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MSU Men’s Basketball: Michigan Preview and Game Thread

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

Game Info:

Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, MI

When: 1:30 pm (EST), Sunday, January 5, 2020

TV/Radio: CBS/Spartan Sports Network radio

Michigan 10-3 (1-1): #12 (Kenpom)

Depth Chart:

1 - Zavier Simpson (6’0” sr)
2 - Eli Brooks (6’1” jr), David DeJulius (6’1” so)
3 - Isaiah Livers (6’7” sr), Adrien Nunez (6’6” so)
4 - Franz Wagner (6’9” fr), Brandon Johns (6’8” so), Colin Castleton (6’10” so)
5 - Jon Teske (7’1” sr), Austin Davis (6’10” sr)


UM is a very good team. I only had them at #24 in my pre-season rankings because I knew Simpson, Teske, and Livers would be super, but I was unsure as to whether or not they would get enough out of Brooks, DeJulius, Wagner, Nunez, and Johns. Well, DeJulius, Brooks, and Wagner have been really solid, and Castelton and Davis have improved as well.

UM has three good-to-great wins vs Creighton, Gonzaga (neutral), and Iowa; none of their three losses are “bad losses” either at Louisville, at Illinois, and an OT loss at home vs Oregon.

#21 in Ortg and #24 in Drtg, this is a very good, but not dominant team on both ends. They shoot the ball really well (#6 in eFG%), especially from 3 (38.7%), and they finish well inside (56% from 2) due to great spacing and great play-making by Simpson. Interestingly, despite having 3 good offensive rebounders in Teske, Castleton, and Davis, UM only gets about 26% of their available offensive rebounds (#236 in the nation) and only has a paltry 25% ftr (#317 in the nation - yeesh).

Defensively, they haven’t allowed a good percentage from 2, 3, or the ft line (yes, more on this in a bit) and they do a nice job of denying assists (forcing teams to beat them one-on-one), but they don’t force turnovers, give up a TON of 3pt FGA (a quarter of opposing teams’ shots come from beyond the arc), and have been fortunate in terms of their opposition’s shooting percentages from 3 and the ft line.

In terms of their individual players, not many mysteries:

Simpson is super on both ends - shooting a career percentage from 3, finishing consistently in the paint, looking confident with his handle, and playing super defense. 111 Ortg, 25% usage, 40% from 3, 53% from 2.

Teske has been really good again this year. He is being used much more as a true post-player this year, getting plenty of post-ups each game, and looks much more comfortable down there than he was last year. He’s still blocking shots, cleaning the glass, and still looks like he has a decent stroke from 3 even if they aren’t falling. His usage is up a bunch from last year, and he is a key guy to stop in order to beat UM. 117 Ortg, 24% usage, 65% from 2, 6.4% block rate (#92 in the nation).

Livers, who has been injured, but should be expected to play, has had a superb start to his junior campaign. He’s been more comfortable attacking close-outs, and has been lights out from all over the court (looking at a 50-40-90 season right now: 51% from 2, 50% from 3, 90% from the line). Have to defend him before the catch, and you can’t help off of him.

Brooks and DeJulius have been super in hugely expanded roles. Both over 105 Ortg, both shooting better than 41% from 3, combining to make over three 3’s per game. Both guys can attack off the dribble, and are solid inside the arc too. Neither, however, are great distributors.

Wagner has been solid for UM (though his 3pt shot has been surprisingly poor - under 30% for the season thus far). He’s tall, long, athletic, and can handle the ball; he can get in foul trouble though.

Castleton and Davis have also been awesome for UM. Both have been great interior finishers, great rebounders, solid shot-blockers, and somewhat of foul-magnets. Interestingly though, Howard has been reticent to play a second big next to Teske as Wagner and Johns have gotten most of the minutes at the 4 this year.

Johns is still struggling compared to his expectations coming out of high school, but he is showing some signs of life - taking more possessions, improving his Ortg to 107 this year, finishing a bit better, rebounding and defending a bit better, but still not the confident operator one might have expected given his high school career.


The main match-up will, of course, be Simpson vs Winston. Cassius owned the match-up last year, and the MSU game-plans worked really well last year. I think we can expect this match-up to be roughly a draw this year - I think both guys will play well in each match-up, and that the game will be decided by the bigs and wings.

In the front-court, the question is how does MSU defend Teske in the post - he is huge, much better down there, and could get our front-line in trouble if he draws some early fouls (I wouldn’t be surprised to see Howard call some post-ups from him early to see if he can take advantage of #NCAAbballofficiating). I think Izzo will give Marcus Bingham jr another shot as the first defender against Teske, and I am again nervous that Marcus will struggle with Teske (who is a better player on both ends than Cockburn is). My bet is that Kithier plays a more significant role in this one, and that Tillman will also get plenty of minutes against Teske.

Tillman was really solid against UM last year, and I expect him to be great again this year - whether he is defending Teske, Wagner, Livers, Johns, or whoever Howard throws at him. Malik Hall should also have a big opportunity to match-up against Wagner in this one because Hall is big enough and mobile enough to match-up against Wagner defensively, and strong enough to cause him problems on offense.

Ultimately, though, I think this game will be decided by Henry, Brown, Watts, and Loyer. These four have been really good of late, can all cause DeJulius and Brooks problems, and will end up winning the game for MSU. Brown and Henry should be able to shut down Brooks and DeJulius with their length and should put them in the torture-chamber on the boards. When those guys get a rest, Loyer with his 3pt shooting (and not being totally physically over-matched against UM’s two off-guards) and Watts with his quickness should give them even more headaches. Theoretically, Livers should tip the balance back in UM’s favor, but not being 100% will really create issues for him when dealing with Henry and Brown athletically, and with Watts’ quickness.

Howard faces a quandary: play with Livers and Wagner getting bigger and better on the glass, but worse offensively, or play with Livers at the 4 and the two smaller guards along with Simpson getting much smaller, but getting the boost to the team’s outside shooting prowess. Either way, I think MSU wins the match-up game, but the wing-match-up is the one to watch to be sure.

UM’s refusal to really crash the offensive glass will usher in MSU’s transition game, and we can expect Brown and Henry to do major work on the glass, while the Winston-Tillman PnR wears down Simpson and Teske, and while we send waves of bodies at the UM front-court.

I assume this one will be close because I think Simpson, Teske, and Livers will make shots and make plays, but in a close game down the stretch, go with the team with the better ft-shooting and the team that gets to the line more: MSU gets to the line more and MSU has better crunch-time ft shooters.

Film study:

Notice in these highlights Louisville’s athletes getting at UM (Nwora particularly), and the solid defense thwarting UM’s drive-and-kick game. MSU has to hit enough shots from 3 to keep UM’s defense honest, and MSU must get out in transition.


MSU 80 UM 75