EDWARD JONES DOME, ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI
9:37(ish) P.M. (ET), FRIDAY
TV: CBS (Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery)
We didn't do a traditional preview of this game, but we've had plenty of content on the game this week. Here's a review.
This is a deep, balanced, veteran team. But their offensive numbers don't exactly leap off the page. That's partly a function of the fact UNI plays the game of basketball at a glacially slow pace--59 possessions per game. That's good for 3rd slowest in the country. Even Wisconsin plays with (slightly) more hop in their step than these guys do.
Most of the UNI offense runs through their post guys. Eglseder gobbles up possessions with his combination of height, bulk, and funky post moves, and Adam Koch is pretty assertive with the ball, as well. Kwadzo Ahelegbe is an oddity: A player who takes up 27% of his team's offensive possessions while he's on the floor while posting an offensive rating well below the 100 mark (89.9). Forcing him to drive the lane with the shot clock running down seems like a good strategy, as he's made just 38.7% of his 2-point attempts this season.
Farokhmanesh is, on paper at least, the only real threat to put up big scoring numbers from the outside for the Panthers. And he's done that very well thus far in NCAA Tournament play, scoring 33 points on 9-19 three-point shooting over the opening weekend. The Spartan guards will want to keep close tabs on him.
Despite the fact that UNI beat Kansas by putting up 69 points in a 62-possession game, defense has been their calling card for the most of the season. The Panthers held 14 of their 18 MVC opponents below a point per possession. Again, they bear an eerie similarity to our friends in Madison, ranking 22nd in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, allowing opponents to grab just 28.0% of their misses. Eglseder also leads the way on the defensive glass, ranking 6th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. UNI also bears a quality that Bo Ryan teams of past years were known for: They don't foul. UNI's opponent's FTR ranks 15th nationally.
On Korie Lucious' role in the game:
Thankfully, he's refound some of his mojo in postseason play. Over the last 3 games, Lucious has scored 25 points on 7-15 three-point shooting. He hasn't dished out a lot of assists (2 in each of the 3 games), but he's turned the ball over just 5 times in 73 minutes on the court. Without Lucious' 3-point shooting heroics, MSU doesn't even get to overtime vs. Minnesota and we're in season recap mode at TOC right now.
Lucious' defense remains iffy. He still tends to lose shooters in traffic, and he's picked up 7 fouls in the last two games against the bigger guards of New Mexico State and Maryland. Against Northern Iowa, he should be able to breathe slightly easier on defense, though; the Panther guards aren't all that big and, outside of Ali Farokhmanesh, they're not big threats to score in bunches.
Talking to the UNI beat reporter:
[Andrew Logue:] Actually, I think that’s kind of their mindset already. Seriously, this team has always played with a 'What have we got to lose?' attitude. And the great equalizer in all this is that kids today play so much AAU basketball, so when you get Northern Iowa kids matched up against a Kansas or a Michigan State, they’re not in awe like they would have been 20-25 years ago. [Kwadzo] Ahelegbe and Eglseder both talked about going up against Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins in their AAU days, so they weren’t intimidated.
Both KenPom (+1 for UNI) and the Vegas line (+1 for MSU) are basically calling this game a coin flip. I think that's about right, although it masks the amount of uncertainty that exists on the Spartan side of the equation. Out of MSU's seven core players, only four of them go into game near 100% healthwise: Korie Lucious, Durrell Summers, Draymond Green, and Raymar Morgan. Green and Morgan can be counted to play with consistency (absent foul trouble). Lucious and Summers have played very well in the last two games, but have not historically been consistent performers.
I fully expect MSU's role players to make solid contributions in this game--Austin Thornton and Mike Kebler will be there defensively and Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman will provide some quality minutes against the UNI post men--but it's ultimately going to come down to whether at least 3 of the 4 healthy core players are on their games tonight. I think you have to look at any contributions you get from Chris Allen and Delvon Roe as gravy, given their respective injury situations. Among the bench guys, a big game from Derrick Nix would be a real asset: He can make Jordan Eglseder work on the other end and help limit how much time Eglseder is on the court to create quality offensive possessions for UNI.
Absent efficient shooting from Lucious and Summers, the fallback plan will be for the unstoppable force of MSU's offensive rebounding to somehow overcome immovable object of UNI's defensive rebounding. If that happens, maybe Green and Morgan can outplay Eglseder and Koch to scrape out a Michigan State win. Mr. Gasaway gave us some reason for optimism on this point:
The Panthers’ graded out well in keeping fellow MVC foes off the boards, but Valley offenses believe in getting it right the first time, so much so that no team in the conference ranks in the top 100 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
For Northern Iowa, watch out for Lucas O`Rear--the Panthers' 6'6", 255-pound glue guy. I didn't mention him in my initial UNI rundown, but he does a lot of things efficiently for Ben Jacobson. He pulls down rebounds on both ends (11.6/18.6 rebounding percentages), handles the ball well (15.5 TO%), and scores efficiently around the basket (55.9 2pt%).
This is your open thread for the evening (assuming we don't get a flood of comments for the first set of games--which would be fine).
Here's your game video:
And, here's the link to a larger video player: Launch Player.