DETROIT, Mich. — Kyle Turk breaks down Michigan State’s 86-73 win over Oakland at the Hitatchi College Basketball Showcase at Little Caesars Arena.
Kendrick Nunn almost won this game by himself
The Illinois transfer didn’t start this game due to injury, but was a de-facto starter after Oakland coach Greg Kampe subbed him in just two minutes into the game. From that point on, he terrorized the Spartan defense, scoring 32 points on 9-19 shooting, hitting five of his 12 three-pointers. It took until Tum Tum Nairn was switched onto Nunn with about 12 minutes remaining to slow down the fifth-year senior guard, who leads the Horizon League in scoring.
A lot of Nunn’s damage was done with perimeter jump-shooting, as Tom Izzo tried to match Nunn with Joshua Langford and Matt McQuaid. No matter who guarded him, Nunn’s shot-making ability made him the toughest non-Bagley player the Spartans might face all year.
Teams need a lot to go right to beat MSU
With Nunn hitting shots left and right, the Spartans focused most of their energy on him, to no avail. Martez Walker was able to draw fouls on a couple of made three-point shots, but what kept Oakland in this game was turnovers from Michigan State. Cassius Winston was the main culprit with six of MSU’s 16, and this was another game where MSU struggled with a zone.
If a Big Ten team is going to beat Michigan State this year, it’s going to have to play a lot like Oakland did on Saturday evening: forcing turnovers, hitting perimeter shots, and hoping players like Miles Bridges (11 points on 3-10 shooting) have off nights.
Last year’s struggles down low paying off in tight games
Kenny Goins was faced with matchup problems off the bench throughout most of 2016-17, having to guard seven-footers such as Purdue’s Issac Haas for large stretches. This year, Goins still comes off the bench, but his play on the offensive end coupled with Jaren Jackson’s defensive abilities means that Izzo has options down the stretch in the frontcourt. The rotation has made it seem as though Gavin Schilling is the top big after Jackson and Ward, but Schilling didn’t play any second-half minutes after scoring two points in four minutes.
Meanwhile, Goins’s passing ability out of the high post led to seven assists, which led the team, and his ball movement kept MSU’s offense going in the second half once Oakland went with pretty exclusively zone defense.
Is having a go-to scorer necessary for this team?
Even with all the talent on the roster, it is still an evolving process as to who takes the crunch-time shots for this team. If you’re being nitpicky – and you can when this team has a very, very legitimate shot at a national championship – then Miles Bridges still might lack that extra bit of aggressiveness that your best scorer should have. Each of MSU’s five starters know how to score and can get baskets on their own, but Langford and Nick Ward are a head above in terms of getting their own shot, whether it falls or not.
This team is deep enough to rely on beating teams with balance, but NCAA tournament play is a different animal. Should MSU get past the first weekend, it may need someone to make shots on multiple possessions down the stretch of a tight game. Who that player is remains to be seen, but at least Izzo has three more months to figure out more defined roles for his main lineup.
Is Cassius Winston the most likely candidate for that role?
Winston has shown a killer instinct in a couple games now through MSU’s 10-1 start. The PK80 semifinal against UConn was the first time the sophomore guard from Detroit had shown a clutch factor, and now that he’s improved his three-point shot, there is a chance that he turns into the main guy down the stretch. Until Jaren Jackson gets more aggressive down low, the ability from Winston to score both inside and out gives this team another dimension that it sometimes lacks without a knock-down three-point shooter like Matt McQuaid on the court.
Until the usual starters show that they can break down a zone effectively, players that can space the floor the way that Winston can are a must for the Spartans offensively. In front of his hometown crowd, Winston scored MSU’s last 14 points, including two threes that stretched the lead to double digits and kept the Spartans on track for a win over an Oakland team that gave them one of their biggest tests of the young season.