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Preview: Michigan State Spartans vs. Oakland Grizzlies

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7:00 P.M. (ET), THURSDAY

Grizzlie bullets:

  • 2008-09: Overall record of 23-13; 13-5 in Summit League play; lost to Bradley in second round of Tournament to end season; KenPom ranking of #103.
  • Lost to MSU 82-66 last season in a game played at the Palace.  MSU shot 11-20 from 3-point range in that game.  Keith Benson led Oakland with 20 points on 8-9 FT shooting.
  • Team returns 4 of 5 starters; leading scorer Eric Kangas graduated.
  • Off to a 4-4 start in the new season.  Three of four losses have been on the road against ranked teams: Wisconsin (by 16), Kansas (by 30), and Memphis (by 31).  Opened regular season with a home loss to Eastern Michigan.
  • Leading scorer is 6'11" redshirt junior center Keith Benson, who is averaging 17.3 points (on .517 FG shooting), 10.6 rebounds, and 4.0 blocked shots per game.
  • 6'5" redshirt senior forward Derick Nelson (Lansing Everett) is averaging 13.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.  Nelson sports a fairly bizarre .456/.474/.364 shooting line.
  • 5'11" senior guard Johnathon Jones (Okemos) is averaging 13.8 points and 6.0 assists per game, with a more normal looking .489/.355/.816 shooting line.

It appears the start to Oakland's season has been underwhelming relative to preseason expectations.  Golden Grizzlie Hoops on the EMU loss:

Perhaps, the dismal perimeter shooting performance was just that — one bad shooting night.  It happens to everyone.  No use in getting all tied up in knots because it happened in the first game, right?

Then there’s the obvious.  The team read all the hype, believed they were headed for the NCAA tournament and played an exhibition tune-up where they could have mailed-in their "C" game and posted a win.  They decided this year was going to be easy.  They thought something less than their best would be good enough.  It wasn’t.  However, lesson learned.  They will not take a "W" for granted again.

Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, the dismal shooting has continued.  Last season, this team finished 32nd in the nation in adjusted offensie efficiency, with an effective field goal percentage of 54.2%, good for 18th best in the nation.  The team shot 53.6% on 2-pointers and 36.9% on 3-pointers.

This season, those last two numbers have dropped to 43.4% and 30.0%.  The graduation of Kangas, who shot 41.7% on a whopping 324 three-point attempts has been the major blow to the team's perimeter shooting.  Keith Benson, meanwhile, has been unable to maintain the lofty 62.4% two-point shooting percentage he posted last season.

Benson has managed to get to the free throw line over 7 times per game, though, and will represent a tough match-up for Delvon Roe and Draymond Green inside.  This would be a great time for Garrick Sherman to give the team a solid 15 minutes of defense down low.

Defensively, Oakland wasn't much to write home about last year (259th in the nation in defensive efficiency), and they've been similarly below-average this season.  They're allowing opponents to maintain possession of the ball, shoot the ball efficiently, and gather offensive rebounds.  The Grizzlies' only strength has been avoiding fouling (which may be partially a function of playing some zone defense).  Oakland does block a decent amount of shots--primarily due to Benson's presence--so MSU may need to rely more heavily on the outside shooting of Kalin Lucas and Chris Allen than the interior scoring of Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green.

The overall weakness in Oakland's tempo-free numbers is partially attributable to having already played three top-notch opponents.  This is an experienced team that, for whatever reason, is struggling to get things going this season.  It'll take more than a perfunctory performance by MSU to make sure that doesn't happen tomorrow night.

Sagarin predicts a 16-point Spartan victory.