With game day just around the corner for MSU, there’s been plenty to daydream about.
On paper, a 14 vs. 3 matchup in the tournament should likely be a snooze-fest. However, that is not the case with Bucknell.
After a few days of going back-and-forth on the confidence scale, I’m torn down the middle. One minute I feel great about the matchup, the other minute I feel like this could be a nail-biter.
Well, I’ll let you fine people decide. What do we like and hate about this matchup, and should we be sweating this one out?
What we don’t like
Bucknell’s returning experience
You know what helps mid-majors in the NCAA Tournament? Experience, seniors and being battle-tested, and that’s exactly what we have here with Bucknell.
Last year’s 13-seeded Bucknell team that nearly beat West Virginia graduated…zero starters. The bulk of that squad returns, and they’ve only improved from last season as they’ve completely annihilated the Patriot League. They also hung with North Carolina earlier in the season and lost by two points to Maryland as well.
This Bucknell team is too experienced to be scared of the big stage, and they’ve planned this whole season around the tournament. If you’re looking for an inexperienced mid-major that’s just happy to be here, this aint them.
The Bison are rolling right now
Bucknell also has two months of confidence behind them, losing just twice since 2018 kicked off – and one of those was a road overtime loss. The Bison also won both their conference tournament games by about 30 points, both in which point guard Stephen Brown scored over 20. Can Cassius Winston keep him contained? And if it has to be Tum Tum Nairn that guards him, how much will that stall the offense?
MSU’s long gap and slow starts
If I had a dollar for every slow start MSU had this season, I might be able to afford tickets to the game ($200 for nosebleeds? Yikes).
You know what might not help their slow start problem? Shaking off rust from a 12 day layoff between games. You can practice all you want, but you can’t simulate game speed. And against a senior-laden team starving for the program’s best-ever win? A slow start might not fly.
What we do like
How MSU matches up defensively
I like how MSU matches up defensively against Bucknell’s stars (other than Brown, that is). Power forward Zach Thomas – also the Patriot League Player of the Year – stands at 6-foot-7 and can score from anywhere. That sounds like someone Miles Bridges and/or Jaren Jackson can hang with and, when Jackson is in foul trouble, Kenny Goins might be able to contain him as well.
Nana Foulland – last year’s Patriot League Player of the Year – is also having a great year with 15.4 points per game on 60 percent shooting. Standing at 6-foot-9, I’m thinking the trio of Nick Ward, Gavin Schilling and Xavier Tillman can make him work for his points like no one else in the Patriot League could.
Rebounding and 3-point shooting
Let’s get nerdy with numbers (not “advanced stats” nerdy, but still). Here are two stat areas I really like seeing – Bucknell’s offensive rebounding and their 3-point shooting.
On the offensive boards Bucknell grabs 9.35 per game – good for 249th in the nation. And I’m also going to assume there aren’t a ton of teams with MSU’s length in the Patriot League. Actually, I’m positive – MSU ranks second in the nation at defensive rebounds per game.
It’s no secret MSU’s downfall can be guarding the 3-point line (see: the last Michigan game). Well, lucky for MSU, Bucknell isn’t a team full of Steph Curry’s as they’re 211th in the nation at 3-point shooting (34.3 percent) and 145th in 3-points made per game (7.9).
Home sweet home (kind of)
This game being in Detroit is massive. This showdown already reminds me of the game down at Northwestern, which they would not have won if it wasn’t for a raucous pro-MSU crowd.
With the de facto home crowd – full of people who bought tickets months ago hoping to see MSU – the Spartans have their spark sitting in thousands of seats. In that Northwestern game the crowd was ready to go full-on bananas at the slightest of highlight plays. I fully expect that this Friday.
Should we be nervous about this game?
This poll is closed
No, chill out