We have 5 games tonight, but one looms above all others. UNC vs. MSU at Ford Field in Detroit. And here's what everyone wants to know: Can MSU beat UNC? And we here at Big Ten Geeks are happy to provide the answer:
Ok, ok, it's not impossible. Just very unlikely. But we love unlikelihoods, it's why we tune in! So let's look at how MSU can take down the Hustlin' Hansbroughs:
1) Tyler Hansbrough Doesn't Play: John Stevens over at Rush the Court has an excellent analysis of the curious tale of Tyler Hansbrough's stress reaction. He plays, he doesn't play, he plays, he doesn't play, etc. UNC is really good even without Psycho T, but there's one area in which they don't blast opponents without him - getting to the FT line. They're pretty average in that department without him. Tyler probably won't help the Tar Heels eclipse their 40+% OReb%, or their 56.2 eFG all that much, because those numbers are already ridiculous. If he doesn't dunk it, someone else probably will. But he might add 10 points at the FT line all by himself.
2) Goran Suton Does Play: The sad part of this story is that he probably won't, even though he wants to (hat tip to Spartans Weblog). MSU is a good team without Suton, but this is in all likelihood the best big man in the Big Ten. And in the last 3 games he's been out, MSU's mysterious TO problems have reappeared. Maybe it's a coincidence. Or maybe it's that those minutes are going to Marquise Gray, who has been Marquise Gray-like in coughing up the ball. Izzo has preferred to go small rather than reach further down his bench, and if Psycho T plays, and gets to body up on Raymar Morgan or Delvon Roe...watch out.
3) On Defense: Rebound!: On offense, the Tar Heels and the Spartans are a lot alike. Both rarely shoot 3s, both crash the glass, and both coaches at least express a preference for a faster pace. UNC played 6 games last season in which they were held to an efficiency of under 1 point per possession. In three of those games, their offensive rebounding was held under 30%. Those were the only three times that happened all season.
4) On Offense: Rebound!: Offensive rebounding is the lifeblood of Izzo's teams, but tenacious offensive rebounding has proven to be a bit of an Achilles' heel for UNC in the past. UNC opponents hit the 40% OReb% six times last season. In four of those games, the opponent averaged at least 1.1 points per possession, and at least 1.0 in five of them. If I'm Tom Izzo, and I see an opportunity to give myself an 83% chance of breaking the 1.0 mark against UNC, I take it.
5) Lose that TO Bug: Maybe the whole thing is Suton's fault, but whatever it is, it's gotta go.
So, if you're an MSU fan, here's some Kool-Aid: The keys to winning this game for MSU, beyond hoping for some injuries to work out in your favor, have a lot to do with effort. This is a hard-hat game for the Spartans, and is there any better coach in America for motivating his players for that kind of an environment? Simply attack the glass at every shot, and you have a real chance.
Ok, onto the rest of the matchups.
IU @ Wake: Wake is good and young, IU is young and not so good. There's some real potential for this game to get ugly - it's worth repeating that a big part of Crean's job this season will be to maintain morale.
Penn State @ Georgia Tech: If this was a neutral site game, I'd probably call this a toss up. Expect a lot of points to be put up, as neither team had a great defense last year, and GT plays fast. Interestingly, the Yellow Jackets' defense has been better than expected, while the offense has been poorer. This could be really good news or really bad news. Either the cupcakes GT has seen have been able to slow down an anemic offense, or those cupcakes were kind of decent, and GT's defense has really picked up and passed its offense. I'm going with the former, for now. PSU has impressed me in this early part of the season, and could steal a win here. The Big Ten needs them to.
Michigan @ Maryland: This game got a lot more interesting after Michigan took down UCLA, and Maryland crushed MSU. Which team will handle their newfound success better? Again, this is a game where home court advantage could play a critical role. Defense carries the day for the Terps, but it's Michigan's defense that might be the bigger story. Beilein's team is forcing TOs at an impressive pace this season, and the Terps coughed it up a lot last year (though so far this season, no problems). If that TO Rate creeps above 23.0, I like Michigan's chances.
FSU @ Northwestern: Turnovers could be the story here too. The Wildcats have kept up their TO-forcing ways from last season, and the Seminoles have had trouble hanging onto the ball, just like last season. Bill Carmody could also do worse than game plan around Toney Douglas, who takes 30% of FSU's shots.