Entering their first game of the new year and the resumption of Big Ten play, Michigan State and Northwestern hope 2022 has in store for each what the tail end of 2021 offered.
The No. 10 Spartans and host Wildcats have exceeded expectations to this point of the season and will look for more when they meet Sunday afternoon at Evanston, Ill.
Michigan State (11-2, 2-0) enters on a six-game winning streak, but head coach Tom Izzo doesn’t want to hear any boastful talk after the Spartans struggled in an 81-68 win over High Point on Wednesday.
“Don’t put us in any top 10, because we’ve got a long way to go,” Izzo said. “If we are going to read our press clippings or read mommy and daddy’s pats on the back, we’re in trouble. That team was shooting 58 percent with two minutes to go in the game from (3-point range).”
Michigan State did play that game against High Point without four players and two starters: Max Christie and Marcus Bingham Jr. They also happen to be two of the Spartans’ best defenders.
Christie and Bingham sat out due to positive COVID-19 tests, with Izzo saying Friday he expects the team to be at full strength against Northwestern.
Michigan State has been led in scoring by Gabe Brown (14.2 points per game), Bingham (10.8) and Malik Hall (10.2), but MSU’s 8.9 rebounding margin and a defense that has allowed 65.3 points per game have been their biggest keys to success.
“We’re one of the best running teams in the entire country,” Izzo said. “I’ve had many coaches say that to me. You run because you defend and you rebound and you run. When you don’t defend, you have a tendency not to run as much.”
Northwestern enters 8-2 overall and 1-0 in conference play, but hasn’t played since beating Illinois-Springfield 90-50 on Dec. 20.
The Wildcats were supposed to play Thursday against Prairie View A&M, but the game was canceled over COVID-19 concerns.
“We’ve done a good job,” Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said. “We’ve put ourselves in the conversation. We let a couple get away from us against really good teams.”
The Wildcats enter averaging 79.0 points a game and shooting 36.5 percent from 3-point range, which figures to at least pose a test to Michigan State’s solid defense.
Pete Nance leads the Wildcats in scoring at 16.3 points per contest, while Boo Buie (14.9), Chase Audige (11.0) and Ryan Young (10.6) all score in double figures.
Against Illinois-Springfield, Northwestern played seven bench players at least 10 minutes, and Collins said that was important heading into the resumption of Big Ten play.
“It’s hard to play 11 or 12 guys, unless you are playing a trapping, running system,” he said. “That’s just not how we play. With that being said, I want all these guys to have the confidence knowing they can come into a game and help us.”
–Field Level Media