this year right? I knew I shouldn't have picked them to finished third in the conference.

2) Illinois Handled Ohio State - Illinois had their typical balanced scoring act while Ohio State had difficulty taking care of the ball. The Buckeyes finished with a season high 20 turnovers. BJ Mullens finished with 14 points on 6-8 shooting.

"Why didn't you comment on the Arkansas's hiring of John L. Smith as special teams coordinator?"
--Jon from Owosso, MI

Well, I indeed did know about it. I just didn't know if I should put it into the blog or not. It's pretty ironic that John L. Smith got this gig as a special teams coordinator. I hope he doesn't "screw it up."

Tomorrow - Northwestern Post Game

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