Michigan State holds an undefeated mark (13-0) against Oakland since their entrance into Division I. But with MSU superstar Denzel Valentine out with an injury, this might be Oakland’s best shot to pull off a historic upset as the No. 1 Michigan State Spartans clash with the Oakland Grizzlies at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Tuesday.
Valentine has been on fire this season, scoring 18.5 points per game and tallying 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists per contest. The national player of the year candidate had a small chip of cartilage come loose on his left knee. The senior had minor surgery on his left knee and will miss 2-3 weeks for precautionary measures.
Despite the adversity, head coach Tom Izzo fully expects his squad to step up. Izzo has a party of playmakers to cover the void in Denzel’s absence. Senior Bryn Forbes and junior Eron Harris are the leading candidates for embracing Denzel’s role.
The overshadowed guard duo has a dangerous combination of speed and versatility.
Forbes is lethal on the perimeter (making 46% of his three-point shots) and has the ability to stretch the floor after developing a steady ball handling game. He has the ability to navigate his teammates to where they need to be on offense.
Harris, on the other hand, can make plays anywhere on the court. His quickness and agility draws plenty of attention from opponents, especially on the interior, and gets them into foul trouble.
The Grizzlies’ offensive fireworks and strong rebounding may give the Spartans all they can handle. They have been lighting up the scoreboard with 86.7 PPG, coming off their best performance with a stunning 97-83 victory over Washington.
Oakland features 5 players that average double digits for scoring, led by standout Kahlil Felder. The do it all junior nets 26 PPG and is efficient at distributing the basketball, recording 9 APG.
The main key lies in the hands of the MSU defense. Their primary job is to limit scoring opportunities for Felder and pressure others to make big plays.
If the Spartans can force bad shot selection and ill-advised turnovers while preventing second chance points by controlling the boards, then MSU should have no problem cruising to a win.
Michigan State’s chance to advance to 13-0, which would be their best start in school history, might be in jeopardy. It all depends on the team’s determination and focus on the game, rather than dwelling on Denzel’s recovery.