Date: Wednesday March 2, 2005 – Welsh-Ryan Arena – Evanston, IL
Time: 8 p.m.
The Wildcats (14-13, 6-8 Big Ten) must win one of their last two games (Wednesday at home vs. Michigan State, next Saturday at Indiana) to finish the regular season above .500 and be eligible for a postseason bid.
Michigan State (20-5, 11-3 Big Ten) will try to rebound from their 78-74 loss to the aforementioned Hoosiers last Sunday in Bloomington, IN. The Spartans must win Wednesday, or they risk falling out of the Top 15 in the national polls.
Center/Forward: Michigan State's Paul Davis (6'11" 255) versus Northwestern's Vedran Vukusic (6'8" 245)
Vukusic is one of the Big Ten's top scorers (17.0 ppg), he has reached double figures 24 times this season, and leads the Wildcats in scoring and is second in rebounds (4.1 rpg) He will provide and interesting matchup for Davis because Vukusic likes to play facing the basket and hit shots from the outside (169 3-pt attempts this season). It's possible the Spartans might put a smaller player like 6'6" Alan Anderson or the 6'6" Matt Trannon on Vukusic to keep Davis near the basket and, hopefully, out of foul trouble.
When Davis has the ball, it is likely that he will be guarded by either Vukusic or 6'10" sophomore center Vince Scott, who (3.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg). The Wildcats have been hurt inside by the absence of 6'10" Duke transfer Mike Thompson, who hurt his foot in practice and has missed the last 8 games. Thompson had been averaging 10.2 points and 4.8 rebounds before his injury and scored 16 points against the Spartans back on January 8th.
If Vukusic gets into foul trouble, which he is prone to do, Davis could have a big day if he attacks the basket against Scott and the smaller Wildcat lineup. Davis had 17 points and 9 rebounds in the January game.
Parker only played 5 minutes in the first game back in January because he was suffering from the flu. Parker (9.7 ppg, 2.4 apg, 2.2 rpg) is averaging 33 minutes-per-game and could be sucking wind early as the Wildcats play essentially 7 deep most of the time. The Spartans' fast break was going full tilt in the teams' first matchup, as they went 12-2 on fast break points and turned 19 Wildcat turnovers into 24 points of their own.
Ager is the Wildcat killer. Going into this season, the junior had averaged 15.6 ppg against the Wildcats. He scored 18 in the first game this season and hit for a career-high 24 against them in a game last year.
WILDCATS TO WATCH: Guards Mohamed Hachad (6'4" 200) and Michael Jenkins (5'9" 180)
Hachad has scored 43 points for the Wildcats in their last three games (Illinois, Penn State, Michigan) and averages 4.1 rebounds-per-game. Jenkins has 16 steals over the last seven games and leads the team in 3-point percentage on the season (.474) on 18-of-38 shooting. He has also shot an impressive number overall, going 30-of-66 (.455) from the field this season.
If either of these players can step up and help Vukusic in the scoring column, it would be a big boost for the undermanned Wildcats.
KEYS TO VICTORY:
NORTHWESTERN: Pressure the Guards, Rebound, and Get Back in Transition.
Due to the Spartans overall skill and depth, it will likely be tough for Northwestern get out to, and sustain, the kind of pressure they did against Michigan Saturday. In that game, the ‘Cats jumped out to a 30-6 lead as the Wolverines committed six turnovers in the game's first seven minutes. If Northwestern can force the Spartan guards to turn the ball over and convert those mistakes into points on the other end, it will be a big boost in their bid for an upset. They Wildcats must also get back quickly on defense after a missed shot to prevent the Spartans' fast break from becoming a factor like it did in their first meeting.
Offensively, Vukusic will likely have to have a monster game for the Wildcats to have a chance; he must stay out of foul trouble to do so. If Parker can play well and help the ‘Cats slow the game down, they can minimize Michigan State's touches. If they can also get hot from beyond the arc, it will also help them to negate the Spartan fast break and make the Spartans work on both ends of the floor.
MICHIGAN STATE: Stop Vukusic, Defend the Perimeter and Rebound.
The Wildcats have no other player currently averaging in double figures on the season, so stop Vukusic and you win. Because he likes to play outside so often, expect Michigan State to try and put a smaller, quicker player on him to deny him the ball outside.
On the block, Michigan State will have to watch for the backdoor cuts and give-and-go plays that are a staple of the Bill Carmody offense. They must be patient and alert on defense at all times, because if they're not, the Wildcats will capitalize with quick passing and precise movement. Finally, as always, the Spartans must control the glass to keep Northwestern from giving their time-eating half court offense any second chance possessions.
PREDICTION: In the first game the Spartans controlled the glass 30-19 and the paint with a 50-22 scoring edge. I see no reason why that won't happen again Wednesday night. The loss Sunday to Indiana should have the Spartans focused and ready to go.
FINAL: Michigan State 73, Northwestern 56