There's no time to catch your breath, MSU fan. Your Spartans play Eastern Michigan tonight (on Big Ten Network) as a non-bracketed game of the Wooden Legacy Tournament, before shipping off to Fullerton, California for three more games this week (Thursday, Friday, and Sunday). Depending on how the tournament goes, MSU could end up playing Pac-12 favorite Arizona on Sunday. It's going to be a wild week.
Anyways, Eastern Michigan. Last season, EMU pulled an unlikely upset of Michigan which will live warmly in our hearts forever. That success didn't translate into much against MSU, however, and MSU cruised to a 20-point win in East Lansing last year. Much of Eastern's success is predicated on an aggressive 2-3 zone defense; that bodes well for an MSU team that can light it up from deep and rebounded 62.1% of its offensive misses against Arkansas Pine Bluff. Before the start of the season, the Eagles suspended their standout Raven (Ray) Lee indefinitely for a violation of team rules, and he's probably still out. Lee used 31.4% of possessions last season for the Eagles and their offense has struggled in the early going this season without him, averaging just 0.99 points per possession.
The Four Factors
MSU on Offense
[Watch out for turnovers.]
MSU on Defense
[Rebounding is a strength-on-strength matchup.]
Hustle Belt Q&A
Ahead of the game, I sat down with Hustle Belt's Alex Alvarado to do a Q&A. My answers to Alex's questions are here.
1) Looks like there was a lot of turnover from the Eagles squad from last year. Is this just a function of seniors moving on, transfers, or something else?
Alex Alvarado: Most of them graduated. We were supposed to have another center on the roster with Mike Samuels but I have no idea what happened to him, he's just not on the roster like I expected him to be a few months ago. I hate not recognizing a roster, but I'm pretty happy with what we have, at least at the guard position.
There's a lot of people that get upset that Murphy always feeds off of JUCO talent, but I can deal finally learning about a player during the first 20% of the season.
2) The Eagles have made postseason tournaments the past two seasons. Are they pretty happy with Rob Murphy in Ypsilanti? I take it he's still running an aggressive 2-3 zone?
AA: For the most part, I'd say Murphy's well-liked amongst fans. Hasn't been able to string together a championship season, but things are much better than they were five years ago. We're 2-3 zone til we die, so hopefully the Spartans just have a really bad night shooting 3's.
3) Any chance the Eagles have an upset in them like they did last year against Michigan? (Thanks for that, by the way) Anybody who can pull a Jimmer and go off for 30?
AA: I want to say there's a chance. I mean, The Citadel beat South Carolina so why not?
I think the one way that EMU has been able to make games difficult on other teams is creating turnovers and sloppy play. If our defense is being aggressive with going for the steals, then it could get fun.
Assuming that leading scorer from last year's team Raven Lee is still serving a suspension, I'll have to go with one of the JUCO transfers. Willie Mangum had a really bad night last week against Oakland, but he's not shy to put the ball up. Maybe Ty Toney, another transfer, could show out for a night.
4) Looks like EMU's got some height (71st nationally in effective height per KenPom) and rebound the ball OK offensively. Is this an EMU strength?
AA: Rebounding certainly seems like it should be a strength of this team. They're currently fourth in the MAC with nearly 40 boards per game. They also us their length to lead the MAC in blocks (7.0). Freshman James Thompson is a promising center at 6-foot-10 who has some offensive game as well. Only problem is that we lack some serious depth in the front court, and our bigs always seem to find themselves in foul trouble.
AA: I feel pretty pessimistic about the outcome, but I'm excited to learn more about this team, because playing against Sienna Heights and Vermont doesn't show me a whole lot. MSU 71-58.