Needless to say, the Breslin Center in East Lansing hasn't been the happiest arena as of late. After dropping a home game to Illinois Saturday, Tom Izzo and the Spartans will need to seriously regroup to keep their March Madness hopes alive. They get their opportunity to do so when they visit Northwestern tonight to match up with the Wildcats. Elsewhere, Wisconsin looks to continue their win streak when they travel to Nebraska. Is there any change the Huskers could pull off a miracle? Breakdowns to follow.
Game of the Night
Michigan State Spartans @ Northwestern Wildcats - 7:00 ET (BTN)
While Wisconsin/Nebraska may have the nationally televised game of the night, this contest between Northwestern and Michigan State may in fact mean more. The Spartans (15-8, 6-4) have struggled to gain any traction this year, having dropped easier Big Ten games to Nebraska and most recently Illinois. While Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com currently has them seeded as a #9 in the tourney, Michigan State has yet to win a game against a ranked opponent. They've effectively put themselves in the position where a loss to a team like Northwestern can derail their already turbulent season. The key will be the play of the seniors. Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice and Branden Dawson all have the potential to play with the best in the country at their positions if they can get their act together. Trice needs to shoot more consistently from range (20% last game) and Dawson's rebounding (9.9 RPG) will have to continue down the stretch. However the Achilles heel of the Spartans has been free throw shooting. At the bottom on the conference, they shoot a measly 62.1% from the line. In their loss to the Illini, they shot a collective 7-18 for 38.9%. This needs to change, and fast.
Northwestern (10-13, 1-9) is searching for their second Big Ten win of the season. After narrowly missing a couple upset chances over Michigan State, Maryland and Ohio State, the Wildcats have all but fallen off the bandwagon. The end of the tale is coming for PG Dave Sobolewski who has seen reduced minutes in favor of the younger Bryan McIntosh. There's nothing more Chris Collins would want than for his senior leader to end his career on a high note. Fortunately for them, beating the Spartans could provide that high. Center Alex Olah has done an excellent job defending in the past against other Big Ten big men like Frank Kaminsky and Nnanna Egwu. His presence inside the paint provides a legitimate defense against guys like Gavin Shilling and Dawson. This could open up a realm of possibilities for the Wildcats on both sides of the floor. Look for Tre Demps of the Wildcats to get going against a larger Spartan lineup. He could be the X-factor in this one. That being said, the edge goes to the more experienced, more talented and better coached team in MSU. But wouldn't it be fun to see the Wildcats do something crazy?
#5 Wisconsin Badgers @ Nebraska Cornhuskers - 9:00 ET (ESPN)
At this point in the season, the main motivation for the Badgers is to grab that #1 seed. While currently placed at #5 in the nation, they need a loss from either Duke, Gonzaga or Virginia to clear room at the top (Kentucky would need to lose two improbable games). We already know Frank Kaminsky is a monster and should be a top candidate for the Naismith award. The question now becomes how far can they go?
Nebraska (13-10, 5-6) is running out of gas. After a loss last weekend to Penn State, their tournament hopes have all but died out. While Tim Miles and his team have much to be proud of, this looks to be the last hurrah for Terran Petteway before his graduation and subsequent entry into the NBA draft. To answer the looming question, yes, a win over Wisconsin would change things, but the Huskers would all but need to win out to have a shot to go dancing. Its been a good run.