Following a 21-point drubbing of Green Bay on Sunday, Michigan State (9-2, 2-0 B1G), the No. 10 team in the country, hits the hardwood Friday night against Oakland (4-8).
After playing six games in 16 days, the Spartans, winners in nine of their last 10 games, are in the second game of a three-game home stand before ending the calendar year.
Friday’s game marks the 17th time the Spartans and Golden Grizzlies will meet. Despite MSU owning the head-to-head series 16-0, Oakland has been a formidable foe for Tom Izzo the past couple of outings. In the last seven meetings between the teams, three of those games have been decided by 10 points or less, including a 99-93 overtime win for the Spartans back in 2015.
Greg Kampe’s group has been on a bit of a slide in the month of December, having dropped its last three outings. Oakland, which lost at Georgia on Tuesday, 81-69, is in the midst of a grueling six-game road trip, which will keep the Golden Grizzlies from playing at home in the entire month of December.
Kampe doesn't quite have the group that he had from last year’s team, with all five starters from a year ago departing. Kendrick Nunn, Jalen Hayes and Martez Walker, the three double-figure scorers from last season, all have graduated and moved on.
The Spartans will have their hands full with the Golden Grizzlies’ leading scorer, Xavier Hill-Mais. The 6-foot-7 redshirt junior forward leads the team in scoring (22.8 PPG) and rebounding (6.4 RPG). Hill-Mais, the Horizon League’s second-leading scorer, is 19th in the country in scoring.
Matt McQuaid will have a tough task Friday night defending redshirt junior guard Jaevin Cumberland. The 6-foot-4 wing has had a nice year thus far, pouring in 16.3 points per outing, which is second-best on the team. Cumberland is a marksman from beyond-the-arc, leading Oakland with 39 3-point baskets made, including hitting seven a week ago against Hartford.
Looking at the Spartans offensively, they’ve been led by their junior big man Nick Ward. Ward enters Friday’s contest with a team-high 16.7 points per game and is coming off a near-perfect outing against Green Bay, notching a career-high 28 points.
Michigan State has been paced largely by its three true juniors. Joshua Langford, Cassius Winston and Ward have combined to play in 243 games, starting in 189 of those through 10 games this season. As a trio, they’ve been beyond productive, averaging 49.2 points, 12.6 rebounds and 11.1 assists, while hitting on 50.3 percent of their field goals attempts.
Following Friday’s matchup, the Spartans will have one more nonconference battle Dec. 29 against Northern Illinois before getting knee deep in the Big Ten slate to open up the new year.
Friday’s tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. and will be televised on BTN, with Cory Provus and Shon Morris on the call.