One of Coach Izzo's goals today will be to continue to get quality minutes out of Jr. C Derrick Nix. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
This game is the last portion of the Auto-Owners Insurance Spartan Invitational which means that MSU and EMU have some common opponents recently. Both teams played to victories over Arkansas-Little Rock with MSU getting a 22-point win and EMU's margin being half that at 11. Unfortunately for EMU, the same Texas Southern team who MSU topped 76-41 used a huge second half of offense to defeat the Eagles 66-49. That's just one indication of the uphill battle that Eastern Michigan will be having today on top of playing to a court that may feel more neutral than "home.'
EMU's major weapon is their scoring leader, senior guard Darrell Lampley. He has scored in double-figures in every one of Eastern's games and is registering 15 PPG. After not attempting a deep shot in their first game, Lampley went on a three-game streak of hitting 10/19 from behind the arc, until he cooled off in the last game against Rochester College and only made 1-6. If he can shake that one-game slump and get hot, he may be able to exploit lapses in Michigan State's perimeter defense. After Lampley, the team has a balanced scoring attack and four players average between 7 and 10 PPG. In addition, unlike some MAC teams, EMU has the post size to look MSU in the eye. Their rebounding leader is 6-9 junior F Jamell Harris (7.4 a game) and they've been getting over 20 minutes each night out of another junior Matt Balkema, who measures in at 6'10, 285 lbs.
This leads me to talk about what Michigan State will want out of this game. After a Duke performance that I attempted to have banished from my memory, Derrick Nix has been a brightspot over the past few games. One of Michigan State's goals has been to get consistent performances out of their centers so it's important that Nix and especially Adreian Payne continue to build confidence. In addition to those two, it'd be nice to see Alex Gauna make the most of his opportunities in preparation for the Big Ten season. The limited size of some of MSU's recent opponents has given minutes at the 4-spot to Russell Byrd and even Austin Thornton. With the height of EMU, this may be a day for Gauna to do more in extra minutes. Keith Appling is quietly second for the Spartans in scoring with 10.6 PPG but everyone (especially Detroit Pershing fans) knows that he hasn't reached near his potential yet. To see him continue to push the break while finding his own points off the attack (and return to freshman FT form) would be another bonus.
Despite the obvious advantage, MSU can't come out lackadaisical today. Not only is this their last prep for Florida State on Wednesday, but Ohio University already took No. 7 Louisville to the wire this weekend (intrpdtrvlr gratuitous Bobcat reference) and reminded everyone how dangerous a mid-major team can be. The goal for Michigan State should be a convincing victory that refines the rotation, gets shots to fall, and bolsters confidence into the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.