Spartans look to bounce back against NW

Is a title still possible? Michigan State will look to bounce back into the Big Ten conference as the team prepares for a mediocre Northwestern ball club Saturday. analyst Ryan Wallace breaks down the contest that could determine the fate of the Spartans.

  (East Lansing) – The MSU men's basketball team makes its trip back home still wondering if a conference title is still possible.

  The Spartans (13-9 overall, 5-5 Big Ten) dropped a crucial game at Wisconsin (17-5, 7-3) to drop to sixth in the conference standings.

  MSU returns to action against Northwestern, who are winners of two of its last three games – and both of those wins have been in convincing fashion against quality opponents.

  The Wildcats (10-11, 2-8) caught the Hoosiers during their five-game losing streak and totally controlled the game winning 74-61. Northwestern's other win was against then-conference leader Purdue by the score of 78-67 on Wednesday. The loss dropped the Boilermakers into a first-place tie with Michigan and Wisconsin.

  The Wildcats will look for another upset victory this time at the Breslin Center, and if the Spartans aren't careful they could continue to take a plunge in the standings.

  Northwestern is led by junior guard Jitim Young, who is averaging 12.8 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game. Last week Young was named Big Ten Player of the Week when he averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Wildcats to a 1-1 record. Their loss came at the hands of Wisconsin.

  Another red-hot Wildcat is center Aaron Jennings. The 6-11 senior scored a career-high 20 points to guide Northwestern in its win over Purdue.

  The Wildcats start two other seniors; 6-5 forward Winston Blake and 6-8 guard Jason Burke, both solid contributors. Blake averages 7.5 points per game and pulls down 3.6 rebounds per game. Burke averages just a shade under 6 points a contest and leads the team in assists with 63 for the year.

  Freshman guard T.J. Parker rounds out Northwestern's starting five, who all see close to 30 minutes a game. Parker is averaging 11.7 points per game.

  The Wildcats also have a freshmen duo coming off the bench to give them some more outside shooting. Both 6-6 forward Jimmy Maley and 6-5 guard Mohammed Hachad have the capability of launching it from behind the three-point arc.

  Northwestern coach Bill Carmody likes to use the signature back-door cut offense, something he brought over from his days of coaching at Princeton.

  MSU got first-hand experience of the Tigers' offense when the two schools met in the 1998 NCAA Championship Tournament.

  So MSU should be able to defend against the tricky and sophisticated offense.

  The Spartans are still dealing with the loss of sophomore forward Alan Anderson, arguably MSU's most versatile players and the emerging leader.

  MSU could have used Anderson against a Wisconsin team that posted up its guard and created open looks for its big men.

  However, the loss of Anderson has allowed two freshmen giants to emerge. Forwards Paul Davis and Erazem Lorbek have both had career-nights in the Spartans last two outings.

  Davis had a career-high 21 points and nine rebounds to help the Spartans to a 67-62 overtime win at Indiana and Lorbek poured in 19 points, all in the second half, to the lead the Spartans in scoring at Wisconsin.

  If both of these young men continue to elevate their games, it could give MSU an added lift that they've been missing.

  On the other hand senior forward Al Anagonye has struggled. Against Wisconsin he played only 11 minutes because of foul trouble. The Spartans will need Anagonye to step up if they expect to make a late run.

  Sophomore guard Chris Hill remains the Spartans only double-figure scorer, 14.2 points per game, but has struggled finding chances to score because he's running the show.

  Hill, who shared the point guard duties with Anderson, has seen his scoring going down, but might see a few more open looks if junior guard Rashi Johnson continues to see more time on the floor.

  Johnson's minutes have steadily increased after coming off a stress fracture in his foot. If he continues to show improvements and the ability to run the offense, Hill may return to his deadly shooting form of last season.

  Game time is set for 3 p.m. in East Lansing.

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