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Behind Enemy Lines, NCAA Tournament Edition: Discussing Maryland's Next Opponent With The Only Colors

You know the drill by now: we talk to a Maryland opponent blogger about the upcoming game. This time, it's the amazing Michigan State blog The Only Colors

1. You hear a lot of analysts talk about this team "falling apart" - Doug Gottlieb used that exact phrase, I believe, and Gregg Doyel has implied it. Explain the situation for Maryland fans about Michigan State's troubles down the stretch.

I don't think "falling apart" is the best characterization of the situation. This Michigan State team has been enigmatic all season. They struggled to beat Gonzaga at home and lost all three of their nonconference games against major-conference opponents away from home. They got out to a 9-0 start in Big Ten play, but that was largely a function of (1) playing the easier half of an unbalanced schedule first and (2) pulling out a couple tight road games in the final seconds. The three-game losing streak that followed was partly the result of Kalin Lucas' injury, and the loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament happened in the context of a missing starter (Chris Allen) and flukishly horrific free-throw shooting.

Tom Izzo recently said something like, "We've had a lot of guys play well this year--just not all at the same time." I think that's a good way to put it. Despite falling all the way from a #2 preseason ranking, MSU hasn't exactly been a complete disappointment, garnering a share of the Big Ten title along the way. They just haven't been able to put it all together at one time for any significant stretch of games. Sunday's game represents one more chance to do that.

2. For a lot of Maryland fans, the New Mexico State game was their first look at Michigan State. Obviously, the second half of that game didn't look so great for the Spartans. They're better than that, of course, but has inconsistency like that bugged this team in the past, or was it just a great performance by NMSU?

I thought the New Mexico State made some pretty tough shots in their run to get back in the game early in the second half; I didn't see a lot of major defensive breakdowns by the Spartans. And NMSU shifted its defensive approach from the passive zone that MSU ate up in the first half to a more aggressive, extended defensive approach, which has historically given MSU problems. Again, it was a matter of Michigan State not being able to executive efficiently for a full 40 minutes. In the end, though, Kalin Lucas, Raymar Morgan, and Draymond Green--the three guys that have carried us of late--made enough plays to secure the victory. The big question going forward is whether two or three other players can step up to play more consistently in support of those three guys.

3. Looking at Michigan State's roster, it seems surprisingly small. Maryland has a blossoming freshman big man, Jordan Williams, that fans believe could have a big day. Has MSU had trouble against bigger/stronger/more traditional post players this season? How do you expect them to counter the 6-10, 260 Williams?

MSU has had some problems defensively against opposing post scorers, going back to the Gonzaga and North Carolina big men in nonconference play. Tom Izzo has some bigger bodies he can run out there: Derrick Nix (6'8", 280 pounds--"big" is an understatement there), Garrick Sherman (6'10", 235 pounds), and Delvon Roe (6'8", 230 pounds). But, for various reasons, none of those guys have been options to play 20+ minutes: Nix's conditioning, Sherman's inexperience, Roe's knee problem. Ultimately, Izzo has gone to a small lineup late in games with Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green as the two post guys, trusting those two players to compensate for their like of height with savvy and positioning.

I expect they'll rotate defenders on Williams frequently during the game (Izzo generally has his post defenders switch on all picks between the two opposing post players--same deal among the perimeter defenders) and try to avoid foul trouble for Green, Morgan, or Roe. If one big man can neutralize Williams, the other post player on the floor may be able to get something done against Milbourne, at least on the offensive glass.

4. How much has Kalin Lucas' ankle injury affected his play? Is he still the go-to guy even with the injury, or has he become more of a secondary option?

Lucas went through a bit of a scoring slump in the period after he came back from the ankle injury, scoring under 10 points in 3 consecutive games at one point, but he's bounced back now with 43 points in the last 2 games. He remains the team's offensive initiator, although Raymar Morgan has really stepped up as his Spartan career comes to a close. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Morgan had averaged 19.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in his last 4 games. And, despite struggling with foul trouble most of the game, he stepped up at the end last night--scoring 7 of MSU's final 11 points.

Draymond Green, meanwhile, is MSU's "glue guy" and emotional leader. He was promoted by Izzo to be a co-captain earlier this season and has averaged 9.8 points, 8.1 points, 3.0 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. The big question marks are Chris Allen, Durrell Summers, and Korie Lucious, all three of whom have been up and down all year offensively--although Allen has become a very consistent contributor in terms of defense and ball-handing.

5. Bit of a random one here - I have a feeling this game is coming down to the wire. If it's one shot to win it and Michigan State has the ball, who do want doing the shooting?

Kalin Lucas has a very strong track record in this department. (Examples are here and here.) Generally, I feel pretty good about this team's chances of winning in a game that's close down the stretch. The bigger concern for Spartan fans is falling behind against an explosive offensive team, and your Terrapins definitely fit that bill. MSU doesn't take many 3-point shots and doesn't play well from behind.

A reader recently pointed out that MSU is 21-1 this season when leading at halftime, but just 4-7 when training at the break. That's a pretty dramatic contrast. If MSU can keep Grevis Vasquez in check for 30 minutes or so, I'll like their chances late. If Vasquez come out and puts up big scoring/assist numbers early, though, it could be a long night for the Spartans.