Miami faces a huge challenge against a big tough Spartan team on Wednesday night. We got to know Michigan State a little better by talking with Con-T of State's blog "The Only Colors."
Which match-ups will be key? Who are the best players to ever play in Lansing? What other games in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge bear watching? For all that and more check out our Q&A with The Only Colors.
Here is the full Q&A.
SOTU: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Spartans? What was the biggest difference in the win against Kansas versus the loss to UConn?
TOC: The answer to the first question tends to be remarkably consistent from year-to-year. The Spartans rebound well and play tough man-to-man defense. Their defense is a switching/helping style designed to force tough, contested shots, both inside and outside the arc. Their weaknesses are having few go-to scoring options and a tendency to turn the ball over. The turnover problem reached a critical level of 3 TO/10 possessions in Sunday's near disaster against Louisiana-Lafayette. Ken Pomeroy, who keeps track of such things, has the Spartans at 299th in the country out of 347 schools in turnover rate.
The biggest difference in the UConn and Kansas games was MSU's terrible shooting against the Huskies. They went 4-17 from 3 and 20-47 from inside the arc and dug themselves a hole they weren't able to get out of, though they did claw their way back to brief leads in the second half. The big danger for this Spartan team is going a through a scoring drought they can't recover from. Against Kansas they hit their shots (55% from 2, 40% from 3) and held a solid edge on the boards (35%-25% offensive rebounding %). When they do that, they're tough to beat.
SOTU: How will the team be affected with second leading scorer Gary Harris out with injury?
TOC: Keep in mind that Michigan State has been without both Harris and backup point guard Travis Trice, who suffered a bad concussion in the UConn game. He may be available on Wednesday but in limited minutes at best. The result has been a ton of minutes for starting point guard Keith Appling, who has played over 90% of the possible minutes in MSU's games so far. Tom Izzo noted that he looked worn down on defense at the end of the last game, which could be a problem. The absence of Harris and Trice also means more minutes for promising but untested freshman Denzel Valentine, who has been pressed into the starting lineup with mixed results.
The main impact, however, is the absence of a primary scoring option on a team that was limited to begin with. That's bad enough, but with Harris and Trice being two of the only outside threats, the danger becomes that defenses will sag into the lane to shut down MSU's frontcourt, knowing that they have little to fear from beyond the arc.
SOTU: Who might be a player not named Keith Appling could step up in this game in Harris absence?
TOC: The easy answer to this question is Branden Dawson. The athletic wing forward has been one of the Spartans more effective scorers so far this year, but he's a streaky player. He gets a lot of his points on opportunistic plays (put-backs, steals, breakaways, etc.) and it's hard to rely on him as a go-to scorer.
SOTU: Pick an All-Time starting 5 for Michigan State?
TOC: Now you're going to get me in trouble. Beyond a single no brainer, this is the subject of lively debate among the Spartan faithful. You could certainly do worse than pick from guys whose names are already in the rafters of the Breslin Center, and I'm going to do just that.
SOTU: Which other games in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge will you be keeping an eye on and why?
TOC: After a decade of dominance in this event, the ACC will be a definite underdog again this year. But, if they're going to pull it out, they'll need to win a lot of the iffy games, almost all of which they have home field advantage in. With that in mind, I'm looking closest at the following:
Ohio State @ Duke - This is a rematch from last year, when Ohio State dominated, but Duke gets the home court and the higher ranking this year.
SOTU: Which players/match-ups with Miami are you concerned with?
TOC: I'll confess to not having seen much of Miami, but I do know about Reggie Johnson. He's a load, but Derrick Nix has done a pretty good job of handling guys of a similar size and style (Nix is 6-foot-9 and a slimmed-down 270). I'm more worried about Kenny Kadji, who goes 6-foot-11 but can apparently knock down a three. I'm not sure MSU has anybody who's going to be a good match-up there.
SOTU: Prediction time. Who wins this game and why?
TOC: Before the season started I thought this was a pretty favorable draw for Michigan State and I would have had it as a 5-ish point Spartan win. The team's poor play of late against a pretty low level of competition, the current injury situation, and playing on the road all make me a bit more pessimistic now. I'm going to stick with the Spartans, but in a 65-64 grinder that could be as painful to watch is it is to play.