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Northwestern vs. Michigan State Predux

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Sometimes, NU plays a team in basketball. Then, eight of those times, they play that same team, AGAIN. It's sort of like the film Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, except less likely to get name-dropped by Travie McCoy in pop songs I hear on the way to work because it is a concept and not a bad movie with a title.

Anyway, when that happens, I'll be around to tell you about it. Kind of the same way I do for previews. But better. Or worse, depending on whether you think "Breakin'" was a better movie than "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo".

Last time: Really? This happened, like, 12 days ago. You can't remember it? That's some early-onset Alzheimer's stuff right there, and I feel comfortable saying that because Bill Carmody said it to me like three times last year when he couldn't remember the names of old players he coached. Anyway, NU slowly let Michigan State build a lead that steadily trickled from like 4-ish to 13 over the course of the first 57 minutes of the game, gradually cutting back into the lead but not actually getting close in any meaningful way. Then NU went on an absurd 12-0 run featuring nine points from Michael Thompson as well as a 3-pointer by Davide Curletti to go along with two offensive fouls by MSU and two missed front-ends of one-and-ones. Sadly for NU, the second one of those would end up being a game-sealing putback by Draymond Green, and NU fell by three at home. At the time, NU was bummed about it probably, but the rally was one of the more impressive things I've seen NU put together.

Since we last met: The Spartans have only taken the court twice since playing NU, but they've been mighty eventful. First, MSU headed to State College. They did the hard part, holding Talor Battle to 3-of-14 shooting, including 1-of-8 from downtown, but were outclassed by Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jackson, who combined for 33 points on the night. Battle connected down the stretch and Penn State pulled off the 66-62 upset (which was made to look a lot better when Penn State beat Illinois a few days later.) Then, MSU looked ugly against Wisconsin, trailed by nine in the game's late stages, but an NU against MSU-esque comeback saw Michigan State force overtime and pull off the W over the ranked Badgers, and saw Draymond Green bounce back from a 2-of-10 shooting night with a season-saving career-high 26 points. Neither game saw MSU look good on either end of the ball. MSU's 1-1 record says something about their talent and Draymond Green's scoring ability.

How'd they win the first time?: Some would focus just on the late game: Bill Carmody managed the clock poorly, Draymond Green got an easy board over a hobbled John Shurna, and NU didn't get off a good shot. But the way I see it, even if Green doesn't get the rebound, it was down in the position it was in for a reason and still had a more than likely chance of losing the game. First off, NU shot considerably worse than Michigan State: with only three less shot attempts, NU hit 11 less field goals. They made up much of the difference with free throws and 3-pointers, but still. NU also got into a hole by getting viciously, viciously outrebounded 24-39, and allowing Durrell Summers to hit five 3-pointers, including three against the 1-3-1 in the second half, in addition to the worst outing of John Shurna's season, and possibly career: a 1-of-11 night where he went 1-of-5 from downtown and clearly was having issues with his ankle sprain - issues that appeared to be gone against Indiana and Iowa. NU also took surprisingly poor care of the basketball - 12 turnovers to 10 assists - it seemed to me like the Princeton Offense didn't get as much off of MSU's defense as it did from other teams, especially without Shurna as a shooting threat. Drew Crawford tried to take his man one-on-one with disastrous results on many occasions when the offense broke down - see Keith Appling's five blocks.

How did NU stay close?: Drawing ticky-tack fouls in the second half that they knew the ref would call. NU was shooting free throws well before the ten-minute mark of the second half, going 16-24 from the line. Before you whine about that stat, remember that MSU only went 1-5 from the line. However, the much better answer would be that NU didn't stay close until Juice decided to go ape balls on MSU while the zone played some of its most inspired possessions of the year, forcing charges. I was also particularly impressed with NU's transition defense - normally, any transition play against a team as athletic as MSU is an easy bucket. But the Cats got back and stood their ground rather than fouling, drawing several charges and forcing Spartans to alter their shots.

How can NU win?: You know what would be nice? John Shurna. He did a good job of getting fouled in the second half, but, he's NU's best player, and, well, 1-for-11 shooting will not let NU win Saturday. NU will need a virtuoso individual performance and solid defense/rebounding to win. Shurna's the most likely candidate on offense. The PO didn't look particularly great against Purdue and MSU - both aggressive man-to-man teams - so I predict all NU scoring will need to come off Shurna and Juice just feeling it. However, the whole team will have to contribute to not letting MSU dominate the glass - even though Davide Curletti has looked great offensively as of late, I don't think NU can afford to let him play with how poor his rebounding has been against a team that hits the offensive glass as hard as MSU. Although MSU's 1-for-5 shooting from the charity stripe last game was a fluke, they're still generally awful from the line, so foul hard when the opportunity arises - the Spartans got a lot of uncontested layups last game that could have been prevented by some illegal muscle down low.

Can NU win?: Woulda said no: East Lansing ain't exactly an easy place to play. But great bounceback games after the Illinois loss, poor play by MSU against Penn State, and a game that could have gone either way at Welsh-Ryan has me feeling like NU has an outside shot tomorrow.

Do you have an inspirational video, considering The Only Colors said they would be posting the Chet Haze video?: Uhh, yeah.