The Opening Tip
Michigan State hosts Northwestern in the Big Ten home opener for the Spartans. Both teams enter the game with momentum. MSU has won five of its last six games, having most recently rallied from a 15-point deficit for a one-point overtime victory at Minnesota in the Big Ten opener. NU owns the Big Ten’s longest win streak at nine games, having not lost in more than a month.
The Starting Five
1. Big Ten Home Openers
Over the past 66 seasons, Michigan State has posted a 46-20 mark in Big Ten home openers. Tom Izzo is 18-3 in Big Ten home openers, including winning 13 of his last 14.
2. Ward’s Emergence
The least heralded member of Michigan State’s freshman class, Nick Ward is proving to be an impact player. He ranks second on the team in scoring (13.8 ppg) and second in rebounding (6.6). He’s lost 30-plus pounds since arriving on MSU’s campus in June, and has improved his conditioning to average 22.8 minutes in the last six games. His per 40-minute averages of 29.5 points and 14.2 rebounds lead the Spartans among members of the core playing group. He’s scored seven or more points in every game this season and has posted double-figure points in the last eight games, averaging 16.6 ppg over that same span. In the six games that Miles Bridges has missed, Ward is averaging 18.2 points and 8.2 rebounds. He’s a two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week honoree, earning the accolade on Dec. 5 and Dec. 26.
3. Winston Lends A Hand
Since Miles Bridges went to the bench with an ankle injury, Cassius Winston has elevated his play. Over the last six games, Winston is averaging 10.2 points, 8.5 assists and just 2.2 turnovers. In the last seven games, Winston has totaled 58 assists against just 16 turnovers, good for a 3.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. The freshman point guard paces the Big Ten with 6.0 assists per contest, and is sixth with a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.
4. Spartan Defense
Michigan State has held opponents under 40 percent shooting from the field in each of the last five seasons, including finishing second in the nation in field-goal percentage defense in 2012 (.379) and 2016 (.382). The strong defensive effort has carried over