There are few days off for MSU men’s hoops.
Following a packed week starting off with the Champions Classic and wrapping up on Friday with the Gavitt Games, Michigan State will head to Portland, Oregon to face No. 18 Alabama on Thursday in the first game and quarterfinal of the Phil Knight Invitational.
The Spartans will play Friday and Sunday as well. They will play against either Connecticut or Oregon on Friday with their Sunday opponent dependent on the outcome of the tournament.
Michigan State utilized this past week as a way to shut down skepticism surrounding its shortened rotation at hand with back-to-back wins over Kentucky and Villanova on Tuesday and Friday.
Junior center Mady Sissoko took over against Kentucky, taking senior center Oscar Tshiebwe by storm.
Junior guard A.J. Hoggard was two rebounds shy of a triple-double in Friday's showdown against Villanova with 13 points and 10 assists. Hoggard was accompanied by an impressive performance from senior guard Tyson Walker, who led in scoring with 22 points, five assists and three rebounds.
The green and white will carry momentum with them to Portland after jumping from unranked to No. 12 in the AP Top 25 Poll on Monday afternoon.
“We don’t want to get too high on ourselves,” senior forward Malik Hall said. “We should be even more focused now. It puts the target on our backs. We started off as underdogs and now we’re not underdogs as much in some of these games. It will be something we need to lock in and focus on, make sure we’re ready for.”
Alabama is currently 4-0 coming off wins against Longwood, Liberty, South Alabama and Jacksonville State. The Crimson Tide have defeated each opponent by at least 10 points.
Head Coach Tom Izzo said in his press conference Monday morning that Alabama’s team couldn’t be more different than MSU’s. The Spartans' preparation leading up to the invitational has been different than that of the past due to Alabama’s size, particularly in length.
“It’s such a different team than we’ve seen in our league,” Izzo said.
Izzo said Alabama Head Coach Nate Oats’ team is dominant defensively along with taking shots from beyond the arc.
Alabama shot 45.7% from three in its most recent game against Jacksonville State and is first in the country averaging 56.0 rebounds per game.
Senior guard Jahvon Quinerly was expected to be out due to recovery from a torn ACL, but made appearances in Alabama's past two games. Quinerly transferred from Villanova after his freshman year. Izzo expects that Quinerly will be starting at the point on Thursday.
Another standout player is freshman forward Brandon Miller. Miller was awarded Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week on Monday. The freshman has started in all four games for the Crimson Tide this season and leads Alabama averaging 20.3 points per game.
Junior guard Mark Sears is another name to keep an eye on, starting in all four games and playing a minimum of 28 minutes in each matchup.
MSU is one of eight men’s basketball programs to participate in the three day series. The event will take place at various sites throughout Portland and will be televised on ESPN.
Graduate forward Joey Hauser said the past two victories have built confidence if anything leading into the weekend.
“It’s going to be an awesome event,” Hauser said. “We’ve just got to soak it in and enjoy the moment.”
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