Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Michigan
When: 4:30 p.m. EST, Sunday, March 7, 2021
TV/Radio: CBS/Spartan Sports Radio
Michigan (19-2, 14-2): No. 2 (Kenpom)
1 - Mike Smith (5’11” sr)
2 - Eli Brooks (6’1” sr), Chaundee Brown (6’5” sr)
3 - Isaiah Livers (6’7” sr)
4 - Franz Wagner (6’9” so), Brandon Johns (6’8” jr), Terrance Williams (6’7” fr)
5 - Hunter Dickinson (7’1” fr), Austin Davis (6’10” sr)
Michigan has a very good team. The Wolverines basically have a seven-to-eight man rotation with Brown as the sixth man, and Johns and Davis playing about 10 minutes per contest, each — at this point Williams is a break-in-case of emergencies player. The main focus of the team’s offense and defense, then, is the starting five-man unit.
Smith and Brooks are excellent ball-handlers and savvy drivers, understanding when to drive to score and when to drive to pass, both are capable three-point shooters and free-throw shooters. In the post, Dickinson, the freshman phenom, proves game after game, that size, length, and sound offensive fundamental post-techniques will make even slower, less-athletic post-players incredibly impactful and valuable at the college level. On the wing, Wagner and Livers provide spacing, defensive acumen, ball-handling, free-throw shooting, and veteran competence.
If opponents go under ball screens, the four perimeter players will punish their defenders. This means their motion sets and pick-and-roll offense invariably force defenses toward conceding post-position to Dickinson, who uses his size well and can devastate teams from the block, or opening driving lanes off of rotations to help on Dickinson’s dives to the rim.
Having length all over the court bothers Michigan, but to beat them you have to find consistent offense — getting good looks especially off of individual drives because Michigan tends to play fairly isolation-intensive defense — and to hit some three-point shots.
The first game against the Wolverines had a number of problems for the Spartans. Chief among them was the fact that Michigan State was playing its sixth game in thirteen days, this afternoon, playing its seventh game in sixteen days, the Spartans will have to hope that the extra day of rest and the lower-than normal minutes totals for its starters will help the Spartans find the juice their legs clearly lacked on Thursday. Another problem was the defense at the point of attack. Rocket Watts offered zero resistance for most of his minutes, allowing Smith and Brooks to get wherever they wanted, and breaking the Spartans defense before it even had a chance to offer resistance. Watts and A.J. Hoggard — who was better on the defensive end, but continues to struggle a bit on offense — will have to defend far better when they see the court on Sunday.
The Spartans also went 0-for-9 from three-point range, opted not to use their fouls, and got abstentee and off shooting nights from Gabe Brown and Josh Langford, respectively.
The positives were the general defensive competence from all of the main rotation players, except for Rocket Watts (AJ Hoggard and Joey Hauser are also a bit flattered by this DPBM figure), the play of Aaron Henry was also solid, a slightest glimmer of production from Hauser, who defended horribly, but had some solid offensive possessions, and typically solid play from Marcus Bingham Jr. Finally, Mady Sissoko, even in garbage-time, played a solid game, and he absolutely should be given minutes against Dickinson over Thomas Kithier, who should only be playing against Austin Davis in this matchup, if at all.
Tom Izzo should start all four of Aaron Henry, Josh Langford, Gabe Brown, and Marcus Bingham Jr., to which I would add Malik Hall.
Izzo should give Mady Sissoko meaningful minutes against Dickinson, and use Julius Marble against Davis, a guy he can attack on offense more effectively than he can attack Dickinson.
Izzo should run Dickinson through pick-coverage on the perimeter every possession he is on the court. When not running him through pick-and rolls with pin-downs on the weakside for Brown or Langford. Izzo should be getting Hauser or Hall switched onto Dickinson off-ball and give those guys opportunities to attack him off the dribble, which Henry should be doing all game as well. Dickinson has to be exposed, in “space,” on the perimeter, where he is least comfortable, and where his mobility issues show up the most.
Izzo should demand that the team, collectively, and Gabe Brown, himself, ensure, together, that Gabe gets over eight field goal attempts in the game — when Brown gets eight or more field goal attempts in a game, the Spartans are 9-3 over the last three seasons.
Izzo should tell Rocket Watts that he will not play a minute if he does not defend, and that he cannot shoot a “Rocket shot” until he gets an assist, makes a layup, or gets to the free-throw line.
Izzo should play Marcus Bingham Jr. at least 20 minutes in this game; even if he is tired, even if he picks up a foul, even if he makes a mistake on offense or defense. Bingham is the second best defender on the team behind Henry in terms of overall impact, and one of the most impactful defenders in the entire country: only Bingham and Neemias Queta (Utah St.), a likely NBA draft entrant and probably most impactful defensive player in the country, play at least 20 percent of their team’s minutes and have a defensive box-plus-minus of +6 or higher (per Barttorvik.com). In fact, if Bingham played over 20 minutes per game he would be fourth in the nation in block percentage. Bingham has a defensive rating of 90 (in 100 possessions of play, opponents score 90 points when Bingham plays), tops on the team by a wide margin. PLAY HIM.
The game plan is simple: have rested legs (hopefully), play your best players the most minutes, hit shots, do not turn the ball over, defend Dickinson tougher, run Dickinson off the court, and use your size advantage to punish Michigan’s smaller back-court.
The game plan is to win the damn game on Senior Day. There is an outside chance that Josh Langford comes back for one more year, but do not take chances. Give him the Senior Day he deserves.
This will be a better game, a real contest. The team will not start flat; Izzo will play better lineups (i.e. less Watts and less Kithier vs. Dickinson); Brown and Langford will complement Henry; Hall and Hauser will compete better. The tougher team on the floor will win.
MSU 68 UM 65
Players play. Tough players win.