Favorable Stretch

Michigan State fell out of first place in the Big Ten almost two weeks ago, but a favorable stretch gives the No. 10 Spartans hope for making up ground.

Michigan State (16-2, 4-1) visits conference cellar-dweller Northwestern on Thursday, looking to win its 10th straight against the Wildcats.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Michigan State –10.5 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 80% of bets for this game have been placed on Michigan State –10.5 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

The Spartans play their next five games against teams in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings, including two against last-place Northwestern (6-9, 0-5). Three of those games are also at home, giving them a good chance at recovering from a shocking 43-36 loss to Iowa on Jan. 12, which dropped them out of first.

Michigan State has won two straight since that loss, including a 78-73 victory at Minnesota on Sunday. The Spartans shot 49 percent from the field after being held below 40 the previous two games and were 8-of-15 from 3-point range, led by five 3-pointers from Drew Neitzel, who finished with 19 points.

"That's my role on this team: to make big shots, especially in the second half," Neitzel said. "And I was fortunate enough to do that tonight."

Neitzel had 17 points in the second half to finish with his second-highest total of the season. He's increased his scoring in each of the last four games after being limited to a season-low four points on 2-of-11 shooting in a 65-59 win in the Big Ten opener against Minnesota on Jan. 5.

The senior guard, however, is averaging 13.5 points this season after averaging 18.1 last season.

"He's been struggling," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "The second half was the first time he shot like you saw last year in probably 10 games. Hopefully this will be a start for him because we really need him."

Neitzel and the Spartans look to continue their success against a Northwestern team that is coming off a 62-50 loss to then-No. 17 Wisconsin on Saturday. The Wildcats were competitive in the first half, going into the break down only by two, but the Badgers went on a 13-2 run early in the second half and Northwestern was unable to recover.

"I thought we controlled the game pretty nicely in the first half," said Wildcats coach Bill Carmody. "But then coming out in the second half, they just really defended, pressed down on us. It quickly went from a close game at half to a 10-point game."

Freshman Michael Thompson led Northwestern with 16 points, but he was the only player to score in double figures. Kevin Coble, who came in averaging 18.4 points in five games this season, was held to eight.

Coble, Northwestern's leading scorer and rebounder last season as a freshman, missed the first nine games of 2007-08 to return to be with his mother who was undergoing treatments for cancer.

The Spartans have won nine straight against the Wildcats, including three straight and six of seven on the road.

Michigan State and Northwestern meet again on Feb. 9 in East Lansing in the Spartans' final game of this five-game stretch against teams in the lower half of the conference.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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