Having already lost three times this season, the seventh-ranked Michigan State Spartans are poised to take out their frustrations on the unsuspecting Oakland Golden Grizzlies as the Great Lakes State foes square off at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Michigan State comes into this clash as losers of two of its last three games, although it's important to note that the two setbacks came against top-ranked Duke (84-76) and Big East heavyweight Syracuse (72-58). The team's third loss this season came against another Big East standout in UConn (70-67), and while the Spartans are among the best in the Big Ten Conference, they are going to need to start winning some bigger games to maintain the respect they desire on the national stage.
Oakland got off to a rough start, losing three of its first four games, but the team rebounded by posting four straight wins, albeit against questionable competition. The Golden Grizzlies took that four-game win streak into Wednesday's clash with Illinois, and as expected it came to a screeching halt as the Illini posted a 74-63 win. This game marks the third of the campaign for Oakland against nationally-ranked Big Ten squads as it also lost to Purdue on November 21st. The Grizzlies are one of the top teams in the Summit League and already have a pair of conference wins to their credit, having topped Southern Utah (81-65) and UMKC (99-62).
Michigan State has never lost to Oakland in nine previous matchups, the most recent of which took place in East Lansing last year (88-57). The two teams have met every year since 2005, and only one game has been decided by single digits, that being a 75-71 MSU win in 2007.
The Spartans haven't lived up to the hype just yet, but that could be more of a statement about the teams they have lost to rather than about the level of talent they possess. Michigan State is averaging 76.3 ppg in hitting 47.9 percent of its total shots, and 41.2 percent of its three-point attempts.
Durrell Summers is the team's leading scorer after nine games, netting 14.9 ppg on the strength of his club-best 42.6 percent showing from beyond the arc. Kalin Lucas, the preseason pick for Big Ten Player of the Year honors, is averaging 14.1 ppg and he too is shooting better than 40 percent from downtown. Draymond Green (12.9 ppg) rounds out the double-digit scorers for the Spartans, and he leads the team's rebounding effort with 9.6 per tilt while combining with Korie Lucious to hand out 74 assists.
Turnovers have hurt MSU this year, as it is guilty of nearly 18 per outing. The Spartans committed 17 turnovers in the recent loss to Syracuse, and had 20 in the loss at Duke. Summers was the only player to reach double figures for Michigan State against the Orange, tallying 18 points behind four treys and 7-of-15 shooting overall. As a team, MSU made good on only 38.9 percent of its field goal attempts, including a 7-of-24 effort from beyond the arc. Syracuse posted a 22-9 edge in points from the foul line and won the rebounding battle, 38-30.
Oakland has performed well at the offensive end this season, putting up 80.1 ppg on 45.9 percent shooting from the field, and 75.0 percent from the foul line. The Grizzlies haven't shot well from long range (.307), but they've used a +8.2 rebounding margin to offset that inefficiency. The team boasts three double-digit scorers in the form of Keith Benson (18.2 ppg), Reggie Hamilton (16.1 ppg) and Will Hudson (13.7 ppg), with Benson (11.7 rpg) also serving as Oakland's top rebounder.
Where the Grizzlies have dropped the ball, so to speak, is at the defensive end as foes are converting 38.1 percent of their three-point tries and as a result, netting 72.1 ppg. Playing with a women's ball to start Wednesday's game at Illinois, Oakland took a four-point lead into the locker room at intermission and felt pretty good about its chances to pull off the upset. But then, the Illini took control, shooting 57.7 percent from the floor in the half, which included a 7-of-10 effort from three-point distance, and ultimately pulled away for the 11-point win. Hamilton led the Grizzlies with 18 points, and he combined with Benson to corral 14 rebounds. Unfortunately, 35.4 percent field goal efficiency, which included a dismal 5- of-26 showing from downtown, led to the defeat.
Oakland is just 1-25 against ranked opponents, and despite the best effort of Benson, who ranks in the top five nationally in rebounds, blocked shots and double-doubles, you can make it 1-26 after this game. The Spartans need to start stockpiling wins as they continue preparations for the rigors of Big Ten play.
GAME NOTES: Having already lost three times this season, the seventh-ranked Michigan State Spartans are poised to take out their frustrations on the unsuspecting Oakland Golden Grizzlies as the Great Lakes State foes square off at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Palace of Auburn Hills (22,076) -- Auburn Hills, Michigan. Television: FSN-DET. Home Record: Michigan St. 4-0, Oakland 2-0. Away Record: Michigan St. 0-1, Oakland 1-4. Neutral Record: Michigan St. 2-2, Oakland 2-0. Conference Record: Michigan St. 0-0, Oakland 2-0. Series Record: Michigan State leads, 9-0.
Michigan State 77, Oakland 66