Could Jeff Withey be in line for big game against Michigan State?
Team: Michigan State
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 6
• Rebounding: Michigan State was a dominant rebounding team a year ago, and the Spartans did nothing to hurt that reputation against UConn. The Spartans were most impressive on the offensive glass, grabbing nearly half of their own missed shots (47.6 percent). Six-foot-6 sophomore Branden Dawson and 6-9 senior Derrick Nix are the two to watch on the offensive boards, as they combined for 15 of MSU's 20 offensive rebounds against UConn. MSU also controlled the defensive glass against the Huskies, allowing only seven offensive boards in Game One.
• First-shot defense: It was tough to score against MSU from anywhere on the floor a year ago, as opponents shot just 30 percent from three and 42 percent from two (both numbers ranked in the top 15 nationally for defense). Though Big Ten player of the year Draymond Green has graduated, MSU should still be stingy defensively with above-average size on the wing and inside. MSU ranked third nationally in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency stat a year ago, and odds are, the Spartans will have a top-10 defense once again this year.
• Swiping the ball: Michigan State was skilled at getting steals a year ago, ranking 61st nationally in steal percentage. Against UConn, the Spartans had nine steals, which included five from the aforementioned Dawson. Four other players registered steals in the game for MSU, meaning a sometimes-careless KU team will need to be wary of MSU's pressure.
• Shooting over length: Michigan State had problems getting shots off inside against UConn's size, as the Spartans had 10 shots blocked in the opener. Dawson and Nix appeared to have the most issues, as Dawson had four shots blocked, while Nix had three rejected. Partly because of those blocks, MSU made just 43 percent of its twos against UConn.
• Three-point shooting: The big man Green actually was MSU's best and most frequent three-point shooter a year ago, and his departure (along with Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood) leaves the Spartans a little thin as far as perimeter shooting goes. It's a small sample size, but MSU made just 4 of 17 threes against UConn (23.5 percent).
• Turnovers: A really good Michigan State team was only average at taking care of the ball a year ago, ranking 147th in turnover percentage (19.8 percent). The Spartans didn't do any better against UConn, turning it over on 23 percent of their possessions. MSU's big men appear to be the most turnover-prone, as the three frontcourt starters combined for eight of the team's 15 giveaways.
3 Players to Watch
• Six-foot-1 junior point guard Keith Appling (No. 11) is Michigan State's most dangerous player creating his own shot. He made 51 percent of his two-pointers last year while getting assists on just 29 percent of his shots at the rim and 15 percent of his two-point jumpers. He's also a threat to get to the line, as he had nearly as many free throws (170) as two-point attempts (211) a year ago. Though Appling was a good free throw shooter in 2011-12 (79 percent), he struggled from behind the arc, making just 25 percent of his three-point tries (24 of 96).
• Six-foot-4 freshman shooting guard Gary Harris (No. 14) was a McDonald's All-American last year and is known as an athletic player who has the ability to attack the rim. He struggled against UConn on Friday, making just 4 of 13 shots, including 1 of 7 from three-point range, though that's an extremely small sample size from which to draw. Harris has scored in double figures in each of MSU's first three games, which includes two exhibitions.
• Six-foot-6 sophomore Branden Dawson (No. 22) plays much bigger than his height. After tearing his ACL in March, Dawson showed no ill effects against UConn, posting 15 points and 10 rebounds (eight offensive) to go with five steals. The offensive rebounding isn't a fluke, as Dawson was the nation's 60th-best offensive rebounder as a freshman last season.
This game could be ugly ... really ugly. Both teams play tough defense when set, and neither one was particularly impressive shooting the ball in its first game.
Though the Spartans dropped to No. 21/22 in the latest national polls, I think that might be a bit of an overreaction to one loss in an unfamiliar setting (the UConn game was played in Germany). Michigan State was ranked in the preseason top five by quite a few polls (including KenPom and Basketball Prosectus' Dan Hanner), so there's a pretty good chance that this Michigan State team ends up as a top 10 team by the time the season's over.
I'm expecting a close game, but I think Michigan State prevails, taking advantage of a young KU team that will struggle with turnovers in its first big-stage game.
Michigan State 60, Kansas 56
Hawk to Rock
This seems like the perfect game for Jeff Withey. It's no secret by now that the KU center plays better against true big men, and MSU has plenty of those. Also, Michigan State struggled getting shots over UConn's shot-blockers, meaning Withey should have plenty of chances for rejections. Withey has not always been known for his toughness, though, and he'll need to find his mean streak to fight for rebounds against MSU's bruisers. I'll still say Withey gets to 10 points, 12 boards and six blocks against the Spartans.
1-0 record, 3 points off (3 points off/game)
Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)