1:00 Saturday. The Breslin Center. CBS.
It’s hard to know how to feel about these nonconference games played in the midst of the conference season. There’s not the same sense of excitement or urgency as there is for a match-up with a top nonconference opponent in December, as the focus has shifted to the conference title race.
This game strikes me as being more important from an end-of-season resume’ perspective than from an emotional/momentum perspective. A win on Saturday would give MSU a second quality nonconference win, which could be the difference between a #2 seed or a #3/#4 seed if we, in fact, win the Big Ten regular season championship. A home loss against the Jayhawks, meanwhile, may lead the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee to think we’re not a legitimate contender on the national level.
I’m going to do the heavy lifting tonight bullet-point style:
- Lost seven of nine players in rotation from last year’s national championship team.
- Still a very solid team this season at 11-3. Wins over Washington and Tennessee. Losses to Syracuse (in OT), UMass, and Arizona.
- Kenpom projects 11-5 record in Big Twelve play.
- Young team: No seniors and five freshmen in ten-player rotation.
- Ranked in top 40 nationally in adjusted efficiency both offensive and defensively.
- Interior scoring: 52.1% two-point shooting, led by 6’11” sophomore Cole Aldrich (62.4% 2pt%, 15.4 points/game).
- Offensive rebounding: 40.5% OffReb%, again led by Aldrich (14.0% OffReb%, 9.9 rebounds/game).
- Interior defense: Opponents shooting only 40.4% on two-pointers. Block% of 14.1%. Aldrich again: 2.8 blocks/game.
- They don’t create a lot of turnovers: DefTO% of 20.8%.
- They’re somewhat susceptible to the three-pointer: Opponents are making a decent 34.3% of 3-point attempts.
- Offense relies heavily on 5’11” junior Sherron Collins: usage rate of 26.4%, shooting line of .469/.378/.780, 17.6 points and 5.0 assists per game. Collins has shot just 33.3% (20 of 60) from the field in the Jayhawks’ three losses.
Aldrich and Collins appear to have both stepped up and become all-conference-level performers as the only returning key players from last year’s team. It’ll be interesting to see whether Izzo chooses to double down on Aldrich in the post or play him straight up. Collins can expect a 25-30 minutes of Travis Walton hounding him. A wildcard is junior guard Brady Morningstar, who’s made 47.8% of this three-point attempts to date.
MSU will need to use its depth on both ends of the court to win on Saturday. On defense, Goran Suton, Delvon Roe, and Raymar Morgan need to keep the Jayhawks off the boards to avoid giving up second-chance points. Since Suton’s been back in the lineup, MSU’s rebounding has been extremely good. After a slow start to the season in the rebounding department, MSU now ranks 14th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 25th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. This is a chance to show those numbers are legitimate against another top-notch rebounding team.
Offensively, continued efficiency shooting the 3-pointer would be very helpful. But we may also need some points from Lucas, Allen, and Morgan on mid-range shots, as Cole Aldrich will limit the number of good looks the perimeter players can get going all the way to the rim.
Kenpom predicts a 75-72 MSU win in a 69-possession game. This should be a good game to gauge how far our Spartans have really progressed at this point. Kansas is a solid, physical team on both ends of the court. A comfortable win would confirm our current optimism about this team’s long-term prospects. A close win would tell us there’s still room to improve. A loss would dampen our spirits–but leave our conference title hopes intact.
I’ll be traveling as the game is played. The plan is to watch the game on tape when I get home. Until I get the game recap up, feel free to post your thoughts on the game below.