Northwestern put up a good showing in a Jan. 15 loss to Michigan State.
But they didn't have to contest with Adreian Payne.
The Michigan State big man was in the midst of his seven-game absence while nursing a foot injury back then, but he's back now and he'll face off against the Wildcats when the two teams meet in East Lansing on Thursday.
"It just gives them another weapon out there, not only on offense but defensively with his shot-blocking," Northwestern head coach Chris Collins said Tuesday at practice. "He's great on the boards. Certainly being a senior, and if you just watch the games he plays, he makes a huge impact, not only his ability to post but also now his shooting ability. He gets you out to the 3-point line, he gets you spread. They can be very versatile with their lineups. Sometimes they go big and can use him as a power forward, and then they can go small and have him at center. So both of those present a lot of matchup problems."
In that 54-40 loss earlier in the season, Northwestern was out-rebounded by a 39-35 margin. Not bad against Michigan State, but Payne's return could make that difference a lot bigger. The Cats are the Big Ten's worst rebounding team, getting out-rebounded by an average of three boards on the season. Though he hasn't played enough games to qualify, Payne's 7.2 rebounds per game would rank in the top five in the conference. And his 16.4 points per game would rank in the top 10 in the conference, as well.
Payne had a huge game last weekend vs. Wisconsin, scoring a game-high 24 points.
It goes without saying that his presence will make a big difference when the Cats meet the Spartans a second time.
"They like to get out and run, so if they know he's going to get them eight to 10 to 12 rebounds, those wings can leak out a little more and they can get out in transition," Collins said. "Any time you play Michigan State, one of the first things you try to address is getting back on defense. And your rebounding. Those are kind of the two things before you even start talking strategically about half-court stuff, those are always two common threads when you're preparing to play Michigan State teams."