Men’s Basketball: Tall task ahead for NU against No. 6 Michigan State

Dan Ryan

Northwestern enters its contest against No. 6 Michigan State on Saturday sitting at 1-3 in the Big Ten and coming off back-to-back heartbreaking losses against Illinois and No. 13 Michigan. The loss to the Wolverines was especially sour, as the Wildcats’ senior forward Alex Marcotullio missed the game-tying free throws at the end of regulation, and the team fell 66-64.

Michigan State lost its first two games of the season against North Carolina and Duke, but has since gone on a 15-game winning streak, most recently a three-point victory over Wisconsin in overtime and a 95-61 demolition of Iowa.

The way the Cats lost to each of their conference rivals leaves reason to be concerned as the team prepares to host the powerhouse Spartans. Against Michigan, which ranks 10th in the Big Ten in rebounding offense, the Cats were dominated on the offensive glass to the tune of 17-5. Michigan State, unfortunately for NU, ranks first in the conference in rebounding offense and first in rebounding margin.

A big reason for the Spartans’ success on the glass has been Draymond Green. The senior forward has been a force in his four years on Tom Izzo’s team, and is having the best season of his career, averaging 15.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, good for first on the team in each category.

Should the Cats choose to go with a small lineup – as they did against Michigan when coach Bill Carmody chose to sit senior center Luka Mirkovic and start senior forward John Shurna at center – they could find themselves at a severe disadvantage on the boards.

To compound NU’s problems, Michigan State comes to Evanston ranked at or near the top in almost every Big Ten defensive stat as well, including No. 3 in total defense, No. 2 in steals, and, most importantly for the Cats, No. 2 in three-point field goal defense. For an NU team that lives and dies by its ability to shoot from beyond the arc, Michigan State presents a very difficult matchup problem on both ends of the court.

Saturday’s contest has extra importance for the Cats’ dwindling NCAA Tournament hopes, but they face a tall task against a Spartan team that has not lost in almost two months.

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