Northwestern has a chance to salvage a memorable win from this season as the No. 2 Michigan State Spartans come to Allstate Arena.
Northwestern is coming off its worst loss of the season after losing in overtime at Rutgers. Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team, on the other hand, is rounding into form. The Spartans have overcome some early struggles and won nine straight in Big Ten play, including a critical 68-65 win over Purdue. Michigan State is tied with Ohio State atop the Big Ten after the Buckeyes’ blowout loss at Penn State, so the Spartans should have plenty to play for this afternoon.
On paper, this matchup shouldn’t be close. Michigan State is an 8-point favorite and a significantly better basketball team. But Michigan State has been guilty of sleepwalking through a few Big Ten road games this season (three-point wins over Iowa and Indiana come to mind, as well as a disastrous 80-64 loss in Columbus). With Lindsey, Law and Pardon Northwestern has enough talent to at least bother Michigan State, even if Bryant McIntosh is limited or out of the game entirely.
The problem is that Northwestern doesn’t have the depth or talent to bother Michigan State for very long. Led by sophomore Miles Bridges, who forewent the NBA Draft to stay for another year, Michigan State is the most talented team in the Big Ten. The Spartans have the No. 8 offense and No. 5 defense in the nation on KenPom. In regard to shooting, they should roll out a lights-out starting lineup with Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Jaren Jackson, all of whom are making threes at an absurd rate.
If Michigan State comes out of the blocks energized, Northwestern will be in big trouble. Michigan State’s elite defense should suffocate any Northwestern attempts at a comeback if things get ugly early on. The MSU defense has been tested in conference play, but Northwestern’s offense is so out of shape that it’s hard to see the Wildcats coming back if they go down by 10-15 at halftime or something. Northwestern is going to have to take advantage of any early opportunities and just try to hang on.
Bryant McIntosh has not looked right for the last few games, and if he doesn’t play or is limited this could be a disaster for the Wildcats. We haven’t received any word on his injury, but we’ll update this space when we do. Same for Jordan Ash, who has missed the last two contests with a lower body injury.
Game Time: 1 p.m. CST
Streaming: FOX Sports Go
Radio: WGN 720
KenPom prediction: 72-64, Michigan State (23 percent chance of NU winning)
Betting line: Michigan State -8
Last meeting: Michigan State 61, Northwestern 52 (December 30th, 2016)