Unlike some of the teams Michigan State will face before Big Ten play, Oakland is no pushover. The Grizzlies have given the Spartans trouble in the past: MSU only pulled out a four-point win last year in The Palace, and a one-point win four years ago at the same location. Truly, Greg Kampe's young men have a habit of giving the Spartans fits.
That's not even taking into account the myriad of upsets that have occurred in the Big Ten lately. Nebraska lost to a school called Incarnate Word in Lincoln, Indiana recently lost to Eastern Washington, and oh Michigan. The NJIT loss will most likely be the worst loss by a Big Ten team this season, and the Wolverines can't even claim to be the best team in their own county after losing to Eastern Michigan.
That's why I'm feeling a little skittish headed into tonight's game against the Grizzlies. Oakland had a tough start to the season, losing at Iowa State, at Eastern Michigan, and at home to Western Michigan and Western Carolina. Michigan State has already failed at the first key to beating Oakland -- have a direction in your school's name.
From there though it's been mostly positive for the Grizzlies, as they've gone 4-1 in their last five games. Granted none of them were against top-flight competition, but one of the wins was against Toledo, a team currently ranked #108 in KenPom this season. So how does Oakland plan to beat MSU tonight?
In a word, offense. The Grizzlies excel in field goal percentage, making 37.4% of their threes (70th in D1) and 53.1% of their twos (43rd in D1). Their offensive efficiency in the front court is driven by senior center Corey Petros and junior forward Tommie McCune. Petros has made 67% of his twos and McCune, after dismissals from West Virginia and Oakland itself at one time, could be the Grizzlies' best shooter; he's made 57% of his twos and has gone 6 of 11 form three this season.
The Grizzlies also get to the foul line often, as Petros, McCune, and sophomore point guard Kahlil Felder (fun fact about Felder -- no player has played a greater percentage of his team's minutes than Felder this season) all draw more than five fouls per 40 minutes. The good news is that Oakland's foul shooting is suspect. Although Felder is a very good free throw shooter (84%), McCune is below average (66%), and Petros is not good (45%).
So how can Michigan State win? By exploiting the Grizzlies' terrible defense. Only 13 teams in D1 have a worse adjusted defensive efficiency than Oakland, and there's no saving grace in that -- Oakland doesn't foul excessively, and that's probably the only good thing one can say about the Grizzly (in more ways than one) defense. They allow opponents to shoot a high percentage from the field, they don't force many turnovers (like MSU needs the help), and they have trouble keeping their opponents off the boards.
KenPom predicts a 20-point MSU victory, and Vegas has the Spartans favored by 18 points. I think a 10-12 point MSU victory is more in the cards here, given the Spartans haven't played in more than a week and their historical troubles with Oakland. Regardless, this is a game Michigan State should win, and with some measure of comfort.