KU’s second round opponent is a somewhat familiar one, as the Jayhawks have played Michigan State three times in the last five years, twice in the Champions Classic and once in the Old Spice Classic. Michigan State won two of those, and didn’t allow Kansas to score more than 1 point per possession in any of the matchups.
Of course, the personnel is mostly different, and KU’s offense is quite a bit different as well, with the Jayhawks utilizing some different concepts than in years past. Still, Michigan State offers a bigger landmine than you would like to see in the second round as a 1 seed.
Offensively, Michigan State ranked 57th nationally and 6th in the Big 10 scoring 1.05 PPP in a somewhat weak league, but they do some things that could frustrate KU. First, they play the all important 3-point lottery, taking 38 percent of their shots from three (although this was a much more middle of the pack 35.5 percent in conference play). That, coupled with the Spartans shooting 37 percent from deep, means that there is definitely a scenario in which they get hot and there isn’t much Kansas can do about it.
On the positive side, Michigan State turns the ball over a lot (although Kansas doesn’t force a ton), doesn’t draw a ton of fouls, and doesn’t really crash the offensive glass, meaning if KU continues to play good first shot defense, there should be a lot of 1 and done possessions for the Spartans. And if it gets close, Michigan State is under 70 percent from the line as a team and has just 3 rotation players above 70 percent. It looks like their best bet to score enough to win is to shoot a bunch of threes and hope. Another potential danger is Michigan State is 2nd in the nation in assists per field goal made, suggesting they will be able to stretch KU out a bit.
Defensively, the Spartans allowed 1.02 points per possession, which ranked 5th in the Big 10, and are currently 31st overall. They accomplish most of this by ranking 13th nationally in 2-point defense, and they were also 2nd in the Big 10 in defensive rebounding. Michigan State also does a good job at limiting 3-point attempts, but I think some of that is the Big 10 ranking 28th out of 32 conferences in 3PA/FGA, so Kansas should be able to get good looks if they work for them.
It is also worth noting Michigan State has a habit of sending teams to the free throw line, although it is mostly their bench guys who commit the fouls. Michigan State also doesn’t do a very good job turning the ball over, although without running an actual analysis I would say a lot of KU’s turnovers this year have been self inflicted rather than forced.
Players to Watch
Miles Bridges, 6-7 freshman forward
Bridges is lethal both inside and out, shooting 55 percent on twos and 39 percent on threes. He is also a good defensive rebounder and decent defender overall. I would expect Josh Jackson to draw this assignment, and it might be a game where he focuses on that end of the floor more than his offense.
Nick Ward, 6-8 freshman forward
Ward has played fewer than half the team’s minutes this year, but he has made them count. He draws more fouls per 40 minutes than anyone in America, which could be tough for Landen Lucas, and he is also the best offensive rebounder in America (which probably helps explain why he shoots 59 percent on twos. I think Lucas will be able to keep him off the glass, but defending him otherwise could be a chore, especially if KU needs to dig into its bench.
Cassius Winston, 6-0 freshman guard
Winston has the 2nd best assist rate in America, although unlike Big 12 assist mavens Jawun Evans and Monte Morris, he has a bit higher turnover rate to go with it. He is also shooting 38 percent from three, though on just 69 attempts. I suspect Mason will get the assignment, though I like Graham using his size to make Winston’s life a bit more challenging.
Things to Watch For
- Perimeter shooting - It is cliche, but both teams will likely take quite a few threes, and if one team makes 50ish percent and the other is at 30ish percent, that could decide the game.
- Josh Jackson - Jackson is playing a couple guys he grew up with, and of course is a Michigan native. He will definitely feel the pressure to play well; it’s up to him to channel it correctly.
- Bench play - Michigan State gives 45 percent of its minutes to its bench, the most in America. Kansas meanwhile is at 24 percent, 327th. If it is a tightly called game, advantage MSU, but if it isn’t, it is advantage KU.