After a 10-day layoff, the No. 5 men’s basketball team will be back in action against Oakland this afternoon. (4 p.m., ESPN2)
Last time the Spartans took the court they were obliterated by North Carolina at Breslin Center, 79-65, for their first loss of the season. Now, the Spartans look to get back on track against the Grizzlies at The Palace of Auburn Hills, home of the Detroit Pistons.
Unlike the Tarheels that have now dethroned MSU (7-1 overall) and then-No. 3 Louisville, Oakland stand as heavy, heavy underdogs against the Spartans. The Grizzlies have kicked off their season 2-8, with lopsided losses to North Carolina, UCLA and Indiana to name a few of the elite programs they have on schedule.
Although the Grizzlies’ loss column is filling up quickly, senior guard Keith Appling doesn’t see a two-win team when he looks at Oakland.
“They’re a pretty good team,” Appling said. “Their record doesn’t indicate how good of a team they are … so we just got to respect them.”
One of the reasons Appling sees a talented team comes in the form of a 6-foot-3 guard who can shoot the lights out. Oakland’s Travis Bader, who led the nation in 4.2 3-pointers made per game last season, is one of the most dangerous shooters in college basketball.
Drew Valentine, older brother of sophomore guard Denzel Valentine, joined MSU as a graduate manager after four years of playing for the Grizzlies. He warned the team of Bader’s lethal shooting, and junior forward Branden Dawson took the advice to heart.
“(Drew Valentine) kind of told us what guys can get going,” Dawson said. “We can’t let Travis Bader can get going, and they have a lot of good guys that can score.”
Not only is Dawson focusing on shutting down Bader, but he also took the 10-day layoff to fix what was wrong during his disappointing two points, three rebound performance against North Carolina.
“I watched myself after the North Carolina game, and I saw myself not running the floor, not defending and not doing the things I do best,” Dawson said. “I’ve been working on staying aggressive and keeping my motor going.”
However, Dawson wasn’t the only player with a lackluster outing against the Tarheels. Immediately after the loss, head coach Tom Izzo said poor practices were the main factor in the home loss, but Denzel Valentine assured the past week of preparation has been much more crisp by harping on four areas.
“Defense, rebounding, toughness and being physical,” Denzel Valentine said. “Stuff Michigan State-based. That’s the things coach (Izzo) and the program is known for, being tough and getting after guys, and against North Carolina we didn’t do that.”