YOUR MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS vs. THE DELAWARE BLUE HENS
VETERANS MEMORIAL ARENA, SPOKANE, WASHINGTON
THURSDAY, MARCH 20th, 2014 - 4:40 PM EASTERN
RADIO: SPARTAN SPORTS NETWORK
Here are the things I know about Delaware, the State:
- It was the first state to join the United States.
- It's very small, and it's somewhere on the Eastern seaboard. I think it borders Maryland?
- If you have a company you should probably set up your headquarters there, as I've heard companies who are headquartered in Delaware don't have to pay taxes or something like that.
Here are the things I knew about the Delaware Blue Hens when they were announced as Michigan State's opponent last Sunday:
- They have a pretty good chemical engineering school, since one of my ChemE professors at State and someone I graduated with know either teach or attend there.
- They are called the Blue Hens.
This concludes the things I know about Delaware.
While a 5th grader can slap some adjectives and adverbs on those facts and call it, at the very least, a passable Geography report that doesn't quite cut it for a basketball preview. So I set out to learn about Michigan State's first opponent in the 2014 NCAA tournament, in the hope of learning a couple tidbits such that I can look smart at the bar during the game.
Let's begin, then, with how the Blue Hens arrived in the tournament. They recorded no wins of note during their nonconference schedule. Ohio State, the one Big Ten team Delaware played this season, prevailed 76-64 in Columbus. The Blue Hens also lost to Notre Dame, North Dakota State, and Villanova, but played the Wildcats close in an 84-80 loss in Philadelphia.
When Delaware began the conference portion of their schedule though, they flew (that's a bird joke, feel free to use it) through the Colonial Athletic Association, starting 11-0. Even though the Blue Hens were predicted to finish fourth in the conference, they finished 14-2 and in sole possession of the CAA regular season title. In the CAA tournament they beat Hofstra, Northeastern, and beat William & Mary by one in the conference title game to keep William & Mary from making their first-ever NCAA Tournament.
The Blue Hens achieved their CAA regular season and tournament titles in part to a death grip on of the basketball while on offense. Only Wisconsin among NCAA Tournament teams had a lower turnover percentage (12.6% to Delaware's 13.5%) this season. Other than that though, there's not a lot of the Blue Hens do particularly well. They're decent shooters as a team (34.5% from three, 49.9% from two), but not particularly strong at rebounding (rank 242nd and 239th in KenPom offensive rebounding percentage and opponents' offensive rebounding percentage respectively). Let's hope the rebounding renaissance continues for the Spartans.
The one Blue Hen player the Spartans will have to box out is Carl Baptiste. The 6'9" senior is Delaware's best rebounder (in part because no other regular player is taller than 6'7") but can get in foul trouble (averages 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes). On offense, 6'2" Kyle Anderson can do some damage. He's the best outside shooter on the team (38.8% from three). However, 6'6" senior Davon Usher is probably the biggest offensive threat due to the matchup problems he could create. He makes 36% of his threes, 53% of his twos, and 74% of his free throws. If I had to guess, Branden Dawson starts off on Usher to counteract any possible size advantage.
What are the keys to this game, then?
- Score inside, duh. The key to seemingly every game for the Spartans this year, but even more important now since Delaware has one player taller than 6'7", and that player (Baptiste) averages about 28 minutes a game. Payne, Costello, and Dawson in the post allows the Spartans to score the most.
- Keep feeding Branden Dawson whatever he's been eating in the past week. Dawson had three fantastic games last week and was deservedly named the Big Ten Tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Usher will be a matchup problem, but it's nothing Branden can't handle. Against an undersized Blue Hen squad, he should be free to drive the lane or what I pray, pray, pray is a finally consistent jump shot.
- Relax and believe in the power of JUD. In 2010, when Kalin Lucas tore his ACL against his Maryland, did Michigan State panic? Actually, they probably did for a little bit. But who helped Durrell Summers drain his threes? THE POWER OF JUD. Who telepathically told Delvon Roe to duck so Korie Lucious could receive Draymond Green's pass? JUD, EVEN THOUGH THERE IS NO PROOF. And who willed Korie's three into the basket? JUD JUD JUD. If MSU gets down early, don't distress -- everything is in Jud's hands, and everything will be OK.
KenPom says MSU 85, Delaware 73 with an 86% chance of a Spartan win. FiveThirtyEight.com gives Michigan State a 92% chance. Vegas has MSU at -14 or -14.5. I say I can't wait for Thursday.