MSU vs Northwestern: Can the Spartans Keep Chase?

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Can Michigan State Keep Up in the B1G Title Race? A preview written by Tim Beck and Jason Dorow.

By The Numbers:
MSU
Team Northwestern
20-4 Record 12-12
#9 Ranking NR
10 RPI 98
8 BPI 123
12 Kenpom 113
4 Sagarin 123

February 13, 2014 - Breslin Center, East Lansing, MI

7:00 ET BTN

Skinny:

Since their last meeting on January 15th, Northwestern has gone 4-2 and MSU has gone 4-3. The first matchup was all Michigan State, winning 54-40 in Evanston.

But the B1G has been anything but predictable. Currently there is no team with more then a 2 game winning streak, but there is also no team with more then a 2 game losing streak. The middle to bottom of the B1G has been a log-jam, and hasn't quite figured itself out yet. And Northwestern is right in the thick of it, which has been one of the more surprising stories this season because no one figured that going in to conference play.

Projected Starting Lineups:
Michigan State
Pos. Northwestern
Travis Trice
G JerShon Cobb
Gary Harris
G Kale Abrahamson
Denzel Valentine
G Drew Crafword
Matt Costello
F Sanjay Lumpkin
Adreian Payne
C

Alex Olah

Northwestern Players to Watch by Jason Dorow:

Alex Olah - Since Jan. 6, Olah has averaged just 6 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, and the Big Ten's big men are scoring at ease against him in the post. Olah needs to step up big time on both ends of the floor against his toughest matchup of the year, Adreian Payne.

Drew Crawford - Drew Crawford is the sparkplug for Northwestern. Everything starts with him. Look for NU to get Crawford lots of shots early and often. Crawford led NU to a big road win at Wisconsin with a 30 point outing. The Wildcats have no chance in the Breslin Center if their senior leader isn't on his game.

Tre Demps - In clutch time this season, NU has consistently gone to Tre Demps. If this game is close, Demps is going to play the point and handle the rock down the stretch. How he handles pressure from the MSU defense could determine the outcome in this one.

Michigan State Players to Watch by Tim Beck:

Adreian Payne: Payne lead MSU with 24 points against Wisconsin. He did not play in the first game in this series. Expect Payne to have another good game going up against the Wildcats big guys.

Travis Trice: Trice played a good game for the Spartans with Appling sitting with an injury. It looks like Appling will be unable to go again, so Trice will be leaned upon again. His defense against Northwestern's guards will be key to this game.

Gary Harris: Harris struggled shooting against Wisconsin on Sunday, going 3-20 from the field and finishing with only 6 points. Expect Harris to shake those struggles at home.

What This Game Means for the Spartans by Tim Beck:

For Michigan State this is another game that helps them keep pace with the now B1G leading Michigan Wolverines. They are already behind on the head-to-head with Michigan, so they need to keep winning if they want that regular season championship. This game starts a 3-game stretch that is very winnable for the Spartans. After this they have Nebraska at home then travel to Purdue. It is the final four game stretch that will be the toughest of the season, when they play at Michigan, home verse Illinois, home verse Iowa, and at Ohio State. They need to get back on a winning streak now, so they are on a full head of steam going into that tough stretch. It starts with this game.

What This Game Means for the Wildcats by Jason Dorow :

The Wildcats head to East Lansing after a devastating loss to Nebraska. Northwestern seemed to have all the momentum in their favor, getting big wins at Wisconsin and Minnesota, and a huge crowd turned out at Welsh-Ryan Arena Saturday for the matchup with Nebraska. The loss to Cornhuskers really put a damper on the season outlook. The NCAA tournament talk disappeared and NIT hopes are depleting. A win at Michigan State would reinvigorate the team and possibly help NU close out the conference season strong. All that said, a loss wouldn't hurt NU that much. With games against Nebraska, Penn St., Purdue, Indiana, and Minnesota left on the schedule, Northwestern can make a push to finish above .500 no matter what happens Thursday night.

Prediction:

TB: Michigan State 70, Northwestern 50

MSU wins comfortably. The Wildcats have the guards to cause fits for MSU. Payne will be too much of a problem for Olah and company. Defensively, Northwestern has been great at times this season. They will need to be on their 'A' game to hang with MSU.

JD: Michigan State 72, Northwestern 59

The Spartans simply have too much talent for NU to handle. With Dawson and Appling likely on the bench, the 'Cats will be able to keep it close for awhile, but depth will catch up to them. It's tough to hang with Gary Harris and the MSU guards for 40 minutes with essentially a seven-man lineup. Spartans pull ahead late with big contributions from Harris and Payne.

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