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Michigan State Basketball: Florida Atlantic Preview

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Check out MSU's first regular season opponent and what to expect from them tonight

Everyone is excited that basketball is finally back
Everyone is excited that basketball is finally back
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info

Opponent: Florida Atlantic

Location: East Lansing, MI

Time: 7:00 PM EST

Channel: ESPN3

KenPom Line: MSU -19

Basketball season is here at last! The Michigan State Spartans open their season against the Owls of Florida Atlantic. It appears the reason they're playing this particular team is that Florida Atlantic has former MSU great Eric Snow as one of its assistant coaches.

The last couple years MSU has started its season against cupcake before a big game in the Champions Classic. This year's victim opponent is a Florida Atlantic team that finished dead last in Conference USA in 2014-15. This year, however, they were picked to finish 8th of 14 which is close to KenPom's projection who had them 9th among Conference USA teams.

Florida Atlantic returns their top 3 scorers (all 6-4 or shorter) including Solomon Poole who had an extremely high 32.4% usage to go along with a very poor 80.4 ORtg. As for frountcourt players, they lost their two top rebounders and have two main frontcourt guys: 6-9 sophomore CJ Turman who had issues with foul trouble at 6.7PF/40 and 6-9 senior Javier Lacunza weighing just 215 lbs who shot more 3's than 2's last year despite making just 25% of his 3 point attempts.

The Tempo-Free (national rank in parentheses)

Year Offensive Efficiency Defensive Efficiency Pace
2014-15 97.0 (270) 108.4 (295) 64.2 (203)
2015-16 98.3 (206) 104.1 (286) 68.0 (215)

(This year's numbers are only projected by KenPom at this point as there's no current data to go off of)

All around Florida Atlantic isn't a particularly good team. One interesting bit of data is that while they had a below-average pace last year, their offensive pace (291st) was slowing down their overall number as their defense ranked just 43rd in average length of possession.

One of the few areas they were above average in last year was offensive 3P% (139th) and that should likely continue as they didn't lose anyone who was a good 3PT shooter from last year. What's also interesting is that they had the highest 3PA/FGA defensively in the country last year meaning that they forced opponents to shoot a higher rate of 3's than anyone in the country. While shooting a lot of 3's is not usually a bad thing for opponents, they had the 9th ranked 3P% defense with opponents shooting just 29.9% from 3 on the year. Traditionally there's thought to have been a some amount of luck involved with 3P% defense but what's interesting about their statistical profile is that they also had the 3rd ranked Ast% defense so it's seems as though they force opponents into playing more hero ball, while somehow not going deep into the shot clock which seem like two opposing thoughts.

Things to Watch

1. Can Tum Tum become a real offensive threat? Last year Tum Tum Nairn had the worst ORtg on the team among heavy rotation players and shot just 3-10 from 3 to go along with making just over half of his free throw attempts. He was aggressive getting to the basket during the exhibition games but it's not going to be that easy when he starts playing a higher level of competition. While his best attributes are going to be his ability to push the pace and defend, he could open things up on offense if he can get into the lane as Valentine and Forbes don't possess the quick first step that Nairn does.

2. Who will become the secondary playmaker behind Valentine? Going into this year many thought that Eron Harris would come in and replace a lot of what Travis Trice did as an offensive creator last year. However, based on the exhibition games Harris was just okay and did very little to stand out or make you think he'd become a star this year. While he may just need time to get comfortable, it's hard not to have lower expectations for him going forward. A couple guys that may have some playmaking ability are Javon Bess with his high IQ scoring, and Matt McQuaid with his ability to be an outside shooting threat and his deft passing ability.

3. Can Deyonta Davis stay in the game? Davis had a great first exhibition game but was mostly on the bench during the second due to foul trouble. MSU has a game against Kansas next week who possesses a tall frontcourt which means MSU will likely have to use two traditional bigs. If Davis is able to play alongside Costello/Wollenman and stay out of foul trouble, it'll raise MSU's ceiling in terms of just good this team can become.

Prediction

This MSU team is likely to follow the Spartan teams of the last couple years with its ability to thrive in transition. With Florida Atlantic having such a low defensive average possession length, look for MSU to exploit them in transition with their bigs rim-running and Forbes spotting up in the corner. There isn't too much to be concerned with in terms of an explosive player and I would expect MSU to win this one handily.

MSU 82 - FAU 61