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Could Jeff Withey be in line for big game against Michigan State?

Michigan State center Derrick Nix (25) and Connecticut forward Tyler Olander (10), back, watch the ball during their NCAA men's basketball game on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, on the Ramstein U.S. Air Force Base, in Ramstein, Germany.

Michigan State center Derrick Nix (25) and Connecticut forward Tyler Olander (10), back, watch the ball during their NCAA men's basketball game on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, on the Ramstein U.S. Air Force Base, in Ramstein, Germany.

Team: Michigan State
Record: 0-1
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 6

3 Strengths

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.

3 Weaknesses

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.

Prediction

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.

Predictions tally
1-0 record, 3 points off (3 points off/game)

Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)

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Comments

Jack Wilson 1 year, 5 months ago

Jesse .. curious .. is there any mention or discussion that EJ might be hurt? His performance and apparent lack of mobility in the SEMO game created a lot of discussion on that possibility.

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Tony Bandle 1 year, 5 months ago

Young Hawks get sand kicked in their face the first half....grow a pair at halftime...kick right back in the second half.... Kevin Young is the difference...Hawks by 5 in a higher than expected scoring game!!

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jayhawkinATL 1 year, 5 months ago

I agree with Jesse. I think it's going to an ugly slugfest. Not making matters any better...being surrounded by UK fans!

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Kent Wells 1 year, 5 months ago

I'm hoping for a bit of jet lag for Sparty in a very tough second game of the season...

1

William Blake 1 year, 5 months ago

Jeff certainly has an opportunity to be the Hawk to Rock, if he comes ready with intensity. If he doesn't, then he's looking at a long night because MSU is no team to pansy-foot around with.

Anytime now BMac will put on a big time show with his talent and it could come as soon as tonight!

Perry will bring his lunch pale and will punch the clock and go to work establishing himself as the most-consistent newcomer.

This is a game I wish we had Zach ready for. It would also be nice to have Wayne Selden available for this one... Wayne will actually give us a physicality advantage over MSU while playing for us. I can't wait to see him play in a Hawk uniform!

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Ray March 1 year, 5 months ago

Picking us to lose!??

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!

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PSM 1 year, 5 months ago

on a related note, I noticed that Travis doesn't do the double wristband thing anymore. Probably out of respect for BRush

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Konkis Dongington III 1 year, 5 months ago

The only thing I like about this prediction is that it's a low scoring one. That said, I think we'll have a return to the median with our 3pt shooting today. I'm guessing we have a team that can get to about 35% on average from beyond the arc. That's what we did last season, and we have more guys who should be legit 3pt threats. For MSU, however, I think they're stuck at being a 30% 3pt team. The trick is finding someone who can stick to Appling. If EJ isn't feeling 100%, the guy to stick him on is Harris, because they match up well size-wise, and EJ can take advantage of Harris being a frosh (who apparently isn't picking his shots well). Relly goes on Appling to stifle his creativity with size and stickiness. BMac, then, goes on Dawson. This is a nice match for him because BMac is strong and quick too, but also a great rebounder and he should be able to help keep Dawson off the offensive glass better than Relly, a lest talented rebounder. Everything else is about forcing the ball away from Withey's man so that he can provide weak side help and plenty of stuffs. I'm going to call the game for KU 66 to 61.

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Phil Leister 1 year, 5 months ago

Picking us to lose....that's a bold strategy Cotton. I mean, Jesse.

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