Know Thy Enemy is a Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State's opponent. This week, The State News' sports editor Sam Sklar spoke with Tommy Conmy of The Gonzaga Bulletin ahead of Friday's Michigan State-Gonzaga matchup in the Armed Forces Classic.
Q: Drew Timme is back . How did he look in Gonzaga’s first game and what is that makes him so dominant?
A: “Timme is certainly the big man on campus not only at Gonzaga, but nationwide for sure. The first game, he's definitely going to have to get used to playing with a pretty new team. A lot of different guards that are going to have to make sure they can get the ball in the right spots, but he's also made a pretty concerted effort over the offseason to expand his range, be more comfortable from mid-range and three point land. Mark Few probably is not going to want him to be jacking up threes every possession because there's other people that can do that a little better, but he's going to do his best to win the National Player of the Year this year. And it all just comes down to if he's able to get the ball and if he's not double teamed every single time down the court.”
Q: Gonzaga always seems to have new guys coming in each year and making big impacts right away Who are some new faces to note?
A: “Yeah, one guy to watch will certainly be Malachi Smith. He's a transfer from Chattanooga, which is a mid-major. He was the Southern Conference Player of the Year last year, but he's not starting this far into the season. Nolan Hickman, who I believe was a five star, is starting point and then Rasir Bolton, who's a fifth-year player who transferred in last year, is starting at shooting guard. And they're going a little bigger this year with Julian Strawther at the small forward and then Anton Watson at the power forward. They had a similar lineup two years ago when Corey Kispert was a senior, and they started the year with Anton Watson at power forward and then as the year went along, they went a little smaller and had Corey Kispert move to that power forward spot. They could have another guard, so I think that's something they might do this year as well. But Malachi Smith off the bench, he's a big physical player, he can shoot, pass, score in the lane. He'll certainly be someone to watch. And then Nolan Hickman, too. He's got a really nice handle and can shoot it. Really, it's kind of his time to prove it. He didn't play at ton last year. He was rumored to go to a lot of different high-major programs like Kentucky, but ultimately chose Gonzaga. So it's kind of his time to shine this year.”
Q: Upseting the No. 2 team in the country is a tall task for MSU. Is there one area you think Michigan State can expose on that could lead to an upset?
A: “I think kind of the narrative that's built around Gonzaga the last couple of years is definitely their problems with physicality and defensive physicality as well. In the National Championship game against Baylor, they kind of got their lunch money taken from them. They got bullied a little bit and they got down huge and were never able to get back into the game. You saw that a little bit last year with Arkansas in the Sweet 16, they lost too. Certainly the refs were a little bit involved in that game as well, but when when they go in and they play these high-major teams from tough conferences, particularly like the Big Ten, which is I think, probably viewed as the toughest conference, that's something they always kind of have to get up for. I think that it'll be something to watch. They did bring in a transfer center Efton Reed from LSU, who's a big seven footer to help a little bit with that. So we'll see if he plays some more minutes than he usually does.”
Q: What's your prediction for the game?
A: “Izzo and Few kind of go way back. They're buddies. You obviously never want to bet against Izzo. I don't think this is his best team, but certainly a team that'll get better as the season goes along. I guess I'll get a 10-point victory for Gonzaga, but I expect a close first half because neither of these teams I think have figured out what their best group is thus far. 82-72.”
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