Visiting Northwestern and No. 20 Michigan State figure to be more intense than usual when they open their respective Big Ten schedules against each other Sunday in East Lansing, Mich.
That’s because the Wildcats and Spartans are coming off their worst losses of the season, so they’ll be in the mood for redemption.
Northwestern comes in at 5-2 but has dropped two straight.
A 43-42 loss on Nov. 23 to then-No. 15 Auburn was forgivable since it was against a ranked opponent on a neutral court in Cancun, Mexico. But an 87-58 home loss to unranked Pittsburgh on Monday was more embarrassing. The Wildcats were outscored 50-30 in the second half.
“It was just disappointing,” head coach Chris Collins said. “I didn’t think we played very well. I’ll always be the one where if a team beats us and we’re in character and we’re playing with incredible fire, determination and all those things, I’ll be the first one to tip my cap.
“I just didn’t have that feeling (Monday). I don’t know if it was coming off the trip we had or whatever. (There are) no excuses to be had. We weren’t who we’ve been the first six games.”
One feature Northwestern has that many teams don’t is a veteran backcourt.
Seniors Chase Audige and Boo Buie are the team’s leading scorers (Buie averages 12.9 points per game, Audige 12.4 ppg) and playmakers who have played in a lot of tough environments.
Just like the Wildcats, Michigan State will try to respond after a lopsided loss.
The Spartans (5-3) were beaten handily at Notre Dame 70-52 on Wednesday in a game that could be attributed to fatigue from a brutal early season schedule.
Michigan State started the season with a trip to San Diego to face Gonzaga, played Kentucky in Indianapolis and Villanova at home, then made another trek out west to Portland, Ore., to compete in the Phil Knight Invitational, where the Spartans went 2-1.
The Spartans didn’t seem to have a lot of life after flying back from Portland on Sunday night and playing at Notre Dame on Wednesday. They hope a return home will rejuvenate them.
“I just hate making excuses, but I’m to blame,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “I made the schedule. It was the two trips to the West Coast. It was the lack of practice time. We’re not Allen Iverson. We’re not that good. We need practice. So the lack of practice time, I think, really hurt, especially when you’re trying to move new people in.”
Michigan State has also played the last four games without two of its key rotational players, senior forward Malik Hall and sophomore guard Jaden Akins.
Both are out with foot injuries, although Akins might be healthy enough to play Sunday.
Michigan State has been led by senior guard Tyson Walker (15.1 ppg) and senior forward Joey Hauser (13.6 ppg).
This will be the only regular-season meeting between the Wildcats and Spartans.
–Field Level Media