East Lansing, MI (Sports Network) - Still in contention for a share of the Big
Ten regular-season title, the 10th-ranked Michigan State Spartans prepare to
host the Northwestern Wildcats at the Breslin Center on Sunday.
Since the middle of January, the schedule for the Spartans has been filled
with nationally-ranked conference foes and for the most part the team has held
its ground. However, MSU did have to deal with a three-game slide against the
likes of Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan recently, before posting a 58-43
triumph over 22nd-ranked Wisconsin three nights ago.
The Spartans are now 12-5 in conference and still have a shot at the regular-
season crown, depending on what happens between the second-ranked Hoosiers and
seventh-ranked Wolverines on Sunday afternoon. The good news for Michigan
State at the moment is that the team is 16-1 at home in 2012-13, sporting a
7-1 mark versus league foes.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats are next-to-last in the Big Ten standings, their 4-13
mark better than only Penn State which started off the conference slate with
14 consecutive defeats. Northwestern, which just bowed to the Nittany Lions on
Thursday night at home, 66-59, has fallen in seven straight decisions and nine
of the last 10 overall.
Michigan State leads the all-time series with the Wildcats by a wide 81-38
margin, posting a huge 46-8 advantage at home in East Lansing, but
Northwestern won the most recent encounter 14 months ago at home by a score of
Alex Marcotullio knocked down six 3-pointers and finished with 22 points, both
of which were career highs, but still he and the Wildcats lost in a cat fight
against Penn State earlier this week in Evanston. While Marcotullio was
hitting on 6-of-9 shots from the floor, the rest of the starters combined to
make just 8-of-30 from the field, so there was little chance of survival. The
only other double-digit scorer was Reggie Hearn who tacked on 11 points, to go
along with five rebounds and four assists before fouling out.
Over the course of 17 conference games, of which he has appeared in and
started all but one, Hearn leads the Wildcats in scoring with 12.6 ppg,
although it would be difficult to tell that if only you were focusing on his
mere 27.3 percent accuracy behind the 3-point line. Jared Swopshire had been
second on the unit with 10.6 ppg, but a knee injury has put him out of
commission and now the program struggles along with just 55.4 ppg against the
rest of the Big Ten, while giving up 66.0 ppg.
For Michigan State, it was one of the team's finest hours in terms of defense,
holding the Badgers to a season-low 43 points earlier this week. Tom Izzo, who
became the first Big Ten coach to win five straight against Wisconsin's Bo
Ryan, watched his squad turn the 17 turnovers they forced into 23 points, more
than enough to get the Spartans out to a comfortable win. From an offensive
standpoint, Keith Appling tallied a game-high 19 points for the Spartans, but
he shot only 1-of-7 behind the 3-point line, the team overall converting a
woeful 3-of-15 out on the perimeter. Gary Harris, 1-of-4 beyond the arc, added
11 points, while Adreian Payne came up a point shy of a double-double as he
cleared 11 rebounds.
As the two players who have started all 17 league outings, it only makes sense
that Harris and Appling are the leading scorers in those contests with
averages of 13.8 ppg and 12.3 ppg, respectively. Appling leads the group with
59 assists and has made more shots at the free-throw line (63-of-87), but
still it is tough to look beyond the fact that he has shot just 36.3 percent
from the floor and 24.6 percent beyond the arc now. Harris is much more
reliable from long range with his 40-of-85 (.471) effort, yet the rest of the
team has combined for only 50 3-pointers which make it rather easy for
defenses to figure out who is more likely to attack from the perimeter these
The Sports Network