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Michigan State Basketball: Kansas Preview

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Check out what the Spartans are up against as MSU faces Kansas in the fifth installment of the Champions Classic

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info

Opponent: Kansas

Location: Chicago, IL

Time: 10:00 PM EST (estimated)

Channel: ESPN

KenPom Line: Kansas -4

After both Kansas and MSU crushed their first opponents, they face each other for the the third time in the last four years after splitting the first two meetings. In terms of roster changes from last year's game between these two teams, the biggest loss for Kansas was Cliff Alexander (Kelly Oubre barely played) while MSU lost two stars in Branden Dawson and Travis Trice while also having both Gavin Schilling and Marvin Clark out with injury. As for additions, MSU has added transfer Eron Harris who scored 28 (with a 136 ORtg) during his last game against Kansas and Deyonta Davis who might end up as the best shot-blocker in MSU history when it's all said and done. On the other hand Kansas has mostly the same core as Cheick Diallo has not been cleared, LaGerald Vick is out with an eye injury, and Carlton Bragg is likely to be a role player at this point.

The consensus appears to be that Wayne Selden and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (Svi) are two of the most improved players for Kansas. One of the bigger differences from last year's game is that Kansas is going to be running a two point guard lineup with Devonte Graham and Frank Mason. Last year Valentine did a great job checking Selden who shot 0-10 while Forbes was guarding a much taller Svi standing at 6'8". This year Forbes will likely have to be guarding Graham who was excellent at distributing the ball and drawing fouls in the opener. I still think the key to the game will be whether or not an MSU big can keep Perry Ellis in check. If MSU can't, it'll likely have to resort to guarding him or (the other big) with either Colby Wollenman or Javon Bess who would be undersized guarding a KU big.

One key for MSU will be whether or not Valentine can create space to be the playmaker that MSU needs him to be in the halfcourt. If he can't, MSU will likely struggle offensively as there's no clear second creator on the team at the moment. Another key is if the Real Eron Harris can please stand up Harris can step up and perform the way many expected him to coming into this season as an offensive weapon.

The Tempo-Free (national rank in parentheses)

Year Offensive Efficiency Defensive Efficiency Pace
2014-15 110.6 (36) 91.7 (10) 67.4 (53)
2015-16 113.2 (10) 90.9 (4) 76.0 (12)

The first stat that stands out is that Kansas plays very fast. Last year they were top 50 in offensive average possession length and they might even faster this year with their 2 PG lineup. Going off of last year's stats, their two centers in Landen Lucas and Jamari Traylor are low-usage athletic bigs. Brannen Greene is a 6'7" version of Bryn Forbes who has shot more than twice as many 3's than 2's in his career at better than 40% but did not have a real effect in last year's matchup. Last year they had an all-around good defense and got to the FT line at a pretty high rate ranked 42nd in the country. An interesting stat to me is that despite their good overall team athleticism, they got their shot blocked a lot offensively and that ranked #333 nationally. That's likely to go along with their FTRate as they are a contact-seeking team but if the foul isn't called then they're likely to get blocked.

Things to watch:

1. Who is going to guard the second Kansas big man? - With Gavin Schilling (and to an extent Marvin Clark) MSU has very limited frontcourt depth. Ideally they'd put Davis and Costello out there against Kansas combination of Ellis and Lucas/Traylor but that might be costly if one or both gets in foul trouble. Davis' rim-protection could a huge factor if he's able to stay in the game. Izzo started Javon Bess at the 4 in the opener but he's only 6'5" and might struggle to contain whoever he's guarding in the post.

2. Can MSU get good shots in the halfcourt? - A big part of MSU's offense the last couple years has been its play in transition. In the 2 exhibition games and the season opener against FAU MSU averaged just over 20 fast-break points. However, these points are going to be harder to come by against a more athletic Kansas team. So with 5 seconds to go in the shot-clock, which MSU player will be able to break down the defense to get a good look?

3. Secondary playmaker behind Valentine - Valentine is "the guy" for MSU this year and there's no disputing that. So if he's either struggling or on the bench, who's going to step up and score for MSU? Bess and Matt McQuaid had promising moments in the exhibition games while Costello has a developing post-game. Harris looks like the most obvious candidate but he's also likely to face a smaller player in Devonte Graham when he's in limiting his quickness at getting to the rim.

Prediction

MSU lost last year by 5 in a game in which Dawson, Trice, and Clark combined for 7-36 from the field. As their replacements at the 1 and 4 are nowhere near the shot-takers they are, I would expect better efficiency from MSU as a whole. Selden has been hyped up a lot since the World University Games but I question the overall level of competition/athleticism during those matchups. He shot just 6-28 (8-10 FT) for 22 points during the final and that middling efficiency is more in line with what we've seen from him in his first two years where he's had 98.0 and 104.9 ORtg's with no more than a 20% usage rating. I'd give the backcourt edge to MSU and I think MSU's bigs' experience in Italy against National teams has prepared them enough to face this Kansas frontcourt without giving up too much.

MSU 68 - KU 63