Kansas draws Michigan State in the second round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, and to help us understand our foe, I reached out to Dom Garrett at The Only Colors, the SB Nation site that is all things Michigan State Spartans, who was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.
RCT: Let's start with Michigan State in general. Most people know that you guys played a brutal non-conference schedule, dropping games to Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor, and Duke. When the only "name" win on your non-con is Wichita State, you're in trouble. However, it didn't seem to help once conference play rolled around, as MSU went just 10-8 in what many say was a "down" Big 10+4 this year. So I guess the question is, broadly, what happened this season?
TOC: When you put it all in a row like that it seems a lot worse than I thought, ha. For real though you have start before the season actually began. Graduating players like Bryn Forbes, Matt Costello, and Denzel Valentine was a TOUGH blow. We knew we were going to be a young team that lacked size but then preseason injuries to UNLV transfer Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling turned us into a young team AND a small team. Those losses to Duke, Kentucky Baylor and Duke all came within the first month of the season as well so while it looks bad, it was a young team trying to find it's place.
As far as the B1G season goes, this is a streaky team, man. We beat Minnesota twice, Northwestern once (add in Michigan and Wisconsin too) and we looked good but injuries to Miles Bridges at the end of non-conference and losing Eron Harris (3rd leading scorer) to a knee injury late really hurt us. Long story short, this is a young team that took 30+ games to figure out how to play with each other.
RCT: Michigan State was one of three finalists for Josh Jackson, and many recruitniks had him pegged to go to MSU. What kind of a difference would Jackson have made for Sparty this year?
TOC: This is going to sounds silly but I am almost glad we did not get Jackson. I think that having the team we have had allowed players like Nick Ward and Miles Bridges to really shine. Yes, anytime you get a player like Jackson he would make a difference but I think him playing the same position as Miles would have made for a completely different team.
RCT: I'm just gonna go ahead and ask this question straight up - do MSU fans hate Bill Self?
TOC: Hate is a very strong word. I think the word I use is "That guy?!? People like HIM more than Izzo? Nah."
RCT: What's the national perception of the off-the-court incidents that have happened at Kansas, specifically the Jackson-Calvert situation?
TOC: I will be honest, I googled the whole thing before answering this question and it doesn't look great. I think the perception from my lens was that he backed into a parked car and drove away, didn't tell Self and Self sat him for the TCU game. This goes a LOT deeper and undoubtedly will get more coverage as the tournament goes on. The thing that makes me flinch is Self calling Jackson a "great ambassador for the university." I have seen too many times recently where a coach says something like this and it later surfaces that it is a lot worse.
I hope that it stops here, but as we know with our current situation, the most important thing here is doing what is right outside of the program before thinking about protecting players.
RCT: On to the game. Who are the main contributors for MSU, and what are the key matchups for this game?
TOC: The matchup I tweeted about IMMEDIATELY afterwards is Bridges vs. Jackson. That is what I want to see. They are still close as friends but Miles was quoteD after the Miami game saying "I didn't come here to see friends, I came here to win games." That is going to be good.
Aside from that, the Nick Ward play down low will be interesting. I think that one strength that Michigan State has over Kansas is the physicality that Ward plays with. He draws a lot of fouls and shoots with a high percentage (56%, led the Big Ten) so I will be interested to see what you throw at him. As far as Mason goes, I am 100% not sure who is going to guard him and to be honest, it scares me.
RCT: Prediction time! What's your score prediction for this game? Will MSU add its name to a list of teams that includes Northern Iowa, Stanford, and Wichita State?
(I'll take, "Teams that knocked KU out of the Tournament in the Second Round for $200," Alex.)
TOC: Man, I really want that to happen. I think this is a game that comes down to Nick Ward. I can see him getting 24 and 12 and taking over in the low post. If that happens, we are looking at a 66-61 Spartan victory.
Yeah, I guess I will go with that.
RCT: Finally, and pardon me if we've asked this of you before, but we absolutely must know: Is a hot dog a sandwich?
TOC: The answer is no. A hot dog is a hot dog. Period.
Thanks to Dom for taking time out of his day to answer these questions, and congratulations to him for having an absolutely spot-on hot dog take! However, hopefully his game prediction is a little off. Don’t forget to check out my responses to his questions over at The Only Colors.