Northwestern (8-9, 1-3 Big Ten) recorded easily its best win of the season Sunday against then-No. 23 Illinois, but the Wildcats will face a much tougher opponent Wednesday night when No. 4 Michigan State (15-1, 4-0) visits Welsh-Ryan Arena.
The Spartans’ only loss came on their home court to an inconsistent North Carolina team, but since then they have won eight games in a row. In all three of their true road games, they have won by at least 14 points.
Last time out, Northwestern used a slow pace and a bit of luck in regards to Illinois’ cold shooting to pull off the upset.
Redshirt sophomore Tre Demps a trio of clutch three-pointers late in the second half, and, though the Wildcats four turnovers in the final two minutes, redshirt senior Drew Crawford‘s four free throws in the final seconds sealed head coach Chris Collins’ first Big Ten victory.
Sunday marked Collins first win against a Top-25 school, but it was already becoming clear before their loss to the Wildcats that the Illini are not at that level, although they definitely could make the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
Michigan State will be a whole other type of test Wednesday.
The Spartans are led by a deep, dynamic backcourt.
Sophomore Gary Harris is one of the nation’s best wings, averaging 17.8 points per game. When healthy, Harris can take over a game.
Senior Keith Appling has continued his development into a true point guard, and he is now one of the best in the Big Ten. This season, Appling is averaging 16.4 points and 4.6 dimes per game. His assist-turnover ratio nears 2.4.
Though not as well known, sophomore Denzel Valentine and junior Travis Trice are also high-quality members of the Michigan State backcourt.
Valentine is averaging career-bests practically across the board. Lost in Appling’s precious guard play are his 4.1 assists per game, and he only turns the ball over 1.8 times per contest.
The Spartans’ possess the Big Ten’s best big man in senior Adreian Payne, but his status for Wednesday’s game is questionable. Payne missed Michigan State’s last game against Minnesota on Saturday, and there is no clear timetable for his return.
Tom Izzo makes it clear — MSU will rest Payne ” until he’s 100 percent.” Could be out this week, next week, no timeline.
— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) January 13, 2014
Junior Branden Dawson does not have the size at 6’6″ to dominate in the frontcourt like Payne can, but he can make up for at least some of his size disadvantage with his impressive athleticism.
Dawson is averaging 10.4 points on 60% shooting and 8.7 rebounds this season, and in two Big Ten road games so far he is averaging 16.5 points.
6’8″ freshman Kenny Kaminski has received a big boost in playing time since conference play began, and he has been delivering. The rookie is 15-of-24 (62.5%) from three-point range this season, and against Minnesota he posted 15 points on 5-of-7 long-range shooting.
Northwestern will have to choose whether to let him shoot over its perimeter players, or let sophomore center Alex Olah guard Kaminsky on the three-point line at the expense of leaving the paint open.
Opening tip if set for 6 p.m. CT.