Well, here we are. Let's start with the first two meetings:
Pardon my language, but the first game against Maryland in East Lansing was a total shitshow. Neither team broke 0.9 points per possession and it was legitimately difficult to watch. The score was Maryland 11, MSU 6 with 3:30 left to go in the first half. Read that sentence again. Neither team shot well, but MSU was significantly out-rebounded. That rebounding piece is unlikely to be duplicated.
Travis Trice had 26 points on 7 for 22 shooting, with 6 assists and 1 turnover, and was basically the only bright spot for MSU. No one else broke double-digits in this game. Branden Dawson was still sort of recovering from a wrist injury; he's still sort of recovering from injury though he seemed find against OSU. Dawson did post 9 points and 11 rebounds, while accounting for half of all MSU offensive rebounds, so he wasn't a total loss. Denzel Valentine, though, went 1-9 from the field including 0-5 from three. Bryn Forbes was 3-8, and Matt Costello was just 2-6. Slop slop slop.
Melo Trimble and Dez Wells combined for 33 of Maryland's 68 points. Wells took 14 shots to get there, while Trimble shot 14 free throws. Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz has 9 and 8 rebounds, respectively. But nobody else did much of note for Maryland.
I'm not going to get into the specifics of the late-game issues in this particular game because we're all familiar with that storyline, I'm afraid. Just know that MSU shot 67.9% from the free throw line.
The second game was a little more straightforward. Maryland's perimeter defensive pressure game MSU fits, causing a turnover rate of 19.7% and a three-point shooting percentage of 17.6%. Dawson and Costello were both moderately effective on the interior, with 14 and 12 points, respectively. Trice and Valentine really struggled, though.
Jake Layman put up a 23-12 while getting to the line 12 times (sensing a theme, here?). Overall, Maryland hit 90.9% of their free throws while MSU hit 30.8% of theirs. That wasn't the difference in the game, but it's a fun horribly frustrating stat to look at, anyways.
The more interesting stat: Maryland hit 52.4% of their threes versus MSU's 17.6%. That'll explain the bulk of the 16 point margin. The rest can be explained by the difference in turnover rates & free throw shooting. Maryland controlled the game pretty much throughout, but at the end I didn't feel like Maryland was a juggernaut by any means.
Maryland has won a boatload of close B1G games due to some combination of free throw shooting and luck; their rotation hasn't changed much. They'll be using largely the same rotation.
MSU has gone through some transformation, however. First, the insertion of Tum Tum Nairn into the starting lineup has seemed to help, though I can't explain why. The half court offense has significantly improved, via eye-test or otherwise. MSU is up to #15 in offensive efficiency per KenPom, and that's backed up by MSU's performance against Ohio State in the B1G quarterfinals.
Additionally, Javon Bess played in both games, with 5 minutes in the first game and 22 in the second. I like Bess, but his absence may have had a positive impact in terms of defining both offensive and defensive roles for other guys. The performances of Marvin Clark and Alvin Ellis in recent games seems to bear this out.
The Thing I'd Like to See But Probably Won't Happen
I think Maryland is gonna roll with Layman & Smotrycz on the interior for much of this game. And I'd like to see MSU counter with a combination of Marvin Clark and Dawson for stretches. That lineup was effective in crunch time against Ohio State, provides enough rebounding (provided Valentine is also in the game), and stretches the floor in half court situations while making it easier to get out in transition. I'm not scared of Layman or Smotrycz in the post. Maybe that's just me.
Things That Probably Will Happen
MSU won't be out-rebounded in this game. It didn't make sense in the first meeting, and didn't happen in the second. I'm pretty confident of this point.
I also think MSU will shoot better from the perimeter. This team is sharing the ball incredibly well, and the offense has jelled in such a way that will allow for more open looks. If Maryland continues the perimeter pressure that they executed in the second game, I'm confident that there will be an offensive answer. Maybe that answer is Tum Tum driving the lane, which he did with aplomb against Ohio State. Maybe it's simple ball screen action which requires help. Maybe it's additional back-cuts. Regardless, there will be an answer in this game.
Maryland is going to get to the line, because it's what they do. Melo Trimble and Dez Wells will get theirs. But it does feel like games late in this B1G season are being called a little more loosely, and because of that Maryland's advantage in this area won't be as pronounced. I could be wrong here, too.
I think its pretty obvious what I'm building to here. The ways in which Maryland won the first two meetings are unsustainable and I'm gaining confidence in this MSU team.
I am scared of a close late-game situation, because obviously. But this MSU team shoots better from the line away from home, and the crunch time go-to guys are becoming more and more clear.
It's also tough to beat the same time three times in a season when those teams are relatively similar talent-wise.
MSU 69 - Maryland 62