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Michigan State vs Oakland Basketball Preview

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The Spartans turn their focus to Oakland, who are coming into East Lansing looking to capitalize.

NCAA Basketball: Youngstown State at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

After a hard fought loss to Northeastern, the Spartans turn their attention to the Oakland Golden Grizzlies, an opponent they are all too familiar with.

Fans surely remember last year’s 99-93 OT thriller at the Palace. That game featured Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello playing starring roles in the absence of do-everything guard Denzel Valentine, and Oakland’s Kay Felder dropping 37 point and 9 assists.

This year there are a lot of different faces, but when the game tips off will be 7 p.m. (BTN) we are likely in for another close one.


The Basics

NCAA Basketball: Oakland at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

The Numbers

  • Record: 9-2 (2-0 away)
  • Best Win: Oral Roberts (RPI: 191), 92-64
  • Worst Loss: Nevada (RPI: 28), 78-82

Last Five Games

  • 12/20 - Northeastern, L 59-61
  • 12/10 - @ Robert Morris, W 74-53
  • 12/3 - Southern Utah, W 78-68
  • 12/1 - Oral Roberts, W 92-64
  • 11/26 - UC Davis, W 79-66
  • 11/25 - @ Alaska Anchorage, W 71-65

The Golden Grizzlies have a 9-2 record which is typically not easy to obtain in a non-conference schedule but they have yet to play a ranked team. As we know the Spartans went through “the gauntlet” playing Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor, Wichita State, and Duke all at the beginning of their schedule. For the Grizzlies the Spartans will be the second highest RPI Rank they have played this year (Michigan State is ranked #111 in RPI, Nevada who is Oaklands only loss was ranked #28 RPI according to cbssports.com).

This is Oakland’s second game in as many nights after losing to Northeastern at home just last night (Yes, that Northeastern). Basketball fans know how taxing back to backs can be and while it will end up being just a small advantage for Michigan State it is something they will look to capitalize on.

Oakland has been beating up on teams that are not seen as intimidating (barring Nevada). With Michigan State’s recent struggles, lack of size, and still no Miles Bridges, overcoming the Grizzlies might prove to be more difficult than at first glance.

Grizzlies to Know

  • G #30 Sherron Dorsey-Walker (6’4” 211, Senior) - 12.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, 41.3% 3PT
  • F #4 Jalen Hayes (6’7” 213, Junior) - 13.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.2 spg, 66.7% 3PT
  • G #35 Martez Walker (6’6” 185, Junior) - 18.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 0.9 apg, 84.4% FT

The Grizzlies are led by their upperclassmen, which is the complete opposite of the Spartans. From that perspective, advantage goes to Oakland. The Grizzlies have what Michigan State does not, which is continuity with their guys, upperclassmen leadership/experience and size.

From another perspective Oakland does not have a go to man, something the Spartans are also struggling with. Junior guard Martez Walker is the clear scorer, averaging almost twenty points per game, but junior forward Jalen Hayes is the stretch forward the Spartans should be worried about on offense. The 6’7” Lansing native is shooting 66.7 percent from deep right now and looks to keep that number where it is when he leaves his hometown Wednesday night.

Sherron Dorsey-Walker is a dynamic threat who can shoot, pass, rebound and defend. The best part about that for the Grizzlies is he is a Senior so once again his leadership and experience qualities will certainly kick in versus a very young Spartan squad.

The Golden Grizzlies seem to work best when they play as a group. The use of team basketball works well for them, very seldom are they relying on one player to win games. Michigan State’s defense will be called upon to answer the bell against a team who is always looking to make the extra pass.

How The Spartans Match Up

NCAA Basketball: Oral Roberts at Michigan State Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

This will be another game without star Miles Bridges and another game where he will be missed.

While Bridges has been out Michigan State has lacked size — which they already lacked even with him — especially defensively, as he was almost averaging 2.0 blocks per game.

During his absence others have had to step up and come into their own, namely Nick Ward (aka Big Puddin’) who has been averaging 12.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, and 2.0 bpg and landed himself some Big Ten honors. Another massive development as of late has been Cassius Winston, who has stepped up tremendously. He is currently in the top 30 for assists per game nationally and will only continue to climb that ladder as the year goes on.

Kyle Ahrens and Matt Van Dyk have been getting their fair share of playing time due to injuries to other guys, they are called upon mostly for defense. Hayes might be guarded by Nick Ward as he is still the tallest guy who is healthy for the Spartans. This might sounds familiar, but that will cause problems down low because if Hayes pulls Ward away from the middle, Michigan State will have to maintain very good perimeter defense by their guards Nairn, Harris, and Winston. This will leave the middle to guys like Ahrens and Dyk, should Oakland successfully stretch the floor and make MSU rely on the defensive ability of those two guys at times it holds the possibility of getting out of hand.

Speaking offensively, the Spartans need consistent buckets in transition and in the half-court. If Cassius Winston keeps up his improvements, is able to successfully run in transition as well as create for others in the half-court Michigan State will be able to keep up with a Oakland team who likes to play a team style basketball and has two dead eye shooters from deep. Relying on Winston’s passing ability will only get the Spartans so far. Eron Harris, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford and even Tum Tum need to step up and knock down shots early and consistently or it may spell trouble for Michigan State in a game that will probably be competitive until the final seconds.

Quick tidbit on Harris: he was chided by Tom Izzo after the last game and sat for the majority of the deciding run. This team, as currently constructed, needs him to be a leader on both ends of the floor. He must be a more efficient scorer and clamp down on defense. If he keeps playing like the 4th banana he was last season, he’ll find himself on the pine a lot more often.

Prediction

NCAA Basketball: Northeastern at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

This game could prove to be extremely tough for the Spartans. Michigan State is still trying to find their way as a basketball team, being very young and undersized it is going to take time to get where they want to be.

Dorsey-Walker, Hayes, and Walker are experienced upperclassmen who are versatile and pose a threat to the Spartans offensively, especially when they are all on the floor together.

One area where the Spartans should look to take advantage is playing defense against shooters on the perimeter. Hayes and Dorsey-Walker may be lights out from downtown but the rest of the team is not. Even with their contributions the team is shooting 34.8% from 3PT. If guys like Langford, Nairn, and Harris can all play solid perimeter defense and force tough outside shots it will create opportunities for the Spartans in transition.

In the end, Michigan State makes key buckets down the stretch, Winston does a nice job of setting up the offense and creating for his teammates throughout the night, and the Spartan guards step up defensively in spite of not having Bridges.

MSU 79 - Oakland 74