Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

PREVIEW: No. 21 Michigan State faces another test against No. 3 Arizona

Jack Moreland
MSU senior guard A.J. Hoggard disagrees with a call by the official in the Spartans’ matchup against Duke on Tuesday, November 14, 2023 at the United Center.

EAST LANSING – On Thursday, No. 21 Michigan State will take on No. 3 Arizona in the Acrisure Classic in Palm Springs, California. Both teams are coming off dominating wins on Sunday, with the Spartans defeating Alcorn State 81-49, while Arizona defeated UT Arlington 101-56. MSU enters the matchup sitting at 3-2, while Arizona is 5-0.

In this preview, men’s basketball beat writer Caden Handwork, sports director Zach Surdenik, and sports editor A.J. Evans look at some of the keys to Thursday’s matchup, along with predicting the game’s final score. 

What is the key to winning for MSU?

Handwork: The physicality of MSU’s defense will be one of the biggest keys to a Spartan victory over the Wildcats. Arizona is one of the most physical teams in the country. The key for the Spartans will be to put pressure on the Wildcats’ bigs. If MSU’s defense can shut down Oumar Ballo and Motiejus Krivas, that will go a long way toward an upset win on Thursday.

Evans: For Michigan State, knocking down shots from long range is imperative to staying in Thursday’s game. Arizona has six players averaging in double figures right now. MSU struggled mightily out of the gates from behind the arc, but these last two games have been a step in the right direction. However, these first few games have highlighted how dependent MSU’s offense is on long-range shooting. Simply put, the Spartans will have to make shots and do so consistently. Scoring droughts won’t bode well against one of the best offenses in the country. 

Surdenik: Rebounding will be massive in this contest for MSU. They’re going to be outmatched down low, but they need to keep Arizona off the offensive glass. The wildcats are too good to allow that offense to have more than one shot per possession, that’s how you get beat. The Spartans also will need Jaden Akins and AJ Hoggard to get going, but the rebounding and effort will set the tone for MSU. 

What is the key to winning for Arizona?

Handwork: The key to an Arizona victory is the Wildcats need to contain Tyson Walker and make him feel uncomfortable. Walker is seventh in the NCAA in scoring so far this season and first in the Big Ten, averaging 23 PPG. If the Wildcats can contain Tyson Walker, it’ll put more pressure on AJ Hoggard and Jaden Akins, who have gotten off to slow starts this season. 

Evans: I agree. Containing MSU’s guards, most notably Tyson Walker, will go a long way in Thursday’s matchup. I also think attacking the paint relentlessly, which Arizona did really well against Duke, will make a big difference. A heavy dosage of pick-and-rolls will force Mady Sissoko and Carson Cooper to defend at an elite level and make sound reads. Arizona’s guards thrive on forcing defenses to collapse and putting pressure on the rim in transition. If the Wildcats can win the interior battle with their mix of bigs and guards, they’ll thrive from everywhere else.

MSU graduate guard Tyson Walker waits for play to resume against Duke on Tuesday, November 14, 2023 at the United Center. (Jack Moreland)

Surdenik: While I agree with both of you about MSU’s guards, I think the key for Arizona is controlling the pace of the game. Arizona is one of the fastest teams in the country that wants to run teams out of the gym. While MSU likes to run, the Spartans have shown a tendency to speed themselves up too much and settle into bad shots that don’t fall. If Arizona can get the Spartans to that place, they should win comfortably. 

What is the most important statistical battle to win?

Handwork: Three-point shooting will be the most important statistical battle in this matchup. While it has gotten better over the last two games, the Spartans have struggled from beyond the arc, shooting 26 percent through five games this season. The Wildcats have been an excellent shooting team so far this season, they’ve shot over 52 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range. Whoever can get it rolling early, shooting from beyond the arc, will have the upper hand in this game. 

Evans: Rebounding. Michigan State’s offseason achilles heel was exposed in their season opener against James Madison. The Spartans have been outrebounded in three of their first five games. Arizona has nine players averaging four rebounds or more, and in their showdown against Duke, the Wildcats snagged 45 boards to Duke’s 30. Watch out for early offensive rebounding as well. There isn’t a more ideal time for three-pointers than when the defense is left to scramble back out to the perimeter. If one team manages to create a few extra possessions, it could lead to an early offensive run. 

Surdenik: As I said in MSU’s key to win, I think it has to be the rebounding battle. If MSU is able to hang in on the boards and keep things close, they’ll have a real shot late. If not, Arizona’s offense is too good for almost anyone in the country to hang with. 

What should be the focal point for MSU’s game plan?

Handwork: The focal point for MSU’s game plan should be to attack Arizona’s bigs. Oumar Ballo and Montiejus Krivas, the two centers for the Wildcats, average over 12 PPG. The key for the Spartans particularly late in the game will be to attack Ballo and Krivas to force them into foul trouble.  

Evans: Protecting the paint at all costs. Arizona’s guards, coupled with their aforementioned bigs, thrive inside. Time and time again, we saw Caleb Love and Kylan Boswell get a step inside within the free-throw line, and force Duke’s defense to either converge, give up a foul, or a bucket in the paint. Preventing Arizona from getting consistent paint touches will hinder kickout opportunities and fouls, while also limiting the risk of an offensive run that could carry on to the other end of the floor.

Surdenik: I’m with you guys about the bigs being so impactful, but I think MSU’s game plan really needs to be getting good shots. That may sound obvious, but the way that they have been able to have success is when they get Tyson Walker in space and when AJ Hoggard is able to get downhill. It feels like an explosion from Hoggard is coming soon and this would be the perfect time for MSU to try to get him going. 

What should be the focal point for Arizona’s game plan?

Handwork: The focal point for Arizona’s game plan will be the same to attack MSU’s bigs. If the Wildcats can force both Carson Cooper and Mady Sissoko into foul trouble, it’ll put more pressure on an inexperienced center in Xavier Booker which could force the Spartans to play small ball late in the game.

Evans: Agreed. This is a huge test for MSU’s bigs. Arizona lives off of getting into the paint, and they’re not deterred by fouls or physicality. Sissoko and Cooper will be forced to make split-second decisions out of pick-and-rolls, while also containing their own matchups down low. As crazy as it sounds, it wouldn’t surprise me if MSU reverts to a zone at points throughout this one, especially if their bigs are a half-step late on man-to-man reads. If Arizona can both draw fouls and hover around inside, they’ll have everything they want on offense. 

Surdenik: Tommy Lloyd has been around for a long time with his time at Gonzaga and now at Arizona and the focus is always on two things–transition play and strong defense. That’s where the Wildcats are going to look throughout this game and for the entire season. Boswell controls everything for this Arizona team, and in a similar way to Hoggard for MSU when he is on his game, the Wildcats are extremely tough to stop. Look for them to get him going early and often. 

Score Prediction

Handwork: Look for the Spartans to play their best game of the season against Arizona. I expect this to go back-and-forth with MSU having a chance at winning late. Tyson Walker has a 20-plus point performance for MSU, but in the end, the physicality of Arizona’s bigs will be the difference.

Final Score: Arizona 80, MSU 74 

Evans: From what we saw in their exhibition against Tennessee and their matchup against Duke last week, I expect MSU to rise to the occasion and for this to be a competitive game from start to finish. However, I think in the end Arizona’s depth, coupled with a late-game run will allow them to prevail. 

Final Score: Arizona 88, MSU 79

Surdenik: I think this is the time that Michigan State puts it all together. There have been flashes of this team throughout the last few weeks, but they haven’t shown a full 40 minutes where they look like the preseason top-five team in the country that was expected of them. I believe that changes this week as MSU matches up pretty well with Arizona in terms of their guards and their play styles. Good luck keeping up with this track meet watching at home, but Hoggard’s breakout game lifts MSU to a top-five win. 

Final Score: MSU 84, Arizona 78

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributors
Caden is a sophomore journalist from Gross Pointe, Mich. He is the host of the Hedging the Bet podcast and a general assignment reporter for Impact 89FM.
Zach Surdenik, Sports Director
Zach (he/him) is a senior journalism student who has in his fourth year at Impact! In his time at the station, he has covered many sports including men’s and women’s basketball, football and baseball.
A.J. Evans, Sports Editor
A.J. Evans (He/Him/His) is the Sports Editor at Impact 89FM. He is from Southfield, Michigan and is majoring in journalism. He has covered football, women's and men's basketball for the Impact. “Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart’s in it, and live the phrase sky’s the limit….see you chumps on top.” - Biggie  
Jack Moreland, Sports Photo Editor
Jack (he/him) is a Journalism major focusing in sports reporting and media photography. Growing up in nearby Okemos, Michigan, he has been a lifelong Spartan and is proud to sport the green and white. Jack is a big Baby Keem fan and is known to post on your block with your wishlist on you.

Comments (0)

All Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest