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Preview: MSU men's basketball seeking season sweep Northwestern

January 14, 2022
<p>Freshman forward Julius Marble dunks the ball against Northwestern.The Spartans defeated the Wildcats, 79-50, at the Breslin Student Events Center on January 29, 2020. </p>

Freshman forward Julius Marble dunks the ball against Northwestern.The Spartans defeated the Wildcats, 79-50, at the Breslin Student Events Center on January 29, 2020.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

No. 10 Michigan State will welcome its second familiar opponent of the week to the Breslin Center when Northwestern comes to town for a Saturday afternoon matchup. 

The last time the two teams met on Jan. 2, Michigan State escaped Evanston with a 73-67 victory over the Wildcats. Michigan State was able to pull away late thanks to a clutch three from senior forward Gabe Brown, who had a team-high 20 points in the victory.

Since the last matchup, Michigan State has won back-to-back home games over Nebraska and Minnesota. Northwestern, on the other hand, has lost its three games since the last matchup, including a double-overtime loss to Maryland on Wednesday night. 

Despite not getting a win, senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. said that Northwestern is playing harder than ever over the past two weeks. 

“I think they're playing with a lot more confidence, a lot more grit since we played them,” Bingham said. “I'm looking forward to the challenge Saturday.”

Michigan State enters the game on a nine-game winning streak dating back to its Black Friday loss to No. 1 Baylor. The latest win in the unbeaten stretch came over Minnesota thanks to redshirt senior forward Joey Hauser’s buzzer-beating layup to give MSU the 71-69 victory. The win moved MSU to 5-0 in the Big Ten, its best start to a conference slate since the 2018-19 season.

Michigan State Men's Basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo was not happy with the team’s performance after allowing the Minnesota guards to operate seamlessly in the pick-and-roll and drive to the rim, leading to easy buckets or offensive rebounds caused by the defensive rotation.

Izzo said the team has been religiously watching game tape to identify the recurring mistakes and try to find the root of the issues.

“We really spent some time in meetings and film sessions on Michigan State — what we did wrong, why we did them wrong — and got a lot done, but not a lot done physically,” Izzo said.

Izzo and Michigan State are looking to have a stronger game on both ends of the court when the Wildcats come to town. MSU is looking to fix its defensive mistakes while making sure they do not have another slow start offensively like the last time these two teams met up.

Junior point guard Tyson Walker said that Michigan State not playing a complete game yet on both ends of the floor can be seen as a positive because the team has still found a way to jump out to a 14-2 record and has lots of room to improve.

“We haven't really played a full 40 (minutes) yet, which is kind of a good thing for our record,” Walker said. “So it was definitely a lot to improve and it's easy to improve. And once we do that, it'll help us a lot.”

Northwestern enters this game with an 8-6 record and a 1-4 conference record, including four straight Big Ten losses dating back to the first matchup with MSU. 

On offense, the Wildcats are powered by their ability to hold on to the ball and make the right pass at the right time. Northwestern currently ranks in the top 10 nationally in turnover percentage and assist percentage according to KenPom. The two players that have benefited the most from Northwestern’s clean offense are senior forward Pete Nance and junior guard Boo Buie, who combine to average 31.9 points per game.

The biggest issue for the Wildcats has been defensively despite holding MSU under 40% field goal shooting in the first matchup. Northwestern has given up at least 94 points in its last two losses to Ohio State and Maryland. The biggest issue has been slowing down opponents from deep. Northwestern allows teams to make 34.5% of their threes, good for 238th in the country according to KenPom.

Michigan State will take on Northwestern at noon on Saturday at the Breslin Center. The game will be televised on Big Ten Network.

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