Kevin CobleEAST LANSING, Mich. – Everyone knew that Bill Carmody’s Northwestern Wildcats were going to be a bit better this season than they have in recent years. But did anyone honestly expect them to beat seventh-ranked Michigan State?

Surprise! It happened.

The 70-63 loss was the first suffered by the Spartans since being thumped for 32 points by North Carolina on December 3, and the first time losing at the Breslin Center in 28 games. The Wildcats haven’t won at Michigan State in 25 years.

Northwestern built and maintained its lead behind steady shooting from the outside late in the game and an impressive game-high 31 points from Kevin Coble. Coble seemed virtually unstoppable at times, sinking nearly everything he put up. The 6-foot-8 forward made 10 of his 16 shot attempts and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the free-throw line until watching one rattle off the rim in the closing seconds of the game.

It was only the second Big Ten Conference win for the much improved Wildcats who became the new best friends of their conference foes to the south.

No. 24 Illinois had just dropped a game to the Spartans on Saturday, a game well within reach for the Illini, for the team’s second conference loss of the season. With Michigan State losing its first, the Illini sit only one game behind the Spartans and are one of four Big Ten teams with only two conference losses (pending the outcome of Wisconsin’s visit Wednesday night at Iowa).

The Big Ten has already turned heads. Annually dubbed by the experts as one of the worst Division I-A conferences in the nation, this year’s top four Big Ten teams (Michigan State, Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue) have a collective record of 61-12 with seven of the losses coming within the conference, and are all ranked in the top 25. The Big Ten is suddenly looking forward to being represented well in March.

  1. JayVee says:

    Any early picks for NCAA tourney? You could help me win my brackets this year. 😉

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