Michigan State and Northwestern don't and won't have much in common this season and on Thursday night that was on full display for all to see as the Wildcats blew the doors off of Penn State and Michigan State hung tough and got by a game Iowa squad on the road.
The pair of road wins was the first time so far in conference play that at least one home team couldn't hold serve when more than one game was played in the conference on a given day. It was also a day that had some major implications on the Big Ten title race.
So, what did we learn in two contests that were about as different as oil and water? Let's dive in, shall we….
Michigan State 62, Iowa 59
What We Learned: Michigan State is capable of playing with anyone in the country when they want to, but they are also still very prone to slumps and playing down to their competition as well. We saw it a bit even in the blowout W over Purdue and it was on display hard in this one. Michigan State can thank a furious rally late, bad late free throw shooting from Iowa, and some pretty favorable officiating for this one. It's a bit troubling to think this game was as close as it was considering the fact that Iowa was without it's top player, Roy Devyn Marble.
That's not to take anything away from the Hawkeyes, because they played some great team basketball in stretches, but they now sit at 0-3 to start Big Ten play and will have to climb from the bottom up after losing three straight to Top 25 Big Ten opponents. Clearly they are in the 2nd tier of teams in the conference at the very best, but they showed tonight that they can also play with anyone at home and I would expect them to take down a ranked team or two before this season is said and done.
Star of the Game: Zach McCabe (Iowa) – 15 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 24 minutes
McCabe had a bigger role, just like a lot of others off the bench thanks to Marble not being able to go. However, if you would've told me before the game that McCabe would be the team's leading scorer I'd say you're crazy. He led a bench that had 31 of the teams 59 points and it was huge in helping this team stop a big run by the Spartans to end the 1st half and start the 2nd half as well.
Stat of the Game: 23 – No, we're not talking about Michael Jordan in this one, that's the number of field goals both Iowa and Michigan State made. It would figure the number would be close because of the close nature of the game, but to be exactly the same is a bit crazy. It goes to show you that 3 point shooting and free throws can be killer in close games and that's exactly what killed Iowa in this one.
Northwestern 70, Penn State 54
What We Learned: If you go on an extended scoring drought and you can't stop the other team from scoring, you're going to lose. I know, it's earth shattering stuff, right? But, that's exactly what happened to the Nittany Lions at home as they went over 6 minutes without scoring in the first half. Northwestern was able to open the game up during that time and held a 21-12 lead that proved to be too much to get back from. Oh, and having Reggie Hearn back makes this time about 1000% better.
As for PSU? Well, it's clear that this team is going to be a two horse team all season long and that's not good enough to win against anyone in the Big Ten – not even Nebraska. 0-3 in conference play is exactly where this team should be if you ask me. Shooting 31.6% from the field and 20% from deep is not good enough. Newbill and Marshall were great, but literally no one else stepped up and even then these two needed a high volume of shots to get their 33 combined points.
Star of the Game: Dave Sobolewski – 18 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds
With Hearn back Sobolewski could play his natural role and boy was it natural for him at the Bryce Jordan Center. He was 7-14 from the field and 3 of 6 from deep for the game and it was something this team has been greatly missing. If he can be a threat like that offensively with Hearn back this team suddenly becomes a lot more dangerous, but they've gotta do it against a team that has actually won a Big Ten game before we're truly impressed.
Stat of the Game: 7 – Northwestern isn't exactly known as a team that blocks a lot of shots, getting steals – for sure, but not blocking shots and on Thursday they got 7 blocks as a team.