2008-2009 Season

Talking to SpartansWeblog's KJ

KJ from the Spartans Weblog agreed to answer a few questions about Michigan State before the big game on Tuesday night. If you want some Michigan talk, I also answered a few questions over on his site. KJ is one of the best in the business and does a great job covering Michigan State basketball and his site is definitely worth a read even for Michigan fans.

Is this the year Michigan State finally wins the Big Ten? It seems like the last several years have been disappointments in-conference for MSU, what makes this year a success?
With a two-game lead on the rest of the conference, it’s pretty easy to be confident about our chances of winning the league title at this point.  But I’ve felt pretty good about our chances for a while now.  This team is built the way a good Tom Izzo team needs to be built–with depth, versatility, and ferocious rebounding.  If we don’t win the league title, it will be an enormous disappointment.  Given the team’s perfect road record to date, I have a hard time seeing them collapse down the stretch.

What is the latest with Raymar Morgan? Should Michigan fans expect to see him Tuesday?
He was talking last week about wanting to be back for this game.  But the signs are pointing toward him not playing.  From what I’ve read, it takes several weeks to get your endurance back after a bout with mononucleosis.  And Izzo seems to believe it’s better to have the team know they can’t rely on Morgan than to have him play a few minutes here and there.  I think his absence will hurt a little more in this game than it has in previous games, as Morgan tends to take advantage of teams with smaller lineups like Michigan’s.

Who do you want taking the shot with the game on the line?
The obvious answer is Kalin Lucas.  He’s provided Izzo with that playmaker who can create off the dribble in the late minutes of games that we really haven’t had since Mateen Cleaves.  And he’s got a greak knack for knocking down difficult shots in the lane when we really need a bucket.  But Durrell Summers and Goran Suton have both shown they can make tough shots in key situations, too.  So defenses can’t overcommit to Lucas.

Who has been the most surprising player this year for MSU? And the most disappointing?
Durrell Summers has really emerged as a go-to player in Morgan’s absence.  He’s taken on the Morris Peterson role as a guy who can shoot the three, score in transition, and crash the glass from the perimeter.  He’s coming off a bad game vs. Indiana (0-8 from beyond the arc), but I expect him to bounce back and knock some shots down over the 1-3-1 zone.

Chris Allen, meanwhile, hasn’t been the consistent perimeter shooting threat we were counting on.  He’s made only 32.0% of his 3-point attempts on the season.  He’s 7-14 in his last two games, though, so his stroke might be back just in time for Tuesday’s game.

Generally, the MSU players have all played their assigned roles pretty well this season, though.  The biggest disappointments have really been injuries: Delvon Roe’s preseason knee surgery, followed by Suton’s knee issue in December, followed by Morgan’s prolonged sickness.  We’re all crossing our fingers everyone we’ll be at full health by next month.

Who (if anyone) would start for MSU from Michigan’s roster?
That’s a tough one.  Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims are both clearly more talented than their MSU counterparts (Walton/Summers and Roe, respectively).  But it’s hard to envision how they’d fit into the MSU lineup given that Tom Izzo tends to have very specific roles/expectations for each player in his lineup.  I suspect Harris would be less free to use his one-on-one skills and Sims wouldn’t have quite as much freedom to roam around the perimeter.

Anyway, short answer: Harris and Sims are both clearly Big Ten-champion-level players.  From what I’ve seen, they’re just asked to do too much to make up for an inexperienced supporting cast.

Which Big Ten teams are going dancing?
MSU, Illinois, Purdue, Ohio State, and Minnesota look like they should all make it, barring a complete collapse down the stretch.  That leaves Wisconsin, Michigan, and Penn State as the remaining candidates.  My guess is that no more than one of those teams makes it in the end.  The schedule favors Wisconsin, with two games remaining against Indiana.  But Michigan’s two quality nonconference wins give you guys more margin for error.  Penn State, I think, will get squeezed out due to the lack of quality nonconference opponents.  So I’ll say six teams make it–with the March 1 Wisconsin-Michigan game in Madison as the sixth team.  A seventh team making it will probably require somebody upsetting a top-five team in the conference tournament (after having had to play a Thursday game to get to that point).

Let’s hear a score prediction for Tuesday night and your surprise player of the game.
Kenpom predicts a 71-66 MSU win.  I think the game will be lower scoring than that, with the 1-3-1 slowing MSU down and Travis Walton frustrating Manny Harris’ attempts to initiate the Michigan offense.  Unless your supporting cast really gets hot from 3-point range (which is certainly a possibility given what’s happened in our two conference losses), my instincts say MSU wins fairly comfortably on the strength of a massive rebounding advantage.  So I’ll say MSU wins 65-56.  I’ll follow that up by saying I hate making predictions about specific games. and I’m sure at some point during the game I’ll curse myself for jinxing the team.  :)

I’m also notoriously bad at predicting surprise players of the game, but I’ll say Draymond Green follows up his 15-point/12-rebound game on Saturday by pulling down 2-3 key offensive rebounds in this game against the smaller Wolverine forwards.

Anyway, here’s to a good, clean game.  It should be fun to watch two teams with such contrasting styles go at it with major chips in play (Big Ten title/NCAA Tournament bid) on both sides.

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