Let me put it this way. Prairie View A&M, which comes to the Breslin Center this Saturday, is the last team MSU will face this year that Ken Pomeroy says the Spartans have a >95% chance of beating - 99.8% to be precise. I hesitate to use the word cupcake, but the Panthers currently sit at #328 out of 345 schools in Pomeroy's ratings. That does still put them above 6 other teams in the SWAC and they have been projected to finish third or fourth in that conference.
PVAMU has started the season 2-9, their two wins coming against non-D1 opponents Arlington Baptist and Ecclesia. They lost their remaining games by an average margin of 25 points, including 99-55 to Wisconsin and 90-45 to Baylor.
The Panthers lost three seniors from a team that finished with a winning record, both overall (16-14) and in the SWAC (11-7). They managed this largely on the strength of a defense that did a pretty good job contesting shots and turning their opponents over, finishing at #166 in Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency ranking. The offense, however, was one of the worst in Division 1, scoring at .84 points per possession. Unfortunately for the Panthers this year, the offense held steady while the defense, so far, has fallen off a cliff, leaving them with an efficiency margin of -0.22. Like many SWAC teams, they play at a fairly quick pace, 70.2 possessions per game to date.
PVAMU struggles mightily to score, with a .375/.305/.642 (2pt%/3pt%/FT%) team shooting line and they get a ton of shots blocked (14.9 block percentage). It's a good thing they're pretty good at holding on to the ball (18% turnover rate) as they need a lot of chances to score. Their only identifiable strength on defense is the apparent psychological mojo that has held their opponents to 62% free-throw shooting. Other than that they don't rebound well, aren't forcing many turnovers (19.2%) or blocking shots (7.5%), and are giving up great looks (58.1 opp. eFG%) while still sending their opponents to the line with great frequency (44.9 FTA/FGA).
Panther player bullets after the jump.
Prairie View uses a lot of players, with 10 guys averaging at least 14 minutes a game. The scoring is fairly well distributed as well, with 7 players averaging between 5 and 12 points per game. They're also the shortest team in Division 1, with an average height of 6'2", no regular taller than 6'7" and three of their major contributors at 5'10" or shorter. That would probably explain the shot blocking problem.
- Trant Simpson - Simpson, a 5'10" senior guard, is the only player scoring in double figures at 12.1 points per game on a .354/.356/.778 shooting line. Since he's the only guy averaging over 30 minutes and has taken 58 more shots than anyone else, it's probably safe to assume he's their go-to guy. He shoots a lot of threes (59 out of 138 FGA).
- Brandon Webb - Webb, another senior, is the tallest regular at 6'7". He is their inside presence, averaging 8.9 points on .543/NA/.550 shooting. He's also their top offensive rebounder and shot blocker and gets to the line a fair amount (57.1 FTR).
- Jeff Wherry - Wherry, a 5'8" freshman, is listed as the point guard, though at a 16.7 usage rate he doesn't seem to have a major impact on the offense. His assist rate of 15.0 is third on the team and his shooting line is .476/.283/.833
- Michael Griffin - Griffin, their 5'8" junior guard, was projected as the team's top returning player. He's only averaging 18 minutes, though, mainly coming off the bench, and missed 5 games entirely for reasons I wasn't able to determine. When he's in there he is the best at setting up his teammates with an assist rate of 29.3. Shoots well from three (44%).
Duwan Kornegay (6'5") and Cortney Bell (6'6") provide the rest of their size and shoulder the defensive rebounding load. Of local interest, the game is a homecoming of sorts for freshman Demondre Chapman, a 6'7" forward who starred at Flint's Carman Ainsworth High School.
Prairie View apparently plays a zone defense, but not one that has proven terribly difficult for their opponents to crack. The Panthers lack of size and inability to bother their opponents' shots - as well as their lack of success generating turnovers - ought to set this up as a big win for the Spartans. Ideally, MSU would like to put this game away early, leaving them the freedom to give a lot of minutes to Derrick Nix and the two freshmen, fewer minutes to Kalin Lucas, and allowing Tom Izzo to further nail down his rotations before Texas comes to town. Pomeroy is projecting a 91-54 MSU win in 71 possessions, which, I'm sure, would be A-OK with Spartan fans.
[Edit] All of the foregoing has been pushed to the periphery by the announcement of Izzo's suspension for this game. Any rotation refinement that happens will have to be done by proxy, as Mark Montgomery will be the bench coach on Saturday. TOC's post on the details of the violation and suspension is here. [/Edit]