Michigan State basketball must avoid losing focus vs. Northwestern

Rocket Watts, Michigan State basketball (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
Rocket Watts, Michigan State basketball (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /

Although Michigan State basketball is riding high after a road win and first-place standing in the Big Ten, it cannot overlook Northwestern at home.

Tom Izzo has talked about his team failing to get up for lesser opponents and that’s what has killed the Spartans at Purdue and at Indiana in recent weeks. Those were two opponents that the Spartans should have taken care of, but the road atmosphere seemed to have gotten to the green and white and they turtled under pressure.

Those two poor performances against beatable teams were the difference between a 9-0 record in conference play and being alone in first place in the Big Ten and a 7-2 record, tied with Illinois.

Northwestern comes to town and this is the exact situation Izzo was talking about: getting up for even the Big Ten teams at the bottom of the conference standings. If the Spartans can follow up a big road win with a comfortable victory aft home against a team they should handle with ease, it would be clear Izzo’s message has been received by the team.

Cassius Winston bounced back at Minnesota and Xavier Tillman, too, while Aaron Henry responded to a last-minute bench role and both Rocket Watts and Malik Hall gained some confidence in the starting five.

This team turned a corner against Minnesota.

Here’s how you can watch Wednesday’s game vs. Northwestern:

Date: Wednesday, Jan. 29
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Location: East Lansing, Mich.
Venue: Breslin Center
TV: Big Ten Network
Live Stream: FOX Sports Go

Keys to Victory

Keeping Cassius Winston hot is not only important for this game against the Wildcats, but also for the road stretch (3-of-4 games) coming up. He needs to hunt for his own shots early and have another Minnesota-like game. If he does that, the rest of the offense will get involved because of the double-teams he’ll draw and that’s when guys like Xavier Tillman, Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown thrive.

The last time these two teams met, the Spartans let Boo Buie go off and it’s imperative they keep him under wraps and don’t let him quiet the crowd with a big run of his own. While he’s not the leading scorer, he can hurt MSU from deep and that’s where either Cassius Winston or Rocket Watts come in on the defensive end. Protecting the 3-point line is important because that’s where a team like Northwestern could hurt you and pull off an upset. This team likely won’t beat Michigan State inside, so shut down the perimeter and the rest will take care of itself.

Players to Watch

Northwestern (6-13, 1-8) has had a rough season and averages just 66 points per game, while surrendering just over 67. The Wildcats don’t put a ton of points on the board, but there are a few guys to keep an eye on.

  • Miller Copp: 13.6 points, 3.8 rebounds, 40% 3-point shooting
  • Pat Spencer: 11.1 points, 3.9 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 44% FG shooting
  • Boo Buie: 10.2 points, 2.4 assists, 34% 3-point shooting

Next. 3 takeaways from gritty win at Minnesota. dark


Izzo knows all too well that these are the types of games that could get Michigan State into some trouble, just like the Indiana game in East Lansing a year ago, but the Spartans will get off to a quick start and never look back. Northwestern isn’t a complete pushover despite its record and could give the Spartans a tough time at home, but Michigan State has seen the Wildcats once already this season and it should know how to stymy the Wildcats. Defense will lock down Northwestern.

Final Score: Northwestern 51, Michigan State 71