Otto Kitsinger III
Michigan State defeated Boise State in football this season and now gets a shot to do the same on the basketball court. BSU features two dynamic sophomores who should give the Michigan State defense a worthy challenge. MSU will look to get a second non-conference win at home and gain a better feel for their player rotations.
THE JACK BRESLIN STUDENT EVENTS CENTER, EAST LANSING, MI
Boise State struggled last year due to their youth and this year is no different with a freshman and sophomore heavy roster. They tied for 7th in their second year in the Mountain West and enter their final campaign as they depart in 2013-2014 for the Big West Conference. They’re not expected to compete for a MWC championship in this last opportunity and were roundly picked in the preseason to finish in the bottom half of the conference if not last. The Broncos are off to a nice start, however, at 3-0 including an 88-80 home victory over Oakland.
The key to Boise State’s attack is two sophomores, Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks, who return after all-freshmen conference efforts. The 6’6" G/F Drmic carries a heavy load on this squad. After leading the team in rebounding as a freshman, he’s back in the same spot by grabbing a team-best 7.3/game while averaging 15.7ppg and hitting 38% from three. Marks is right there with him at 16ppg despite struggling with his outside effectiveness. He’s 0-5 from deep thus far after hitting 37% in his debut season on only 19 attempts. Taking into account his 22mpg last season, it’s safe to say that the longball is not something he looks for often. At 6’3", Marks gets into the rebounding from the guard position and notched a high of 8 against Texas Southern for a season average of 5 per game.
If you scan the roster, you might think Boise State has solid size with five players over 6’8" but the majority of those players have yet to earn significant minutes. Their bulk inside is handled by 6’7" Sr. Kenny Buckner. At 251lbs, Buckner carries a strong frame to bang in the Mountain West conference. He’ll be Boise’s best hope for slowing down the MSU bigs and forcing them to defend inside. He’s assisted down low by 6’9" forward Ryan Watkins, BSU’s tallest player, who starts and trades minutes with Buckner in the post depending on the match-up. A Big Ten opponent featuring Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne may motivate Coach Leon Rice to give them more minutes in tandem.
Last year’s squad was similar enough to this year’s Bronco team that we can look a little bit at 2011-2012 statistics to give context to the Boise St. start. They try to push the pace and get solid points per possession to average 69.7 possessions and 1.11 points per possession in three games thus far. This is faster/better than the 65.5 and 1.04 they registered last year perhaps boosted by playing some softer opponents at the front of the schedule. Not much jumps out looking at their statistical profile but they did do a great job of clearing the defensive boards last year with the fifth highest DefReb% in the nation and they return all of their top defensive rebounders save one. Brandon Dawson will have something to work against to look for his garbage and hustle points.
In three games, Boise St. and MSU do have one common opponent in Texas Southern who they both defeated. Boise played TXSO at a higher tempo and dominated the glass (40-22) to secure an 81-63 win after a blistering 49-30 first half. MSU’s gained victory over their most recent opponent with stifling defense but didn’t have quite the same rebounding success (42-35).
What does MSU want to get out this game? Matt Costello played his first minutes of the season on Sunday and he’s one piece of the larger puzzle – figuring out Michigan State’s rotation and roles. Though losing Travis Trice for at least another week if not longer has slowed the process, Coach Izzo is working on figuring out who will play, how much, and in which situations. The post is still a major question mark. In addition to getting Costello into the mix, MSU toyed with the post spots by starting Alex Gauna on Sunday alongside Adreian Payne. Brandon Dawson and Russell Byrd have shown up at the ‘4’ as well so it’s fair to say that the staff is still deep in the experimentation phase. There’s plenty of time before the conference schedule arrives but it’s best that this picture becomes clearer as soon as possible.
Game number four isn't an opponent MSU can completely overlook. Even beyond the football name recognition of "Boise State," their team has arrived prepared in early contests. They have enough firepower to keep up with a talented team and are averaging 77ppg. Boise might also have the skill to limit Michigan State’s 2nd shot opportunities and gain a few of their own. That doesn’t mean the Spartans are likely to drop this one but Tuesday night doesn’t line-up to be a non-conference laugher.