|WHAT||Michigan at Michigan State|
|WHERE||Breslin Center, East Lansing, Michigan|
|WHEN||9 PM Eastern, Tuesday|
|LINE||Michigan –1 (Kenpom)|
Right: Michigan's rise to prominence has taken its toll on Tom Izzo.
With two losses in three games, Michigan has gone from potentially running away with the Big Ten to playing catchup, and tonight's game at Michigan State is probably a must-win if the Wolverines hope to win the conference outright—the Spartans are currently a game ahead in the standings.
Michigan State's strength is up front, where they feature a pair of skilled big men in Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne. Nix is surprisingly quick for being rather large—6'9", 270 pounds after working his way into shape—and has an impressive array of post moves; he shoots 52% from two while largely working with his back to the basket. At 6'10", 240 lbs., Payne is the more athletic of the two bigs and also the more efficient finisher—he shoots 60% from two, including an 80% rate at the rim (per hoop-math), and has even connected on 7-of-13 threes this season. Both are solid offensive rebounders while Payne is one of the country's best defensive rebounders and a strong shot-blocker.
Rounding out the frontcourt is 6'6" forward Branden Dawson, who can play either the three or the four, though he's playing mostly at the three due to injury issues in the backcourt. Dawson is a skilled finisher at the rim (70%), where he takes almost exactly 2/3 of his shots; he hits 34% of his two-point jumpers and has only attempted four three-pointers this year, so the key is keeping him away from the basket. Dawson is also State's best offensive rebounder and an active presence on defense, where he's in the top 75 nationally in steal rate and posting a solid block rate.
MSU's highest-usage player is point guard Keith Appling, who has regained his three-point stroke (37%) after a season-long slump last year. Appling is a very good distributor who can also get to the rim with his athleticism; he's not a stellar finisher (46% on twos) but he gets to the line frequently and creates second-chance opportunities for his teammates.
The final piece in the starting five is freshman guard Gary Harris, who's lived up to his considerable recruiting hype by shooting 51% from two and 43% from three so far this season. Harris is a very dangerous outside shooter and he can also put the ball on the floor; while he's not this team's main option, he's got a GRIII-like way of producing points around the margins and cannot be ignored.
The Spartans will be without the services of backup guard Travis Trice (concussion), which means freshman Denzel Valentine will be the primary backup for the one-through-three. Valentine is a decent shooter and creator, but he's had major issues with turnovers (31.3% TO rate(!)). 6'7" sophomore Russell Byrd will also see time; he's a perimeter-oriented guy who's currently 7-for-40 from three this season with a 23% turnover rate. That's... not good.
The Spartans are currently pushing for a two-seed, sitting at 20-4 (9-2 B1G) with KP100 wins over Kansas, Boise State, Texas, Purdue(x2), Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota—of those, the neutral-site win over the Jayhawks and victory at the Kohl Center stand out as signature wins. After dropping their season opener against #48 UConn (neutral site), State hasn't lost to a team outside the top 13, and all three losses—to #8 Miami, #13 Minnesota, and #2 Indiana—have come on the road.
Four factors, conference only.
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||50.9 (3)||17.8 (8)||30.9 (7)||37.6 (5)|
|Defense||48.8 (8)||19.3 (3)||28.6 (3)||35.7 (7)|
Despite their success, this isn't a vintage Tom Izzo team. The offense is prone to coughing up the rock and the rebounding, while strong on the defensive end, isn't nearly up to Izzo's standard of dominance. The Spartans are dead last—dead last!—in the conference at two-point defense, with opponents hitting 49.1% of their shots inside the arc. State also allows more three-point attempts than average and opponents are shooting a fluky-low 60% from the line—their #3 defensive efficiency in conference play may be slightly inflated by luck. Offensively, the Spartans have developed a strong inside-outside attack, hitting 41% of their threes and 47% of their twos.
Find the right lineup. Michigan State, largely by necessity with the injury to Trice, will mostly play big tonight. Michigan, largely by necessity with the injury to Jordan Morgan, will mostly play their usual smaller lineup. However, Glenn Robinson III has clearly hit a wall, and he's struggled to defend larger players and keep them off the glass. Against Nix and Payne, that won't fly. I wouldn't be surprised if Max Bielfeldt sees very extensive playing time for the second straight game—if Robinson isn't producing offensively, Bielfeldt brings more from a rebounding and defensive standpoint.
Get out in transition. State should give Michigan a few opportunities to run thanks to their turnover issues, and in what should be a tight game the Wolverines must take advantage; they didn't against Wisconsin (yes, in large part due to the officiating) and it cost them dearly, though the Badgers are far better at limiting transition opportunities.
Let Nix and Payne get their points in the post. Michigan State has a pair of skilled bigs who can score in the post, but its been shown that post touches tend to be far less efficient—even for teams that convert them well—than perimeter-oriented play. Nix and Payne will get their points, but if Michigan can limit them to two-pointers—both are good foul shooters—and stay with their men on the perimeter, State may have a hard time keeping up with the Wolverines if Michigan is knocking down their shots.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 1
Jordan Morgan's absence makes me very leery about this line—I think Michigan misses him more than Michigan State misses Travis Trice in this game, especially if Robinson doesn't hold up well against MSU's big men. I think Michigan can pull out a critical road win, however, by capitalizing on Spartan turnovers and working their own inside-outside game—for a big team, State is surprisingly terrible at defending inside the arc, and they won't be able to rely on their normal turnover rate against a Michigan team that rarely coughs up the rock. This will be close, and quite honestly I'm leaning towards a loss, but I'll put my faith in KenPom and this team's ability to put the ball in the basket.