Michigan State was pegged as a 26-point favorite by KenPom coming into this one, and the fact that Nicholls State's leading scorer, Fred Hunter, and another starter, Lachlan Prest, both had to sit out due to injuries only exacerbated the differences in talent and depth between the two teams. MSU took a little while to get rolling in the first half, but held NSU scoreless for the final eight minutes of the first half to take a dominating 37-13 lead at the intermission. They then proceeded to pour in another 47 points in the second half. In short, MSU made like Wisconsin and ran up its KenPom rating:
MSU dominated every facet of the game, forcing turnovers in bunches and dominating around the basket. MSU shot 62.2% on two-point attempts, vs. just 28.9% for NSU. MSU moved the ball around very well on offense, as six players had at least 2 assists. Meanwhile, only four NSU players converted more than one field goal attempt. If not for poor free throw shooting by the Spartans (56.5%), this game would have gotten out of hand even more quickly.
After an early stretch of long road trips and tightly-packed games, this game was a chance for Tom Izzo to spread the minutes around. All 11 scholarship players played at least 5 minutes and scored at least one basket. Nine guys scored at least 5 points, with 4 in double digits. Keith Appling led the way with 13 points to and 6 assists. Adreian Payne (10 points on 5 FGA, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks) and Denzel Valentine (11 points on perfect shooting, 3 assists, 3 steals) were the most active playmakers for MSU.
Payne started the game on the bench to put the smaller lineup with Branden Dawson at the 4 out there to start the game. By my count, MSU went with two traditional bigs for 15 of the 40 minutes, with Dawson or Russell Byrd filling the 4-spot for the remaining minutes. This was a severely undersized opponent, though, so that split isn't a complete surprise. Nix and Payne did play together very briefly.
This next stretch of games is key for Byrd in terms of whether he'll be a part of the main rotation when we get to Big Ten play. I'm afraid he didn't do a lot to boost his stock today. He did score 6 points, but they all came in the final few minutes. He missed a couple awkward looking shots around the lane earlier in the game.
Other than that, this is exactly the kind of performance you want in a game like this one. Next up is Arkansas Pine-Bluff (KenPom #339) on Wednesday night (8:00, BTN), in what should be a similar kind of rout.