Chris Vannini with SB Nation's 'The Only Colors' was kind enough to answer a few quick questions for me ahead of tonight's matchup in the Champions Classic between Kansas and Michigan State. I think these two programs and coaches have a lot of similarities and a mutual respect exists between the fanbases which should make tonight's game a fun one to watch. Without further ado, here's the Q&A.
The biggest positive from the loss was the rebounding. Draymond Green not only did everything for MSU last year, he was the school's all-time leading rebounder. The potential to replace the rebounding was there, so it was nice to see a 43-29 overall edge, including 20 offense rebounds (compared to 22 defensive for UConn). Branden Dawson was the Big Ten's best offensive rebounder last year, but tore his ACL in the final regular season game. The sophomore looked as springy as ever with 10 rebounds (eight offensive), so that was good to see.
The negatives were turnovers (15) and shooting (38.2 percent). This typically happens with Izzo teams early in the season, as it takes time for players to get adjusted to new roles or more playing time. It usually pays off come Big Ten season and March, but it's still annoying.
Taking that to a broader view. What are the expectations in Lansing this year? Concerns with the team? Perceived strengths?
The expectations every year are the same: Win the Big Ten and reach the Final Four. They usually get there after getting roughed up in nonconference play. After Tuesday's game, the schedule lightens up, and hopefully they'll get into a flow and figuring out their flaws in these first two games.
I touched on the concerns and strengths in the question above, and the problems in the game were the same problems we foresaw entering the season. Another key is Keith Appling. The junior was hot and cold in his first season as point guard last year, and he needs to become more consistent. His debut (17 points, 7-for-17 shooting, 4 assists, one turnover) was quietly pretty good, but he needs to step up in the leadership department.
These early season non-con matchups are something that Tom Izzo has been pretty proactive in taking on. Sometimes that leads to a slow start, but many seem to argue that it helps down the home stretch in March. Does that logic work for MSU fans or do you all still put a lot of stock into results in November/December in these marquee matchups?
I mean, Izzo's record speaks for itself. Almost every year, there's a troubling nonconference loss, but six Final Fours since 1999 tell the story. Izzo likes to break down the team and build it back up, and it usually works. For fans, it's extremely frustrating in November/December. While some fans freak out and what wholesale changes after losses like that, most understand it's just what happens with Izzo and they trust things will be fixed. Still, it's something that separates MSU from the Carolinas and Dukes of the world. The March results are great and obviously the most important thing, but last year was MSU's first No. 1 seed since 2001
The Big 10 looks pretty stacked this year, Michigan State is ranked but there are several teams above them. How would you assess the teams chances of pulling a surprise run this year?
Indiana brings pretty much everything back, so the top ranking wasn't surprising at all. Ohio State being ranked so high surprised me, but Michigan didn't. The loss of Jared Sullinger and William Buford are easy to see. But for the Wolverines, losing the skill and leadership of two senior guards, as well as sharp-shooting big man Evan Smotrycz might be a underrated. There are questions with every team. Can Indiana play defense, or will they just try to outscore everyone? Can Ohio State replace the rebounding of Sullinger? Can Michigan's new pieces fit in?
While Indiana is the clear favorite, I wouldn't put MSU very far behind U-M and OSU. The Hoosiers struggled on defense, as well as playing on the road. It's certainly going to be an exciting conference season.
Looking at this team and what they are replacing. Who is going to lead this team after the loss of Draymond Green? Who are the new faces worth noting?
The leadership falls on two Detroit kids. As the point guard, Appling has to be a leader, and center Derrick Nix is the only senior on the team. The 2010-11 debacle showed us that leadership is more important than we'd like to think. When push comes to shove, we'll see how strong that leadership is. As for new faces, five-star shooting guard Gary Harris has earned a starting role. He struggled against UConn, shooting 4-for-13, but he wasn't scared, so that was good to see. Guard Denzel Valentine has cautiously earned a mini-Magic Johnson comparison. He's a big kid, but is super confident with the ball and a great passer. He had one really nice assist, along with eight rebounds, against UConn. Big man Matt Costello has earned a lot of praise for his tenacity, but hasn't played yet this year due to back problems. I'm not sure if he'll play Tuesday.
Looking specifically at this game what do you think the biggest challenge for Kansas will be in matching up with
Michigan State. To give you a quick background on our current situation I think we're solid defensively, but we leave a bit to be desired if we need to score in bunches. Bill Self has questioned the teams toughness a bit as we're still looking for our leader and outside of the three seniors we're pretty light on experience.
From what I've read, these teams seems like mirror images of each other. If one team has a major edge on the boards, it will obviously have a big effect, but if these teams battle even on the glass, it will come down to who has the most scoring threats. It sounds like both teams are looking for a few guys to step up, so if one team gets three players in double-figures, that could be enough offense to win this one.
Prediction for the game?
I'll go 65-60 KU.