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Back on the Mainland: Tennessee Tech Preview

SUNDAY, 1:00 P.M. (ET)
TV: Big Ten Network
ONLINE RADIO FEED: Spartan Sports Network

What has two thumbs and is killing time before kickoff?  This guy.  Golden Eagle bullets:

  • Overall record of 15-17 last season; 8-10 in the Ohio Valley Conference.  KenPom ranking of #251; #160 on offense, #336 on defense.  They lost to Minnesota, Kansas, and Memphis by 30+ points in nonconference play last year.
  • KenPom projects the team to improve slightly this season, pegging them at #217 nationally and 9-9 in conference play.
  • The Eagles are 0-2 so far this season, with a 13-point loss to North Carolina State.
  • The team returns 3 of 5 starters.  Gone are the team's top two 3-point shooters: Frank Davis (.444) and Elijah Muhammad (.411).
  • The team's leading scorer does return, though: 6'6" forward Kevin Murphy, who averaged 15.3 points/game on a .504/.306/.755 shooting line last year.
  • The top inside threat is 6'7" senior forward Alfred Jones.  Jones averaged 9.2 points (on .684 two-point shooting) and 5.1 rebounds per game last year.  6'8" sophomore forward Terrell Barnes is also a factor: he's averaging 10.0 rebounds/game through two games this season.
  • Head coach Mike Sutton is in his eighth season at TTU; he entered the season with a career record of 114-100.  Sutton was formerly an assistant at Kentucky under Tubby Smith.

TTU was an adequate team on offense last season, but the Eagles' relative strength was largely a function of knocking down the three ball.  The team shot 37.6% from beyond the arc.  With the graduations of Davis and Muhammad, that strength is now gone.  TTU has only made 27.0% of its 3-point attempts through two games this season.

The attack will presumably be more focused in the lane this year, with Murphy and Jones leading the way.  So far, however, that hasn't gone very well.  TTU ranks second-to-last in the country in the percentage of its shots it's had blocked to date.  Meanwhile, MSU ranks an uncharacteristic #10 nationally in defensive block percentage, led by the not-traditionally-sized-shot-blocker Draymond Green (2.2 blocks/game).  Look for the MSU big men to control the lane in this one.

Defensively, TTU was just flat out bad last year, ranking in the 300s nationally in three of the four factors and just #226 in the fourth (TO%).  So far this year, the team has done two things well: control the defensive glass (25.2 OffReb% for opponents) and force tough 3-point attempts (25.2%).  MSU will attempt to pull TTU's numbers upward in one area the Spartans have dominated historically (good-but-not-great 37.3 OffReb% early this season) and one area they're excelling in so far this season (38.6 three-point%).

(Statistical aside: Draymond currently leads MSU in 3-point % [.538], free throw attempts, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.  His game is, in a word, boundless.)

Look for Tom Izzo to lengthen the bench again, going back to a 10- or 11-man rotation vs. the 8-man rotation we saw late in Maui play.  I assume Derrick Nix will be back in the mix, although I haven't seen definitive word on that. (Update: Nix's return to action is now official.)

While MSU has shown a knack for making things more interesting than they should be through five games this year, this is really a game the team should win going away as they seek to regain some team balance going into Wednesday night's showdown with the decidedly #1-looking Blue Devils.  (Edit: Kenpom predicts an 87-61 MSU win in 70 possessions.)