Tread lightly, Spartans. After a couple days of film study into Bucknell, they are going to present plenty of challenges for MSU on Friday night. You probably already know about the three all-conference seniors, including Thomas the Patriot League Player of the Year. You might know they average 81 a game and really competed against UNC and Maryland this year. Let’s not forget last year’s NCAA tournament where they gave West Virginia a scare, losing 86-80. After watching the film, there are clear areas of weakness that MSU can exploit and some things that MSU will likely struggle with. I expect at the final 4-minute TV time-out that this game will still be hanging in the balance.
As you know with the “Coaching Corner,” we are not necessarily going to give you keys to the game or a prediction, but some game in-game things to watch. Instead of constantly watching the ball, tracking stats, or listening to the commentators, we want you to be able to watch the game like an #EducatedFan. Here are a few ways for you to do that on Friday night when Michigan State takes on Bucknell.
- How MSU guards Foulland in the post? Bucknell will spread MSU out just like Michigan did. The difference is, that instead of a Wagner at the high post and stepping out the 3-point line, their all-conference center (averages 15 and 7), Foulland, will post up low in all that open space. Even with his thin frame, at 6’10 he does a great job using his body to open up passing angles. Picture Bucknell with two players in the corners, a two-guard set, and then Foulland with all of that room to operate. His go-to move is a really quick right-handed jump hook, almost a flip. He is comfortable with that shot out to about 10 feet. You can expect Bucknell to attack Ward, Jackson, Tillman, and others with those post touches early and often. I’ll be interested to see how physical MSU tries to get with him, what the officials allow, how hard of a top-side foot and a hand deny they play, and if they dig down with any guard help. I can’t see Bucknell winning the game unless Foulland has a really strong game.
- Rebounding differential – Bucknell 7th in Patriot League in rebounding and MSU one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. At times in the UNC vs. Bucknell game, it looked like Varsity vs. JV size and strength in the paint. Offensively, MSU is going to present many challenges to Bucknell which will mean help coming to stop dribble penetration, doubling in the post, and leaving your man to stop transition. That will only further MSU’s ability to pound the glass. Bucknell will deny some on the wings leaving their center as a help defender when dribble penetration occurs. That’s going to leave Ward/Jackson/Schilling/Tillman for lob dunks as well as offensive putbacks. MSU needs to physically punish Bucknell in the paint.
- MSU’s ability to expose Bucknell’s issues in ball screen defense. While Bucknell’s transition defense is bad, their ball-screen defense is even worse. MSU goes from playing the best ball-screen defense team in the nation in Michigan to one of the worst in Bucknell. The Bison are ranked #112 in KenPom’s adjusted defense. They really play the ball-screen by feel. They will go under, over, switch, hedge, just about everything, but don’t really do any of it well. That’s a recipe for disaster when you have to face Cassius Winston. I’m hoping MSU runs their “drag” offense look early to expose this. Also, Bucknell will go under and try to beat MSU to the spot on pin-down screens (MSU runs a lot for Langford/Bridges/McQuaid) so I bet we will see flares for corner 3’s that Izzo calls.
- 25% of offensive sets called by MSU need to be for post touches, and they should even post wings. Bucknell starts wings that are in the 6’2-6’3 range. You can always tell a weakness of a team based on how a league opponent tries to attack them. Colgate consistently tried to post guards and had success in the Patriot League title game. MSU has to love seeing Bridges vs. 6’3 on the block or even mid-post. We may see flex screens for Langford to catch it deep. In addition, due to the suspension to Moore, Bucknell is limited inside. Lots of post touches for Ward, Jackson, and even Tillman/Schilling. MSU is going to run at least 50% of offense on Friday night through set plays. At least 25% of those sets need to be for post touches to expose where Bucknell is limited.
- The pace that Bucknell wants to play – They claim they are run, run, run, let’s see if that’s how they really want to play MSU. Offensively, their all-conference point guard Brown is VERY good. Super quick off the bounce and uses a rhythm dribble to fire quick 3’s. He is the best pushing pace in transition. Thomas, at 6’7, loves to catch and shoot 3’s on the break. His versatility is why he averages 20 a game so he will post you up as well. It’s their transition game and personnel that will give MSU challenges. Their half-court offense is really simplistic, not a lot of screening. GREAT spacing, low-post touches, iso’s to Thomas, ball screens for Brown, and role players who will take shots when open but not force. If Bucknell wants to play fast on offense, that is a great risk. MSU will play 100 mph when they have the ball. I don’t buy into the depth argument as much as others as I see it dispelled often (UM 4 games in 4 days in the B1G tourney with limited depth). However, in a game where both teams want to play fast, that could be an issue. I’m not sure you want to try to beat MSU at their game.