Preview: Defense will be key for MSU against Notre Dame
Thursday's match-up between the Spartans and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame will not only feature two teams that are both ranked in the top five in the polls, but two teams that have also out shot their opponents in every game this season.
Despite a couple of 20-plus turnover games, including a 24-turnover game in their 63-45 win over North Carolina this past Sunday, MSU has played well offensively to start the season. The Spartans are shooting 50 percent on field goals and 38 percent from three-point territory thus far.
Their next opponents however are not to be outdone. The No. 5 ranked Irish are hitting 53 percent of their shots from the floor, and 43 percent of their attempts from three.
This is largely due in part to the efficient play of Notre Dame senior forward Bonzie Colson, who is not only leading the Irish in scoring with 20 points per contest, but more impressively, shooting at a 59 percent clip while doing it.
Colson will be matched up against Jaren Jackson Jr. on Thursday, and at his weekly press conference, head coach Tom Izzo acknowledged that the freshman will have his hands full.
"He can beat you with a three even though that's not his forte," Izzo said. "He can really put the ball on the floor and he's tough and he's a good rebounder. He's just got a little bit of everything."
Colson is pulling down just over 10 boards a game to go along with his 20 points per game average, and while his numbers from behind the three-point line are nothing to write home about or 31 percent from deep. The 6-foot-6 All-American has shown he is more than capable to expand his range, just as recently as last season when he shot 43 percent from beyond the arc.
Colson will not be the first tough match-up for Jackson this season. Through just six games, the freshman forward has already had to guard North Carolina four-man Luke Maye, who lit up Arkansas for 28 points in the PK80 Invitational; and Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III — even though he was only on the court for about 10 minutes of their Nov. 14 meeting due to suffering an eye injury.
Jackson welcomed the challenge of facing off against elite players at his position, including the upcoming match-up with Colson.
"I love playing against good competition, so it's also pretty fun because you get to see where you're at as well," Jackson said after practice on Tuesday.
Two of Notre Dame's top three scorers reside in the backcourt. Senior guard Matt Farrell and sophomore TJ Gibbs are both averaging over 15 points per contest, and Gibbs in particular is shooting better than 50 percent from both the field and from the three-point line.
This will be a tall task for point guard Cassius Winston, who Izzo said has made great strides on defense this season to coincide with his improvements on the offensive end, illustrated by his career-high 28-point effort against Connecticut last Friday in the Phil Knight tournament.
"I have great appreciation for the fact that even the UConn game where he got all of those accolades for scoring, he's been better defensively, and that's one of the reasons we're better defensively," Izzo said.
Other factors to watch for:
The turnover edge
The Spartans 24 turnovers in the championship game of the PK80 tournament did not hurt them against North Carolina. But it could be a different story against the Irish, who have won the turnover edge in all but one game this year, against DePaul, in which they still won by 14 points.
The rebounding battle
MSU's one loss this season to No. 1 ranked Duke, came in a game — the only game — in which they were out-rebounded. The undefeated Irish on the other hand have out-rebounded all of their opponents. Izzo praised the team's rebounding throughout the PK80 tournament this past weekend, and the Spartans will have to continue that effort.