Friday, February 3, 2012

Michigan State Preview: For Those About To Rock

The end of this little 5-game adventure draws 
near...time to throw the specter of a bygone era of domination in the fire
General Outlook 
The first meeting between these two teams only a little less than three weeks ago was about as exciting as you could ask for. Like Wednesday's Indiana game, Michigan jumped out to an early lead, entering the half with a 7-point cushion. The Spartans eventually came back, even taking a 4-point lead with about 4 minutes to go. When the dust settled, the clock read zeroes and Michigan had 1 more point than the Spartans, a fragile victory that almost collapsed like a Jenga tower in the last moments when Draymond Green missed the shot that has been made against Michigan with ruthless regularity in recent years.

Since then, the Spartans demolished Purdue and Minnesota at Breslin by 25 and 16 points, respectively. However, the Spartans took a road loss in Champaign,  a 42-41 affair that could be deemed "grotesque" at worst and maybe "incompetent" at best. When various media personalities rail against the stereotypical drudgery of Big Ten basketball, this is the type of game they have in mind. The Spartans shot a horrific 24% from the field (Appling-1/11, Green-1/6), and Green and Appling both turned it over five times each. Needless to say, it was not the Spartans' finest hour.

Of course, we cannot expect the Spartans to look as Yakety Saxy against us while playing at Breslin. However, Green's knee injury is a major question mark. If I had venture a guess, I'm sure he will play (or at least try to)...but he likely won't be too effective given how debilitated he looked after the injury. I guess there's time between now and Sunday for modern medicine to do its thing (i.e. ALL THE ICE AND REST), but a Draymond-less State team is a very, very beatable one. A win here would essentially kick the Spartans down into the second tier of the standings for the time being.

The Offense
We've already seen the Spartans once, so most of the next two sections won't be anything new case you didn't know, the Spartans are pretty good defensively. They boast the 3rd stingiest Big Ten defense (59.4 ppg), and they have the size that is Michigan's kryptonite. They average about 5 blocks a game, so, unlike Ohio and IU, the tall trees will actually block your shot.

The Spartans also defend the 3 very well (holding opponents to 29.2%, second only to the Wisconsin Grind It Outs), as Michigan's 6/21 effort from 3 at Crisler showed. However, Michigan did have immense success from 2, going 17/24 (70%). Trey's 5/5 from 2 is particularly impressive, as he quite literally did not give Appling an opportunity to catch his breath. There's no doubt that Michigan will need to have another solid performance from 2.

Michigan shot very poorly from 3 whereas the Spartans shot the lights out (46.7%), so I have to think that the percentages were move toward the mean. Of course, calls will be hard to come by at Breslin, so Michigan will need to finish around the basket and on short-medium range looks to put up enough points to win. That means, namely: Burke, THJ, and especially Morgan. GO UP STRONG.

The Defense 
Naturally, much of the defensive outlook hinges upon the functionality of Draymond Green's left knee. Again, I think he will try to go, but I just don't see how he could be effective enough to play meaningful minutes. If he plays, he'll likely be limited offensively and an outright liability defensively. In any case, the major story--other than Draymond's knee--is whether or not Michigan can: a) not get killed on the glass again and b) whether or not Michigan can perhaps not get threes shot into their eyes over and over again. Even with Green's uncertain status, State going 47% from three would be nearly impossible to overcome, especially since the Spartans will be playing at home, making their 4th best in the conference FT rate (38.2) truly relevant.

A hobbled Green means more minutes for the still brobdingnagian Derrick Nix, which isn't really as good of  thing as you might think; he was actually MSU's leading scorer at Crisler, putting a solid 13-point effort on the board on 6/9 from the field. Nix is obviously nowhere near as skilled as Sullinger, but, once again, JMo will be giving up quite a few pounds.

Oh, he mad. 
On the road, playing in yet another tough environment, it will come down to the matchup of the 1s. For the most part, Trey had his way with Appling the first time around. At the same time, Appling did beat Burke a few times off the dribble himself (that is, while he was still able to move around and such). Trey will get beat a few times, as Appling is somewhat of a speed demon. More importantly, Trey's ability to slow down the pace of the game and keep it from becoming the proverbial track meet will play to our favor. Beilein has noted that Michigan will often not even try to attack the offensive glass, instead favoring the ability to get back on defense...this game should be a demonstration of that philosophy on steroids (or whatever it is that ideas use to performance enhance).

Who/What To Watch

  • Appling vs. Burke. Can Burke make Appling look like TomVH at the end of a Barwis workout again? Let's hope so. At the same time, Trey will need to walk a fine line of assertion and caution. Remember: he's a freshman! I wouldn't be surprised to see State rotate a bigger guard on Trey to disrupt the pick and roll like other teams have done. 
  • Can Zack Novak eviscerate the Brahdom of Sparta's hopes and dreams once again a la last year's 6/8 from 3 performance? Well, that's unlikely. A more reasonable goal is to get the 3-point shooting up near the team average--at least--and, you know, not let State go off. Trice and Thornton both beat us from 3, and they are not coincidentally their most effective 3-point shooters (Trice--44%, Thornton--41%). They do come off the bench, however, so Michigan will need to make sure they have their ducks in a row once the substitutions start happening. 
  • The Spartans are one of the best in the country in rebounding margin for a reason...Michigan will get out-rebounded, period. With Green hobbled and the Spartans probably not likely to shoot 47% from 3 again (I hope?), Michigan will need to limit the offensive rebounds as much as possible. JMo, Smotrycz, and THJ will need to come up big here. The Spartans rebounded 35% of their misses last time...cut that down into the 20s and we're sittin' pretty. 
Meaningless Prediction
As much as I'd like to see us play (and beat) the Spartans at full strength, it appears highly unlikely that we will get the chance. As enamored as Green often gets with the concept of playing the role of a huge guard, he is easily the heart and soul of that team. However, the negatives are still plentiful. The Spartans are playing at home (might as well flip the first meeting's FTA figures), have a significant size and rebounding advantage that plays to a major weakness, and they shoot the three well enough to give Michigan's 10th best in the conference 3-point defense troubles. HOWEVER... /run homertalk.exe

...I think Michigan stands a very good shot at pulling off a 4th win in a row against the Spartans. Normalize the 3-point percentages for both teams and assume that Green will either not play much/not be very effective when he does, and I'm liable to look at point guard play as the next determining factor. I think Burke wins that matchup again and a hard-working Morgan will run the floor past the ponderous Nix for enough easy buckets to give Michigan the win. Michigan 59, Michigan State 56. 

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