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Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles

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Your MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS vs. the FLORIDA GULF COAST EAGLES
THE BRESLIN CENTER, EAST LANSING, MICHIGAN
7:00 P.M. (ET), FRIDAY

NO TV; VIDEO: ESPN360.com (click through to check whether your ISP makes 360 available)
RADIO: SPARTAN SPORTS NETWORK

FGCU Eagle bullets:

  • 11-20 record last season, including 7-13 in the Atlantic Sun Conference (8th out of 11 teams); 0-14 on the road.
  • 2009 was just FGCU's second season playing at the Division 1 level.
  • 2009 Kenpom ranking: #303, adjusted offensive efficiency: #310, adjusted defensive efficiency: #253
  • Team returns 4 of 5 starters from last season, but seems to have lost most of their key contributors off the bench.
  • Top-returning player is one-time Wolverine Reed Baker, a 6'1" redshirt junior guard who led the team with 13.4 points/game last season.  His 84.4% free throw percentage indicate he's a very good shooter.  His 2-point and 3-point shooting percentages of 36.5%/32.8% indicate he had a tough time finding good shots from the field.
  • Kyle Marks and Derrick O'Neil, 6'5" and 6'7" (respectively) senior forwards, are the team's top returning interior players: 9.6 points and 5.9 rebounds per game for Marks last season, 9.2 and 7.3 for O'Neil.
  • Incoming freshmen guards Hunter Miller and Brett Williams are potential contributors.

Looking at the Eagle's four-factors profile, they only had one real strength last year: getting to the free throw line (FTR=43.5%).  Baker, Marks, O'Neil, and then-freshman point guard Reggie Chambers all drew 4+ fouls per 40 minutes.  Turnovers, meanwhile, were their main downfall (TO%=24.5%).  Only one of FGCU's top nine players posted more assists than turnovers, and that was by a margin of a single assist.

Defensively, the statistical picture isn't any prettier.  The undersized nature of the Eagles' roster was evident from their opponents' offensive rebounding percentage (35.9%) and free throw rate (40.7%).  The number of 3-pointers they forced (39.7% of opponents' FG attempts) would indicate they play quite a bit of zone.  And they did hold opponents to a relatively low conversion rate from beyond the arc (32.7%).

In sum, this is a team we should beat handily regardless of whether we're at less-than-full-strength due to injuries.  If there's a key to the game, I guess it would Kalin Lucas, Chris Allen, Durrell Summers, and/or Korie Lucious hitting some early three-pointers to loosen up the Eagles' zone (assuming they, in fact, play a zone) to allow Delvon Roe, Draymond Green, and Derrick Nix to attack the basket in the paint.

Even if it's a blowout, the game could be pretty entertaining in terms of the two teams racing up and down the court.  FGCU ranked 41st in the country in adjusted tempo last season at 70.2 possessions/game.  And head coach Dave Balza is making noise about not backing down from an up-tempo approach on offense, despite the gap in talent between the two teams:

"People are gonna question, 'Well, why would you want to run with them, that's what they do best?'" Balza said. "Well, that's how we play. Either you slow it down and take the air out of the ball and try to keep the score close or you get better at what we're trying to do ... if we can take care of the ball in that setting against really good athletes, we can do it in the (Atlantic Sun) conference. So to really get something out of this, we're going to play our style."

I like the cut of your jib, sir.

I'll be taking the season opener in live at the Breslin Center.  For those watching/listening at home, surf your way here for the first-ever real TOC basketball open thread.