Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Know Thy Enemy: Michigan State men's basketball to host Big Ten leader Maryland Saturday

February 15, 2020
Head coach Tom Izzo looks over his shoulder during the game against Michigan Feb. 8, 2020 at Crisler Center. The Spartans fell to the Wolverines, 77-68.
Head coach Tom Izzo looks over his shoulder during the game against Michigan Feb. 8, 2020 at Crisler Center. The Spartans fell to the Wolverines, 77-68. —
Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State men's basketball's opponent.

After escaping Illinois with a 70-69 road win that put the Spartans back in a tie for second in the Big Ten, Michigan State men's basketball will host the league leader, No. 9 Maryland on Saturday (6 p.m, ESPN).

Maryland (20-4 overall, 10-3 Big Ten) will be looking to extend a seven-game win streak come Saturday evening. The Terrapins are in sole possession of the Big Ten lead, but have seen their fair share of road struggles this season with back-to-back losses at Iowa and Wisconsin in January.

MSU's 2000 National Championship team will be recognized during the game.

To look ahead to the weekend's matchup, The State News spoke with The Diamondback's Adam Dreyfuss via email to get an insider's perspective on the keys to the game when it comes to Maryland's lineup.

Q: Each of Maryland's three losses this year have been taken on the road. With an undefeated home record, what do the Terrapins need to bring with them when they travel to East Lansing this Saturday? What will be the keys to the game?

A: Maryland desperately needs to get into a shooting rhythm early in the game against Michigan State. All of Maryland's four losses have featured lethargic starts to the game and poor shooting performances. Maryland's first road win of the season came at Northwestern, and it came in spite of a 26 point first half outing that came with a 14 point halftime deficit. While Maryland was able to overcome the dreadful start to that game, it will be a lot more difficult against a team like Michigan State.

In the Terps' road win against Illinois last Friday, they once again got off to a slow start, but it was on the defensive end, allowing 29 points in the opening 10 minutes. The Terps stepped up on the defensive end from there, and with the offense clicking, they were able to come back and win despite being down by double digits early. Slow starts have plagued Maryland at home too, but the Terrapins can feed off of the Xfinity Center crowd and get back into the game that way. 

Q: Sophomore forward Jalen Smith is one of the Terrapins leading scorers, shooting .536 percent overall and .391 percent from the three. How does he find his consistency in shooting and is there any type of defense that can limit him?

A: The defenses that have slowed Smith down are either dominant interior big men or well-crafted zone defenses. In both of Maryland's games against Kofi Cockburn and Illinois, Smith struggled in large part due to how physical of a defender Cockburn is. Smith struggled to create shots down low and was also not as effective on the offensive glass.

Smith has also been limited by zone defenses that crowd the paint, causing many of the same problems as Illinois did. As far as his shooting, the best way to limit it is to switch whenever he sets a screen, but that would lead to problems with Anthony Cowan and his speed when driving to the basket. So, shutting Smith down from three is not something easily done, and you just have to hope he has an off-day from three. 

Q: In their most recent competition, Maryland was almost upset by Nebraska at home. What happened this game that allowed Nebraska to play so closely against the Terrapins? How was Maryland ultimately able to pull away?

A: Maryland allowed Nebraska to stay in the game with lazy defensive errors and easily avoidable offensive mistakes. Offensively, Maryland failed to take care of the ball, having a lot of very sloppy turnovers. One instance, in particular, was a bad alley-oop attempt that led to a Nebraska fast break.

Defensively, Maryland just looked out of it in the second half. Nebraska got a lot of easy looks at the rim thanks to a lot of motion and cutting that caught the Terps sleeping. Ultimately, Maryland was able to pull away thanks to Jalen Smith. After back-to-back misses on front ends of one-and-ones, Smith blocked Nebraska's go-ahead layup with under five seconds remaining in the game. 

Q: Holding an edge on the boards and competing with aggressive defense seem to be some of the most important factors in all Big Ten games this season. What big men on Maryland's roster will put up the biggest challenge to MSU's offense? Who will the Spartan lead scorer's need to look out for?

A: Jalen Smith has improved a lot as a rim protector and has really filled the void left by the early departure of Bruno Fernando. Smith has really picked it up in conference play and is averaging just about 2.5 blocks per game. However, Maryland's big men outside of Smith have been very lackluster this season.

Makhi and Makhel Mitchell looked to be Smith's backups, but they entered the transfer portal back in December, leaving the frontcourt depth thin. Chol Marial is a highly regarded freshman with a lot of length, but after being sidelined for over a year with a shin injury, he looks lost on the court. Joshua Tomaic is another bench big who could see minutes but is largely unimpactful. Ricky Lindo gets spot minutes, but those mainly come at the power forward spot, with Smith staying in at center. 

Q: What is your score prediction and why?

A: 65-60 Michigan State.

I think this game will be an intense defensive battle. Both teams are likely going to have similar issues (streaky outside shooting, turnovers, finding a consistent scorer outside of their guard/big-man combo) in the game that will lead to a low scoring affair, along with both teams featuring stellar defenses. Ultimately, I do believe Michigan State will prevail due to the game being played in the Breslin Center. It will be the most hostile environment the Terps have played in all year, and I'm not sure how they'll respond. I do think Maryland will have a good chance to win the game though, and that will come down to how the likes of Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala and Darryl Morsell contribute on the offensive end. 

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