Opponent: Loyola(Chicago) Ramblers
Location: East Lansing, MI
Start time: 7:00 PM EST
KenPom Line: MSU -14
After a road trip to Annapolis to play Navy and a neutral-site game against Duke, MSU opens up the home schedule against Loyola-Chicago. The Ramblers barely broke the 10-win barrier last season with a two point win over Bradley in the MVC tournament. However, like Navy, the Ramblers return their entire starting five from last season, including Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the year Milton Doyle. Despite finishing at 252 in the KenPom ratings in 2013-14, I expect they'll be significantly improved this year as they lost just one rotation player to graduation.
But just how much they'll improve is still a question. They've had double-digit wins at home against D-2 POWERHOUSES McKendree and Rockhurst. Just kidding, I have no idea how good those two teams might be. But they're definitely D-2, so the wins don't tell us much. I'll quit rambling about this now (get it?).
[National ranks are in parentheses. If you've stopped reading due to puns, I understand, and I'll do better next time.]
Expect a slog, at least at first. Both teams are pretty balanced and play quite slow, so the presumed MSU advantage might take a little while to show itself. Be patient.
The Only.... Things to Watch For
Denzel Valentine vs. Doing Too Much: The stat lines for DV thus far have been underwelming. Small sample caveats apply, but he's just 6 for 19 from the field, with a 9 to 8 assist to turnover ratio. He's also not rebounding the ball as well as he has in the past, posting just a 9.8 defensive rebounding percentage. Let's hope he gets on track.
Travis Trice vs. Consistency: The flipside to DV is Travis, who is still #4 in KenPom's player of the year ratings. He's significantly stepped up in terms of possession usage while increasing efficiency as well. This was kept up against Duke despite a 1 for 5 shooting night from deep. I'm optimistic about the way he's being used, so let's hope this continues.
Matt Costello vs. Competency: As many of you mentioned, Matt Costello looked a little... let's say hesitant... against Duke on Tuesday. There seems to be no attempt to isolate Costello in the post yet; you'd think that getting him some reps there might help his confidence.
Defensive Rotations: I can't remember the last time I saw MSU look so lost on defense on certain possessions. I'm just hoping there aren't as many glaring opportunities for back-cuts in this one.
I expect this to open up near the end of the first half. MSU wins, 74-53.