College Hoops Monday: Your Commentary

January 3rd, 2011
Given their soft non-conference schedule, Northwestern (9-2) entered Big Ten play on Friday with a decent amount of work to do resume-wise in order to have a chance at making their first NCAA Tournament appearance. And conference play didn't get off to the best of starts for Bill Carmody's team, who fell 82-69 at Purdue and have lost two of their last three. But the good thing about being in a conference like the Big Ten is that another opportunity for a quality win is usually right around the corner, and that's the case tonight as they host Michigan State (9-4). The Spartans, who opened league play with a solid 71-62 win over Minnesota, have already taken on the likes of Connecticut, Duke, Syracuse, Texas and Washington this season and will be more than ready to take on John Shurna and company. These home opportunities are the ones that a team like Northwestern must take advantage of to be a part of the discussion once March rolls around.

Shurna's averaging 22.2 points per game, shooting over 60% from both the field and from three while having the ability to do a variety of things on the floor that don't involve scoring. And in point guard Juice Thompson (14.8 ppg, 4.4 apg) and forward Drew Crawford (14.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg) the Wildcats have one of the better three-headed attacks in the Big Ten. But the player who will have a lot to say about their fate both tonight and at the end of the season could be junior forward/center Luka Mirkovic. Northwestern isn't the best rebounding team around as they've got a rebounding margin of minus-1.1 with Mirkovic (6.7 rpg) and Shurna (5.2) leading the way. As Mirkovic has received more minutes and touches throughout his career he's improved his numbers across the board, but against team with size and depth up front the interior play for the Wildcats is a bit of a concern. If Mirkovic can do his job inside and receive help from the likes of Crawford, Shurna and Davide Curletti then Northwestern has a chance to defend their home floor.

Michigan State's play comes down to one area: turnovers. When the Spartans are reckless with the basketball, as they were earlier in the season, they can struggle. The caliber of competition that Tom Izzo's team played definitely has something to do with that but Michigan State was even handing the ball over at a rate of nearly 17 turnovers per game when playing lesser opponents. That average has dropped down to 15.5 turnovers per game and they turned the ball over just eight times in the win over Minnesota. Of the 24 field goals Michigan State made on Friday 21 were assisted, which highlights the ability of players such as Kalin Lucas (seven assists), Korie Lucious (six) and Draymond Green (four) to set guys up in addition to connecting on their own looks. Durrell Summers provides ample scoring on the wing while Delvon Roe works inside (he also had three assists on Friday), and this is an experienced group that knows how to win.

Where will this game be decided? Quite possibly on the boards, where the Spartans have a rebounding margin of plus-4.6, which isn't great but still better than Northwestern's by a decent amount. Michigan State's frontcourt depth, when you add in the likes of Derrick Nix, Adriean Payne and Garrick Sherman, could prove to be too much for Northwestern if this becomes a rebounding contest. But if the Wildcats can execute their offense with efficiency and keep Michigan State off the offensive glass they have a shot. Also of interest Monday night is the Big East home opener for St. John's, who goes into the matchup with rival Georgetown 2-0 in league play. While many want to focus on the future for Steve Lavin's program the fact remains that a win tonight moves them to 3-0 and the current team has some solid pieces (Justin Brownlee, Dwight Hardy and D.J. Kennedy to name three). Conference play also resumes in the CAA and MAAC, with two of the nation's best forwards meeting in Albany as Iona (Mike Glover) visits Siena (Ryan Rossiter), and Rhode Island visits Florida in a good opportunity for a resume-bolstering win for the Rams.

Top 25
7:00 PM (9) Georgetown at St. John's (ESPN2)
7:00 PM Pennsylvania at (12) Kentucky (ESPNU)
8:00 PM Savannah State at (17) Kansas State (Full Court)
8:00 PM Nicholls State at (18) Texas A&M
7:30 PM (19) Michigan State at Northwestern (BTN)

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM St. Francis (NY) at Hartford
7:00 PM Old Dominion at Towson
7:00 PM Buffalo at Cornell
7:00 PM Virginia-Wise at Furman
7:00 PM Northeastern at James Madison
7:00 PM Dartmouth at Army
7:00 PM Oral Roberts at Akron
7:00 PM SIU-Edwardsville at Ball State
7:00 PM Massachusetts at Central Connecticut State
7:00 PM Hofstra at Drexel
7:00 PM Florida Memorial at Florida Atlantic
7:00 PM Delaware at George Mason
7:00 PM VCU at Georgia State
7:00 PM Marist at Loyola (MD)
7:00 PM Bryant University at Monmouth
7:00 PM East Carolina at North Carolina Central
7:00 PM Wagner at Quinnipiac
7:00 PM Manhattan at Rider
7:00 PM Iona at Siena
7:00 PM Canisius at St. Peter's
7:00 PM UNC Wilmington at William & Mary
7:15 PM Lipscomb at Stetson
7:30 PM Brown at American University
7:30 PM USC Upstate at Kennesaw State
7:30 PM Belmont at Florida Gulf Coast
7:30 PM Jacksonville at Campbell
7:30 PM Wilmington (DE) at Coppin State
7:30 PM Niagara at Fairfield
7:30 PM East Tennessee State at Mercer
8:00 PM Florida State at Auburn (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Northern Illinois at Iowa State
8:00 PM North Dakota at Nebraska
8:00 PM Texas-San Antonio at Oklahoma State (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Maryland-Eastern Shore at Oklahoma (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Butler at Milwaukee (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Toledo at Alabama
8:00 PM Chattanooga at Austin Peay
8:00 PM Anderson IND at Eastern Illinois
8:00 PM Mississippi College at New Orleans
8:00 PM Wiley at Stephen F. Austin
8:00 PM Houston Baptist at Green Bay
9:00 PM Rhode Island at Florida (ESPNU)
9:00 PM Tennessee-Martin at Southeast Missouri State (ESPN3)
10:00 PM Bethany (CA) at Santa Clara
11:00 PM Nevada at Fresno State (ESPN3)