Preview: Michigan State vs. New Orleans - Will Denzel Valentine Be A Factor Again?

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off an upset victory over UTEP, New Orleans is riding momentum into the Breslin Center.

By the Numbers:

Michigan State Team New Orleans
10-1 Record 3-4
#5 (AP, Coaches) Rankings Unranked
15 RPI 79
17 BPI 215
13 KenPom 316
8 Sagarin 251

Dec. 28, 2013 - Breslin Center - East Lansing, MI
4:15 PM EST - BTN/BTN2GO

Skinny:

Don't let the RPI fool you, this game should rival the Wisconsin-Prairie View A&M game for the most lopsided win of the day. New Orleans' upset win at UTEP last week was their first D1 victory since early 2010. The other two wins this season came against the likes of Millsaps (for clarification this is a D3 team and not, in fact, a team composed of children of Paul Millsap) and Champion Baptist, an independent school with an enrollment of 250. Their nominees for best performance this season are the UTEP win and a 15 point loss at Minnesota. For their efforts, they are currently ranked almost 30 slots ahead of Michigan in the RPI. Gotta love the RPI.

New Orleans is well-rounded in that they are below-average in almost all facets of the game. The best qualities of their game are average three-point shooting and an above average ability to force turnovers. New Orleans plays at a frenetic pace, look for them to try to push the ball up the court and take early shots. Other than that, Michigan State dwarfs the Privateers in almost every way. The Privateers are one of the most reserve-friendly teams in the country: 18 players have seen game action this season, 16 in multiple games, and 11 see quality minutes in their rotation.

Projected Starting Lineups:

Michigan State Pos. New Orleans
Keith Appling G Tradarrius McPhearson
Gary Harris G Isaac Mack
Branden Dawson G-F Matt Derenbecker
Alex Gauna F Cory Dixon
Adreian Payne C Kevin Hill

(Full disclosure: This will likely go down as the least accurate lineup prediction this year. New Orleans has a different lineup every game and has started 10 different players already this season. Michigan State has a bunch of guys in flux: Izzo might want to play Gary Harris off the bench again, and I have serious doubts that Alex Gauna starts after seeing two minutes of action as a starter against Texas, but Gauna made more sense than Denzel Valentine to me with the other four guys in place.)

New Orleans Players to Watch:

Cory Dixon- This is the guy they want to run their offense through. Dixon is the Privateers' main scoring threat and finishes off possessions more than almost anyone in college basketball. He is adept at drawing contact and getting to the free throw line. At 6'7" he has nice length, but his size isn't going to faze the Spartan frontcourt. If sloppy he's good for a few blocks. Best rebounder the Privateers have to offer.

Matt Derenbecker- If Dixon is the most prolific offensive threat, Derenbecker is the most efficient. A 6'7" winger, he has a nice outside touch for his size; MSU can't afford to give him space. Not a consistent threat to drive, but smart with the the ball. Style was described as a less physical Robbie Hummel or Kyle Singler as a HS recruit. Good rebounder. Started his career at LSU and transferred to Dayton before ending up with New Orleans.

Isaac Mack- Mack averages 10.5 points per game on the year and shoots well from outside, but he's at least their third option on offense. Assist-to-turnover ratio leaves something to be desired for a guard that plays as much as he does. Mack isn't likely to take over the game, but he is a consistent auxiliary scorer.

Prediction:

New Orleans has played admirably of late, losing somewhat close at Minnesota before the Champion Baptist and UTEP wins, but they've been blown out against lesser foes than Michigan State as well. MSU will dominate the boards on both ends of the floor and shut down an already shaky shooting Privateer squad: Michigan State by 36.

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