Usually, I'm asleep at 1:40 am on Saturday mornings. Not today - I have research to do.
On Sunday (er...tomorrow), Maryland will play Michigan State in Spokane at 2:40 EST in the NCAA Tournament Second Round. You know what that means - it's time for a first look.
You may remember Michigan State as the win that got Maryland into the NCAA tournament last year. That improbable victory gives plenty of fans hope, and with good reason: in many ways, this Spartans team is the same as last year's, except they're lacking big man Goran Suton, a whole that they are yet to replace.
6-1 PG Kalin Lucas became a household name during last year's NCAA tournament, but he's been grappling with an ankle injury lately and his game has suffered because of it. He's lost a little bit of speed and been less effective; if last night was any indication, though, he's still plenty quick enough to hurt a team. Maryland has struggled with Lucas-types in the past, so the hope is that his ankle injury - which he re-aggravated last night - can slow him down just enough for Eric Hayes or Sean Mosley to stay in front of him. Luckily, the Terps got a bit of a warm-up with Aubrey Coleman, but Lucas' supporting cast is miles better.
Michigan State is a very well-rounded team overall, with a lot of pieces to pair with Lucas. 6-8 Raymar Morgan, 6-4 Durrell Summers, and 6-6 Draymond Green are all solid options, and all average over 10 points per game. Summers isn't much of a deep threat, but he's an efficient scorer, and very strong. Morgan and Green are more post-oriented, and get a decent amount of points off of clean-ups. Luckily, the undersized but wide-body Green doesn't have a significant advantage on Landon Milbourne, which will hopefully keep Milbourne fresh.
6-3 Chris Allen, who also injured his ankle yesterday but expects to play, rounds out the starting lineup. He averages 9 points a game, and is MSU's resident outside shooter, hitting 41% of his threes. 5-11 Korie Lucious is Lucas' main backup at point guard, and will sometimes take the point to let Lucas play off the ball a little. He doesn't provide a lot in the way of offense, however. 6-8 Delvon Roe is the main bench player for the front-court, getting a respectable but unspectacular 7 and 5 in about 20 minutes a game.
The good news about Michigan State's lineup is that they're surprisingly undersized; none of these guys top 6-8. There's no dominant big man, which means they just might not have an answer for Jordan Williams, who had a breakout game yesterday. If Williams can play up to his potential, it'll be interesting to see if Michigan State can counter him.
Actually, Maryland has a pretty sizable advantage over MSU when you look at it statistically. Their offensive efficiency is much better, and their defensive efficiency is comparable. Their eFG% rates, on both offense and defense, are better. Their TO% rates, on both offense and defense, are better.
The problem comes, unsurprisingly, on the boards, where Michigan State holds a decisive advantage. Maryland has battled against that all year, and you can bet they're not looking forward to it again. Limiting second chances for Michigan State will be key.
The Spartans try to avoid the three point line at all costs, instead focusing on their post game, free throws, and easy mid-range jumpers or layups created by Lucas or their halfcourt offense. On the other side, teams try to avoid going inside against their tightly packed defense, and instead try to hit from deep.
Conveniently, Michigan State's first round game was a bit of a microcosm of their strengths and weaknesses. After a dominant first half, New Mexico State took control of the second half and was an iffy lane violation call away from a possible win. Because I saw mostly the second half, my view of Sparty is a little skewed, but not recognizing their big first half lead is impossible. For 20 minutes, MSU was great. For another 20, not so much.
Let's start off with the good half: MSU got open looks in their halfcourt offense and knocked them down (6-19 from inside the arc). The defense was what you expected from a Big Ten team, forcing long shots for New Mexico State, and they didn't have much in response. For one half, it was a walkthrough.
But in the second half, the Aggies caught fire. Basically, they started to knock down the shots that Michigan State gave them from the perimeter. They weren't easy, but they weren't impossible - in a way, you could say that they missed the same shots in the first half. Once they started falling, the hoop got bigger and more and more started falling. If this game is any indication, Maryland will get makable but tough shots, and the game will depend on their ability to hit them. For eight full minutes in the second half, New Mexico State couldn't, and that - combined with terrible free throw shooting - is why they lost.
But that wasn't the only place NMSU saw success: Troy Gillenwater showed what a hot, dominant big man can do to the Spartans - he had 17 and 11, mostly in the second half, and kind of reminded me of Jordan Williams. Michigan State didn't have a one-on-one answer for Gillenwater, and they paid the price. His success makes me think that J-Dub will be capable of a big game, and Maryland might need it.
Interestingly, Michigan State didn't dominate the battle of the boards against one of the worst rebounding teams in the country. Once NMSU's comeback started, they showed superb effort and beat lackadaisical Spartans to the rebound. That they only had an 8 rebound advantage is hopeful; if Maryland can replicate that type of effort, maybe they get the same result.
On the other end of the court, MSU struggled with a higher-pressure NMSU defense. It knocked them off their rhythm-based, two point-oriented offense and forced bad turnovers and iffy shots, which subsequently led to points on the other end for the Aggies. Maryland tends to go with a high pressure defense anyway, so it may work out the same way on Sunday.
This was just the opening primer, some unorganized, KenPom-driven thoughts: I'll have the vital information up later, a preview that makes sense of all this, and the gameday guide on Sunday.