Since the season is young and most of what I've seen of Michigan State came early and sans Goran Suton, I'm deferring my expertise on them for the time being. Here to help us out is Sparty from the superb blog, Sparty & Friends - if nothing else, I'm sure you'll like their tagline. Anyway, thanks go out to Sparty for taking the time to be with us and bestow upon his knowledge of all things Spartan.
1. In reading your MSU preview prior to the season, you call them the heir to our national championship throne. How much do you really believe that assertion, especially given what transpired at Ford Field?
First of all, let me thank you for the opportunity to speak with you and your audience. I just finished perusing your site, a lot of great things.
Now, to your question. I believe Michigan State can win the national title. The point of that article was to state the case of why they would be the national champion at the end of this season (our in-house UConn and Tennessee writers did the same thing for their respective schools). I don't believe they are the favorites, especially after what went down at Ford Field. However, that does not mean they can't beat UNC, even though the Tar Heels already won by 30. November and early December blowouts and losses can not be read into that much. The Spartans had just played 3 straight games in Orlando at the Old Spice Classic, had a couple days of rest and then had to play a rested UNC team. I am going to say that the tired legs accounted for 10 of the pts. Consider that Goran Suton did not play in that game. That allowed constant perimeter pressure on our guards. Also, Heralded frosh Delvon Roe, coming off two knee surgeries, was not ready to shoulder that load, there is another 8-10 pts. So with the idea that both teams are rested and healthy, I say we need to find a way to make up about 10 pts to pull even with them. UNC can be beat, as witnessed by them dropping a game at home to the Harvard-losing-Boston College. We will need them to have an off night though. When they are at the top of their game, not sure if anyone can beat them. I know Pitt is number 1 right now, but they like to bang like we do; nobody out muscles us. We proved that last year when we beat them in the tourney.
I don't have confidence in this team like I did in the 2000 team. Nobody was beating us that year for the title. This team reminds me more of the 1999 team. It was a team that I thought we could win with, but other things needed to happen for it to come true. I contend that the Final Four from 1999 was one of the best ever. [Ed. note: I think we all recall who won the best ever Final Four.]
2. In the Big 10, I look at MSU as the absolute favorite. But after that I can see another 6 or 7 teams making the NCAA tourney. Would you agree with both of those statements - why or why not?
With Purdue stumbling out of the gate, we are most definitely the favorites now. However, Wisconsin is always lurking. I hate those guys. I do agree with you that the Big TelevEN can produce 7 tournament teams; here is what I see now: MSU, Purdue, Wisconsin, OSU, Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota. Though, Ohio State needs to get it together soon. I could see them missing out now and the Illini sneaking in.
3. Obviously Raymar Morgan is your best all around player - how can he be stopped? Personally, I just think he's a guy you stay in front of, always block out and do the best you can to frustrate because he's too athletic and skilled to completely shut down.
Raymar Morgan stops Raymar Morgan. If he misses a few open looks, or a layup rims out, he sometimes gets frustrated and takes himself out of games. I do not think he can be locked down when his head is in the game.
4. As great as Morgan is, I'd say Kalin Lucas is more important to your success. Would you agree? Why or why not?
Totally agree. He leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, and his quickness and ball skills makes him almost impossible to play pressure defense on. He gets everyone involved, and after an early season shooting slump, his shot has to be respected as much as his ability to get into the paint with his dribble. He is uber talented.
5. Suton is clearly important to what you do and given that you were without him, I pretty much expected the UNC result. Maryland, not so much. What happened there?
I pretty much detailed Suton's impact on the UNC loss. It forced us to play small against Maryland, which Izzo doesn't like to do. He likes to run (which he wasn't able to do the last few years), but he likes his trees inside. Also, the start of the season was a little slow for MSU because they were still trying to figure out who they were. Remember, the last two years this was a team that was strictly a halfcourt, minimize the other teams possessions. The offense ran through Drew Neitzel. It was nothing but ball movement and high screens to free him up. So, that all mixed in with playing poorly cost us the game against Maryland. We play them now? We thump them.
6. Across the board, both MSU and Kansas are nearly identical in team statistics. Where do you think you have the advantage? Where do you think you're at a disadvantage?
I always think State have the advantage in rebounding, and I have a right to think that way. We have always been a great rebounding team, and rarely do we lose games on the boards. Our biggest disadvantage is at the line. Our FT shooting is horrendous. 65% is not good. Stats this time of year are not very telling, since nobody is playing the same competition. I think Northwestern held 15 straight opponents to under 70pts until they played us. Does that mean they are a good defensive team? Not at all. It means they played nobody, and held the ball on offense until there was no time left on the shot clock.
7. Out of curiosity, do you think Izzo will retire a Spartan? I mostly ask because I've heard that he has looked elsewhere from time to time and am curious if you've heard the same type of things.
Izzo is not leaving. Obviously he has listened to offers from the NBA, but he loves the college game. He knows his style wouldn't work with NBA players. Could you imagine him barking at a guy making 10 million a year? That works in college, not in the pros.
8. Back to the game, Michigan State will win if...
They show up. No, I'm kidding. They rebound the basketball, capitalize on second chance opportunities, and make it a point to go inside to Roe and Suton.
9. And finally, what's your score prediction?
79-65. The Izzone returns from Christmas break and will be ready to welcome the Jayhawks to the Breslin Center.
In honor of this game, I would like to wish you a VERY belated HAPPY MULLET WEDNESDAY! As you see though, I've done my best to make it up to you by locating this absurb snapshot of a couple unsuspecting, yet hardworking, ballers. We're going to need that same type of tenacity and focus on Saturday.