Opponent: Norte Dame (South Bend, Indiana)
Date / Time: Wednesday, December 3nd - 7:15 PM Eastern
Location: Joyce Center, South Bend, Indiana
Michigan State's best win this season is against a Marquette team that was picked to finish in the middle of the Big East and lost a home game to Nebraska-Omaha. The Spartans have looked solid in losses to #4 Duke and #11 Kansas, but need a win against a good opponent if they want to stay in the top 25. Notre Dame was picked to finish 10th in conference in a coach's poll, but has played well enough to earn a vote in the AP poll this week.
Getting to know Notre Dame
The Irish are entering just their second season in the ACC after leaving the old Big East conference. Last year, in their first Challenge game, ND lost 98-93 in Iowa City to the Hawkeyes. This year they get to host their first Challenge game and can really make a statement taking down one of the giants of B1G basketball.
So far this year Notre Dame has looked good so far this season with a win over UMass and one point loss to Providence, both in the Hall of Fame Tip Off. The Irish currently lead the nation in shooting percentage, hitting 58% of their shots. They also average 86.3 points per game, good enough for tenth in the country. Kenpom rates them as the 43rd overall, 8th in the ACC and 30 spots behind the Spartans.
Mike Brey is in his fifteenth year coaching the Fighting Irish, and last season was the first time during his tenure that he did not lead them to an NCAA or NIT berth. Brey's team is led by senior Jerian Grant, who played expectional in the first 12 games of last season before being suspended for academic reasons and missing the rest of the year. Grant leads this year's squad in points (18.3), minutes (32.1) and assists (7.0). Another player to watch is forward Zach Auguste, who has averaged 15 points and 6.4 boards inside.
What to Watch for
Michigan State has played well on defense so far this season, and held Kansas to just 61 points last week. Look for them to frustrate a typically efficient Notre Dame offense, the question will be whether or not the Spartans can score well enough for their defensive effort to matter. MSU scored just 20 points in the second half against the Jayhawks. They also struggled to score in their first game of the season versus Navy, a team who would give up 92 to this Notre Dame team two days later.
The guards will play the biggest factor in this game. Denzel Valentine will likely draw the matchup with Grant, and will have to work hard to keep the ball away from the senior. Travis Trice, who leads State with 16.4 ppg, will be guarded by Demetrius Jackson. Trice will look to get back to early season form after shooting just 3-14 against Kansas. Look for free throw shooting to be a factor down the stretch, and for MSU to shoot better than their current 65% team average.
I think the Spartans will have just enough firepower to pull out a tight game against ND. State will take control with a handful of strong defensive possessions early. There will be some lead changes early in the second half, but Izzo's team will pull away late and close it out like a team of their stature should.