The State of Georgia Men’s Basketball is in transition. Maybe a win over Michigan State can change things?
Before we get into the Michigan State game preview, let’s just see how much this past game against Dayton and what is to come with Michigan State tomorrow matters.
As of November 25, 2019 8:20 PM Eastern Time, this is what the popular media covering the Georgia Bulldogs has as their front pages. Let’s explore shall we?
Dawg Sports – Dawg Porn… mindless Dawg Porn and weirdly the audience that is most interested in Georgia Football would probably be horrified to find out who the parent company for SBNation is.
Georgia played a Basketball Game in Maui? Sure does not seem that way here. Maybe if we go further down the page…
Maybe it is for the best that they just stick to Football.
Yep, definitely priorities shown here.
247Sports, they have to care about Georgia Basketball somehow right?
Consider this a victory to get on the front page, even if it is just an intern writing about it, we will take it. Of course, the most important sport is Football Recruiting and not the actual games because it is always easier to make money on hope over actual results. It is why Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Maryland are so wealthy or why Adam Neumann, the former CEO of WeWork had a platinum parachute.
Dawg Nation – They should have Georgia Basketball covered, right?
Okay, so here is the good news. If you are a Georgia Basketball recruit, you do not have to worry about screwing up on the court because the media will not cover it or at least obscure it so that nobody sees it. Pressure is off, kids. Commit To The G. Holy f**k.
The bad news is that if you accomplish anything, if a Football recruit picks their nose and mentions UGA, it is a front-page story and you do not matter.
This is the culture Tom Crean is looking to fix in Athens. It is far tougher than turning Indiana around from a near Death Penalty state. Tom Crean is starting from absolutely nothing, it is a wonder that Crean has managed to sellout games and bring in quality recruits who fit what he is trying to accomplish on the court. Tom Crean is a Miracle Maker, he’s actually convinced some people to care in a positive fashion about a sport that inspires hostility and apathy.
Onto Michigan State… are they (gasp) overrated?
ESPN’s talking heads declared Michigan State to be a Final Four team, which is ludicrous to say about any team before an NCAA Tournament bracket is published. Many of the talking heads forget how the NCAA Tournament works, maybe it is because they did not participate in it much. Looking at you, Seth Greenberg. Michigan State dropped two neutral site games to Kentucky (struggling to show home court dominance) and Virginia Tech. Now Michigan State has to face a Georgia team that is capable of pulling an upset like Mike Young’s Hokies, but has to burn the loss to Dayton and learn from it – quickly.
Michigan State will match Georgia’s depth and add their experience along with a Head Coach who has been there, done that in Tom Izzo. Michigan State is known for their ability to rebound, play at virtually any pace, and play stifling defense that denies opportunities in the restricted arc. Tom Crean and Tom Izzo are very familiar with each other and this should make for an interesting encounter between the friends and former colleagues who happened to face each other when Crean was the Head Coach at Indiana.
Michigan State’s Resume
Aside from gutting out a win over Seton Hall, there’s nothing else of note that Michigan State has done thus far. Seton Hall was playing Hero Ball through Myles Powell and this burned the Pirates in their upset bid. Georgia had a small bout with this against Dayton through Anthony Edwards and it did not work either. Teams do not go very far playing Hero Ball just ask Mark Fox and Andy Kennedy, if they have learned from their experiences, of course.
Michigan State had a 25% turnover rate against Virginia Tech, which is not a good thing and they let the Hokies go 10/21 against them. Virginia Tech is a very capable three point shooting team, Georgia is not. The Georgia players, especially Tyree Crump, think they can shoot really well from three point range on any shot, but the art of shot selection and setting up three point shooters is still a lost one.
Michigan State tests an opponent’s ability to close out possessions because they are so good on the offensive glass. They also are good on the defensive glass, but maybe not on pace to be as good as they were during their 2012-16 run of seasons. Five seasons of dominance on the defensive glass that really defined Tom Izzo styled basketball.
Michigan State is not known for their ability to force turnovers, but that may not stop Georgia from doing so anyway. However, it is likely that the vast majority of Georgia’s turnovers will be dead ball turnovers.
Who to Watch for Michigan State?
Cassius Winston – 6’1″ Point Guard
If you have made the mistake of watching any of ESPN’s networks with the volume on, you have heard non-stop gushing about Cassius Winston and how he is a leader and how he is unstoppable. Let’s get to the facts because we operate not in hyperbole, but facts.
Cassius Winston is strangely cold from three point range to start his Senior season. He is a strong three point shooter, but is he going to have a three point shooting percentage that is between 38-40% or is it going to be more like his 2017-18 season? Is it possible that defenses keying in on him and the pressure of being “The Man” at Michigan State is causing him to press resulting in poorer shot selection? Shot selection matters when it comes to three point shooting percentage, Tyree Crump is the clearest example of that.
Getting Winston into foul trouble and giving him poor looks from three point range is a good way to keep him from making a major impact on the offensive end. His performances against Kentucky and Virginia Tech are rather similar with a few exceptions.
Against Kentucky, he was the focal point of the offense and he got his work done at the Free Throw Line. Winston was ineffective from three point range and he was able to make up for it with Free Throws and attacking the basket. Defensively, he was not a massive impact player.
Against Virginia Tech, he had a lesser role due to the foul load. He was turning it over and he was not making three point shots. He was taken out of the offense altogether by the Virginia Tech Defense. His distributing metrics have been greatly influenced by performances against Charleston Southern and Binghamton.
Throwing off Winston is a major key to beating Michigan State. Make Winston press out there and get him into foul trouble.
Xavier Tillman – 6’8″ Power Forward
Tillman is important for the Spartans because he is a strong defensive rebounder. Tillman finishes off the defensive possessions and with a 28.6% Defensive Rebounding rate, he is among the best at doing so. Tillman is a capable offensive rebounder as well, but he has not shown to be at the offensive rebounding rate as seasons past.
Tillman is very efficient inside the restricted arc and he scores frequently off assists. He is a player you want to see taking the ball at 12-15 feet out and dribbling his way in to make a play for himself. Tillman is adept at kicking the action back out, but you want Tillman to try to score on his own at the mid or high post. He can be good at drawing Free Throws, but he has not done so this season.
Xavier Tillman is strong shot blocker, but he is very prone to fouling. This is an opportunity for Georgia. Attack Tillman early, get him off the floor, and then the odds of getting second chance scoring opportunities rises significantly. Tom Crean may try to lure Xavier Tillman away from the basket with the hopes of having him get driven on or having him work through screens. Tillman could also make mistakes in help defense, which would be welcome, but this Georgia team is terrible at Free Throw shooting so the consequences are blunted.
Tillman has a tendency to turn the ball over and against the three quality opponents he has faced, he has proven himself to not be a scoring threat. Harassing him when he has the ball, may be a good idea and so would jumping his passes. Draw an offensive foul on Tillman, you really cannot lose in this regard.
Aaron Henry – 6’6″ Small Forward
Henry may be what Tom Crean hopes Christian Brown can be in some respects. Crean should hope that Brown becomes a better rebounder than Henry.
Henry is a catch-and-shoot shooter in the mid-range and from beyond the arc. He is primarily a dribble driver at the rim, but the drives can come from every angle. Henry is capable of hitting three point shots, but he is not frequently called upon to shoot them. He is far more content to get to the rim and finish there.
This season, he has been a very inactive defensive rebounder. He was not a good defensive rebounder last season, but he has been off to a bad start on the defensive glass. On the offensive glass, he is not much of a threat to extend possessions and get the putbacks, but with Michigan State everyone should be considered a threat due to their style of play.
Henry has been a strong shot blocker this season and he is not known for committing fouls. Henry could be relied upon to play a heavy workload, but he has not done so.
It might be a good idea to not give him space on the perimeter and to force him to make a play inside the perimeter. Find out if he can take it from the perimeter to the rim in one go, he probably cannot do it repeatedly.
Thomas Kithier – 6’8″ Power Forward
Kithier is a much lesser version of Obi Toppin. He’s nearly the same size and he gets his work done inside the perimeter, but he may be able to step out and take a three point shot. Kithier is a dynamic offensive rebounder who gets his work done off putbacks and post-up opportunities. He’s not adept at forcing fouls and he is not the focus of the offense. However, if he gets the ball in the low block, he’s going to make something happen.
Kithier’s major weakness is defense, he’s not a threat to block shots, but he is serviceable rebounder. Kithier is a fouling machine and getting Kithier off the floor removes the the top offensive rebounder on this team.
Rocket Watts – 6’2″ Combo Guard
Watts is a True Freshman and he has struggled out of the gate for Michigan State, but Tom Izzo is giving him a heavy workload. He has had his struggles and he has felt them on the offensive end.
He’s struggling to the finish at the rim on cuts, he’s not shooting well from three point range, and his mid-range game has suffered too. Watts takes a lot of three point shots and if he eventually heats up, it is a big problem because he will just keep on shooting. Against the closest competition he could face prior to Division I competition, which was in the Nike EYBL circuit, he was a 34.8% three point shooter and he took 10 three point shots per game. When he was in the Peach Jam, he was a 40.4% three point shooter and he took 10.4 three point shots per game (played 5 games).
Watts is as three point happy as Tyree Crump, but he is more defensively able at this stage of his college career.
The metrics below are for prior to the Virginia Tech loss.
Rocket Watts is a pest of a defender and who he draws on defense in Tom Izzo’s Man-to-Man with some Pack Line principles defense will be quite intriguing. Would Watts be the choice to guard Sahvir Wheeler?
Impressions and Expectations
Georgia draws a more experienced Michigan State team, this is not a perfect Michigan State team. Just because they are highly ranked, it does not mean this team is at the standard of last season’s team. This Michigan State team may actually be quite disappointing, but they will be a force and a tough out regardless. Georgia’s issues with composure in Maui will ultimately doom this team and with the lack of crowd support, this is going to be a very similar game to the one against Dayton. Georgia may be capable of beating Michigan State in February, but this is a baptism by humiliation. This team needs to grow and the base needs to follow suit.
Georgia can win any game that they are down by 6 with 8 minutes to go, in fact, opponents would be in the danger zone if they let Georgia hang around. Georgia has to be humiliated for 34 minutes and have its will sapped to beat them. Georgia has to prove that they can keep their balance and remain composed. If Michigan State lets Georgia hang around, Georgia gets their signature scalping to bring back to Athens and say, “Hey y’all! Got your attention now! Good.” This is not hyperbole, if Michigan State does not blow Georgia out of the water, they will lose and one of the other freshmen (not named Sahvir Wheeler or Anthony Edwards) would likely shine in this game. Could it be Mike Peake? Toumani Camara? Maybe Jaykwon Walton does his best Landers Nolley impression?
Michigan State will likely jump Georgia early, the mess-ups will continue and the officiating will be spotty.
Prediction: Michigan State 74 Georgia 58