It used to be that college basketball was just off the radar until conference play started up and the students returned from the holiday. Now, it’s, dare I say, madness in November and early December. We go from Feast Week to the Thanksgiving week tournaments to the cross-conference challenges going on this week.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m complaining.
After coming back from 18 points down against Wichita State to win the Maui Invitational, Notre Dame rose to No. 5 in the national poll. Michigan State lost to Duke two weeks back but blew out North Carolina over the weekend to win the PK80 Invitational in Portland. With the blues from Carolina ruled out, the Big Ten’s best gets its shot against Notre Dame on the final day of its match with the ACC.
The ACC already has the challenge wrapped up. It’s won 11 of the 13 games played so far but that doesn’t take any of the excitement away from this game.
Michigan State hasn’t played particularly well offensively early on this season. The Spartans routed the Tar Heels on Sunday despite shooting 40 percent and turning it over 24 times. That was because they played excellent defense and North Carolina played even worse on their own offensive end. MSU has size, skill and seniority but it’s missing something on offense. Miles Bridges hasn’t been totally healthy but the reality is that he isn’t a playmaker. He is as good a finisher as anybody when he gets to the rim but there are at least three offensive skills that are more important than that and he doesn’t do any of them at an elite level: 1) make plays for others 2) create his own shot 3) shoot off the dribble. So as much as the general public gushes over his dunks and blocked shots, there are lots of important nuances that aren’t yet apart of his game.
The guards are Michigan State’s two best offensive players in the halfcourt. Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston are two guys who can both get their own shot and create for others and because of that, they are both more vital to MSU’s offense than Bridges is. When I watch this team, I sense a void of a dynamic wing scorer who plays off the ball but can also put it on the deck and get all the way to the rim. There was a lot of hype about Bridges getting back to playing his natural spot at the three but I’m not so sure he isn’t more effective as a college four.
All of that said, MSU’s defense is immovable. There is so much size and athleticism that it will take someone like Grayson Allen going nutty to beat this team. No offense is going to score consistently enough over 40 minutes to keep up unless it gets a superhuman performance from someone capable of such feats.
Matt Farrell is good. So is Bonzie Colson. But I don’t see anybody who is going to get Allen-hot on Thursday night, especially in Michigan State. It’ll be a grind-it-out type game but that’s Michigan State’s game and on their home floor, the Spartans should grind it out slowly, but surely to an eight to ten-point win.
Free Pick: State -6