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Michigan State Spartans preview

November 23, 2015

Tonight the EMU men’s basketball team will make another short road trip, this one to East Lansing, where they’ll face their toughest opponent of the young season — possibly the best team they’ll face all year.1 The Michigan State Spartans were ranked #13 in the AP and the USA Today polls last week, though it’s an easy bet that they’ll be moving up when the new rankings come out this afternoon.


About Michigan State University

  • Michigan State Spartans Block-S logoLocation: East Lansing, Michigan
  • Founded: 1855
  • Enrollment: 50,085
  • Nickname: Spartans2
  • Colors: Green and white
  • Head coach: Tom Izzo (21st season and Michigan State and overall)
  • Conference: Big Ten

Fun fact: Michigan State associate head coach Dwayne Stephens has never been a head coach, but both of the Spartans assistant coaches have faced EMU as an opposing head coach. Mike Garland coached Cleveland State from 2003 through 2006, while Dane Fife coached IPFW from 2005 through 2011.

This season so far

The Spartans lost Travis Trice and four-year starter Branden Dawson from last year’s Final Four team, but returned enough of that squad that they were ranked #13 in the preseason polls. In their two home games so far this year, Michigan State easily defeated lower-level opponents Florida Atlantic and Arkansas Pine Bluff. They also have one big marquee win with their 79-73 come-from-behind win over Kansas in the Champions Classic last Tuesday. In that game, the Spartans trailed by 11 points with 9:25 left, before Denzel Valentine scored 16 late points. Valentine finished with 29 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists, becoming just the fourth player in Spartans history to earn a triple-double.3

Series history

I found three different series records, which is quite an oddity. Michigan State says they have a 29-3 all-time lead. The EMU game notes for today say the series stands at 29-4, while the EMU media guide lists it as 28-4. What is clear is that the teams first played in the 1900 season (EMU’s media guide lists two games that season, with no dates known, while Michigan State says the first meeting occurred on March 3, 1900) — a game that the Normalites won 13 — and that Michigan State holds a commanding lead in the series. As far as I can tell, EMU’s last win in the series was an 84-80 overtime win in Ypsilanti on December 17, 1987. Tom Izzo is 5-0 against EMU. Last year the Spartans won 66-46, just a week after EMU defeated the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor.


Stat Michigan State Spartans EMU Eagles
Last year 27-12 (12-6 B1G) 21-14 (8-10 MAC)
Exhibition 2-0 N/A
This year 3-0 2-1
Kenpom ranking #14 #152
Sagarin Predictor 91.96 (#3) +3.39 home advantage 75.06 (#126)

Ken Pomeroy is predicting a 16-point Michigan State win (78-62), while the Sagarin Predictor numbers would suggest a 20-point win for the Spartans. The betting lines also have Michigan State favored by 20 with the over/under set at 140, suggesting an expected final score of about 80-60.

Four Factors

Since this is the first time we’ve looked at the Four Factors this season, a quick recap is in order. eFG% is effective field goal percentage, which gives 50% more credit for made three-pointers (since they earn 50% more points). TO% is turnover percentage, which is simply the percentage of each team’s possessions that end in a turnover. (This is the one state where lower numbers are better.) OR% is offensive rebounding percentage — the percentage of their own missed shots that a team is able to grab. FTRate is free throw rate, which looks at how often a team gets to the free throw line.

In generally, the order of importance is eFG%, TO%, OR%, and then FTRate — and that’s the order I’ll present them in — but this is not the case for every team.EMU v Michigan State Spartans Four Factors

Michigan State is significantly better than EMU at shooting, rebounding, and drawing fouls to get to the free throw line. EMU does have a slight edge in ball handling.

I just mentioned that the order of importance of these four factors is not strictly true for every team, and Michigan State is a great example. The Spartans’ offense is really driven by eFG% and OR% — which is to say, strong shooting, and lots of second-chance shots on their misses. In fact, Michigan State is currently #5 in offensive rebounding percentage.

EMU v Michigan State Spartans four factors of defense

On defense, the numbers are inverted; lower is better, except for turnover percentage.

Both teams do an excellent job of limiting their opponents open shots (in eFG% EMU is #89 and Michigan State is #20) and a good job of not fouling opposing shooters. On defense as well as offense, Michigan State has a big rebounding edge, while EMU has a big turnover advantage — the Eagles average a +5 turnover margin while Michigan State averages -3 this season.

Team roster

Probable starters are in green; ineligible players are in gray.

# Name Ht. Wt. Pos. Year
0 Ahrens, Kyle 6-5 210 G Fr.
2 Bess, Javon 6-5 220 F So.
3 Ellis III, Alvin 6-4 205 G Jr.
5 Forbes, Bryn 6-3 190 G Sr.
10 Costello, Matt 6-9 245 F Sr.
11 Nairn Jr., Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ 5-10 175 G So.
13 George, Conner 6-3 190 G Fr.
14 Harris, Eron 6-3 185 G R-Jr.
15 Clark Jr., Marvin 6-6 230 F So.
20 McQuaid, Matt 6-5 190 G Fr.
23 Davis, Deyonta 6-10 240 F Fr.
25 Goins, Kenny 6-6 225 F R-Fr.
30 Van Dyk, Matt 6-5 210 F R-Jr.
34 Schilling, Gavin 6-9 250 F Jr.
41 Wollenman, Colby 6-7 230 F R-Sr.
45 Valentine, Denzel 6-5 220 G Sr.

Player notes

  • Senior guard Denzel Valentine is clearly the star of this team. He is currently the team’s leader in points (16.3 per game), rebounds (9.0 per game), and assists (10.6 per game), and was a unanimous pick for the Preseason All-Big Ten team. Valentine takes about half his shots from beyond the three-point line, and last year he made 41.6% of those. When he’s not shooting, he’s finding the open man, and he leads the nation in assist rate — when he’s on the court, he throws assists on a whopping 58.9% of his teammates’ shots.
  • Gavin Schilling, who started 33 games last year, has missed the first three games of this season due to turf toe.
  • At 13.0 points per game, senior guard Bryn Forbes is the #2 scorer for the Spartans. Almost all his scoring comes on three-point shots, where he’s a 41.6% career shooter, a number that’s gone up to 50.0% this season.
  • With Shilling out, the “big” men to watch have been Javon Bess and Matt Costello. I use the word “big” to refer more to the position than to the size of the players, since Bess is listed as a forward at 6’5″. Each is averaging more than 10 points per game so far this year, with Costello grabbing a few more minutes and a lot more rebounds (8.7 per game, compared to 3.3 for Bess).

Game analysis

Michigan State is almost certainly the better team in this matchup. The only place EMU has a real edge is the turnover margin. The Spartans prefer to play at a noticeably slower pace than EMU, and they’re extremely efficient on both offense and defense.

To win, the Eagles will need to exploit the Spartans’ turnovers and limit open shots, especially three-point shots by Valentine and Forbes. If, as expected, Raven Lee is still suspended for this game, the rest of the team will have to step up in a big way. This is a game in which efficiency will matter, and Willie Mangum in particular needs to play like he did against Siena Heights rather than Oakland.

  1. In just under three weeks, the Eagles will play at Louisville, who aren’t currently ranked at all in the polls, though Jeff Sagarin has them at #7 and Ken Pomeroy lists them at #17…so we’ll see… []
  2. Not “Sparty”; Sparty is the name of the mascot, as Swoop is the name of EMU’s mascot. []
  3. Magic Johnson had 8, Draymond Green had 3, and Charlie Bell had one. []

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