NU kicks off its home Big Ten schedule tonight against... oh. That's unfortunate. Michigan State. No. 20 Michigan State.
If I can make it back from work in time, it will be the first time I've ever seen Michigan State play - as a freshman and sophomore, scheduling contrived so that Michigan State's victories over Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan took place the Saturday before classes started, i.e. the day before I got to Northwestern. I spent last year watching it at a sports bar in Tampa, and it was awful. This year, the game is two days later - the Monday classes start - and it will make a world of difference, as Michigan State will actually have to listen to people who don't want them to win - sure, it's just Welsh-Ryan, but, we'll try to make some noise.
Analyses after the jump, comrades.
Are they good?: Funny thing to ask of a team fresh off two Final Four appearances. But it's a reasonable question to ask as a fan of a 9-2 team playing against an 8-4 team. However, Michigan State's four losses are the result of what is unquestionably the most aggressive out-of-conference scheduling of any contending team in college basketball. (Kenpom says they have the ninth toughest schedule in the nation - only West Virginia and Cal from power conferences rank higher, and their schedules seem to be serendipitously difficult rather than by choice.) Three of the teams MSU has lost to - Duke, Connecticut, and Syracuse - are amongst the seven still undefeated teams in the country. The fourth, Texas, is ranked No. 13 and is 10-2. Outside of that, they've been impressive, including a victory over a very good Washington team - although they've had off days, including a 77-76 win over Oakland and a eight-point victory over D-II Chaminade. But starting off the Big Ten with a confident victory over a good Minnesota team was a decent move.
Who they got?: MSU always scares me with their depth. Without Chris Allen and Raymar Morgan, that's less true, but they still have an unbelievable starting five - Kalin Lucas, the killer point guard, Durrell Summers, who has really come into his own as a scorer,, Delvon Roe not a big scorer but one of the better defenders down low in the conference in my opinion, Draymond Green (who is finally getting some recognition after coming off the bench last year) AND bring someone of Korie Lucious' caliber off the bench at point guard.
What are they good at?: They're a great shooting team, filling it up at 39.4 percent from downtown. (Summers, Lucas, Green, and Keith Appling all start and average over 40 percent from downtown.) Then they put players like Roe and Green in the paint, and, well, it gets ugly. They're also a great defensive team, which you can tell by the fact that they allow teams to shoot 39.8 percent from the floor - only .4 percent better than MSU shoots as a team from downtown.
How do we do against them?: Everybody remembers the 2009 victory over MSU at the Breslin Center - NU's first victory at the Breslin Center - where Kevin Coble went off for 31 points, not to mention a gutsy 20-point, 4-of-8 from downtown performance from Michael Thompson. However, the fact that it's noteworthy underlies the fact that NU doesn't perform well against Michigan State. Last year, NU went 0-2. The common theme of both performances is that John Shurna had great outings: 29 points at home, 31 on the road, on combined 22-43 shooting. However, his team didn't show up in either performance: at home, non-Shurna players shot 12-42 from the field, on the road, 12-31. Don't blame Shurna for being ballhoggish in either - nobody besides him had anything going. At home, NU was blown out, 91-70, in a performance where NU was simply out-classed athletically in ways I've rarely seen, even from an NU team.
Is there a blueprint to beating MSU?: Being very, very, very good. Other than that, get MSU's bigs into foul trouble and get offensive rebounds. Against Duke and Connecticut, Delvon Roe fouled out: UConn's Alex Oriakhi had a 15-point, 17-rebound performance with nine offensive boards, Duke's Mason Plumlee brought down seven offensive boards. Against Syracuse, Green and Roe both had four fouls, Rick Jackson had a 17-point, 16-rebound performance featuring six offensive rebounds. Against Texas, Green fouled out and Tristan Thompson had 17 points and 15 rebounds, six offensive. Green and Roe are both spectacular defensive rebounders - when they're off the court, there are boards to be had.
Sadly, there's nobody even close to capable of doing that for Northwestern, right?: Right.
So how can NU beat MSU?: Being very, very, very good. Other than that, hoping somebody besides John Shurna shows up. MSU will let one guy get going. Two? The only time NU has been able to accomplish that against MSU was when Thompson got hot alongside Coble's virtuoso performance two years ago. Outside of them, NU had a rough outing - the team besides Thompson/Coble shot 7-25 - but played spectacularly against a team not at ease with the 1-3-1, forcing 18 turnovers.
Should Northwestern win?: Kenpom seems to think it's a possilbity, giving NU a surprisingly high 45 percent chance of holding home court. However, I disagree. Michigan State let NU fool them once with the tight 1-3-1 defense and guys who can randomly get hot from downtown in 2009. Tom Izzo will not let NU fool him twice. With John Shurna still gimpy, NU would need about 25 from Drew Crawford, 20 more from Juice, and solid defensive play from everybody 3-10 in the rotation in order to pull out a win. Michigan State in the halfcourt will be too well-coached to turn the ball over, on defense, they'll be too athletic to let NU get serious.