Game Info/How to Watch:
Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Michigan
When: Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021 at 3:00 p.m. ET
TV/Streaming (within the U.S.): BTN/Fox Sports
Michigan State (10-2, 2-0): No. 17 (Kenpom)
1 - Tyson Walker (6’0” Jr.), A.J. Hoggard (6’4” So.)
2 - Max Christie (6’6” Fr.), Jaden Akins (6’4” Fr.)
3 - Gabe Brown (6’8” Sr.), Pierre Brooks II (6’6” Fr.)
4 - Joey Hauser (6’9” Sr.), Malik Hall (6’7” Jr.)
5 - Marcus Bingham Jr. (7’0” Sr.), Julius Marble (6’9” Jr.), Mady Sissoko (6’9” So.)
After last season, when I had a terrible feel and read on Tom Izzo’s team heading into the 2020-2021 season (I missed on Joey Hauser, Rocket Watts, and just about everything else), I am back to really getting the Spartans. Things have progressed just about how I thought they would so far, and I must say that this 2021-2022 Michigan State team — currently ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press poll — is fun to watch, and has a very exciting spring in store for Spartans fans.
Marcus Bingham Jr., building from last season, remains one of the best defenders and highest-impact defensive players in the country. In fact, when looking at high-usage, shot-blocking, defensive dynamos, Bingham jr. finds himself in truly elite company:
Bingham’s incredible defensive platform allows the team to thrive — while the Spartans still do not force many turnovers, their 17.1 percent block rate (No. 8 in the nation), allows their perimeter defenders, all of whom, other than Tyson Walker, have size and length, to press out onto shooters and confidently contest jump shots. The Spartan defense concedes only 27.6 percent from three-point range, and only 45.2 percent from two-point range (Michigan State’s overall 43.9 percent effective field goal percentage is No. 23 in the nation). This ability to contest jump shots with length, not having to over-rotate, and discouraging teams from attacking the paint will surely find stern tests in conference play, but this defensive blue-print (Izzo’s classic defensive ideal), means that the Spartans are fouling less often and doing a good job on the defensive glass, further activating MSU’s transition game.
The point guard position has been a revelation this season after Watts, Foster Loyer, and A.J. Hoggard struggled last season. This year Walker and Hoggard have formed a dynamic one-two punch combining to produce about 10 assists to fewer than five turnovers per game. Walker and Hoggard have pushed the pace (the Spartans have a top-40 offensive pace in the nation), penetrate the opposing defense, hit timely shots (15-for-28 from three-point range), and generally run the half-court offense smoothly. In his last four contests, Walker has hit double-figures and taken at least two three-point shots in each of those games, while Hoggard has continued to show off his superb isolation ability (which will prove essential later this season). The biggest problem with this position group, right now, is Hoggard’s free-throw shooting.
Finally, Max Christie, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall and Jaden Akins have solidified the wing all year long, with Brown, in particular, playing superb, consistent basketball in every game this season (when not in foul-trouble, Brown seriously impacts games). If Hall can improve his consistency (seven games in single-digits and five games with 13 or more points), and Christie can find his three-point shooting comfort (he is only barely north of 30 percent right now, despite having a “true” average probably around 38-42 percent — expect him to continue to “regress” upward toward that true mean), then this team should approach its ceiling of a conference title and a Final Four run.
High Point (6-6, 0-0): No. 261 (Kenpom)
1 - John-Michael Wright (6’0” Jr.), Brock Williams (5’10” Fr.)
2 - Bryant Randleman (6’3” Jr.), Bryson Childress (5’8” So.)
3 - Jaden House (6’3” So.), Rob Peterson (6’4” Sr.), Caleb Wright (6’3” Fr.)
4 - Zach Austin (6’5” So.)
5 - Emmanuel Izunabor (6’8” Jr.), Alex Holt (6’8” So.)
High Point has dropped three games in overtime this season, so the Panthers’ .500 record is a bit deceptive, but this team is not a potential upset team (à la Texas Southern) despite head coach Tubby Smith’s typically solid coaching (evidenced most clearly by his team’s dirt-slow pace, which any coach who is worth their salt will employ when they do not have a very talented team).
This team gives up shocking numbers of offensive rebounds (opponents recover 33.7 percent of their misses), fouls a TON, and, as a team, cannot make either two-point shots or free-throws. High Point’s best chance will rely on its trio of John-Michael Wright, Zach Austin and Jaden House taking and making career-high numbers of three-point shots in a low-possession game.
Given their lack of size, however, the Panthers will struggle to get those shots off against the Spartans’ lengthm and while High Point should effectively limit MSU’s transition game, the Panthers will prove wholly unable to keep the Spartans off the glass (this game could approach a 50 percent offensive rebounding percentage for Michigan State).
Wright, House, and Austin are the danger men. Wright can capably get to the free-throw line and make them when he is there; he also hits over two three-point shots per game at a 35.5 percent clip. Austin, too, hits over two three-pointers per game, with House also hitting one per game — the question for all three will be volume: can they shoot enough three-pointers and make them despite the likely excellent contests from MSU? Wright will have a high usage rate and take a lot of tough, isolation shots — he will hit some, but with multiple options with length to defend him expect the Spartans to make his night a long one.
High Point’s game will fall apart on the interior — Emmanuel Izunabor will likely foul out, Alex Holt likely will as well, and there is no one else on the roster over 6-foot-5. Expect Bingham, Hall, Hauser, Brown, Akins, Julius Marble and Mady Sissoko to feast on the offensive glass, and for the Spartans to rack up at least 20 second-chance points.
Expect to see some zone defense (typically a 3-2 zone) from High Point once the Panthers’ man-to-man scheme begins to break down — in fact, I think Smith should use a three-quarter-court 1-2-2 zone to delay teams’ offenses more than he has been. And, further, expect High Point’s zone to be ineffective against the Spartans’ length and size.
Play inside-out: feed Hauser, Hall and Bingham early, and get Izubanor and Holt into foul trouble. From there, attack the offensive glass and be patient against the High Point zone. The Spartans will also need to be patient defensively as Wright, Austin and House will likely take and make some contested shots — stick to the game plan, do not foul jump-shooters, and contest with length on the perimeter. I would also be interested to see Izzo employ some more aggressive hedging and trapping off of pick-and-roll opportunities. I doubt very much that the Panthers’ bigs and “others” will be able to effectively play-make out of the four-on-three opportunities they might get from those situations: High Point is not a good passing team, assisting on fewer than 48 percent of its made field goals (No. 244 in the nation for assist rate).
Ignore High Point’s solid offensive rebounding rate for this game — Smith would be insane to send guys to the glass against the Spartans — instead pay the greatest attention to limiting free-throw attempts and play solid man-to-man defense.
This one should be a rout no later than six-minutes into the second half. Honestly, I expect a nearly 15-point lead going into the half. Kenpom has this game as a 78-55 Michigan State victory, but that undersells just how poorly the Panthers match up against the Spartans on the interior.