Michigan State tips off the 2015-16 season with a home game against Florida Atlantic. The Owls have a Michigan State connection in their coaching staff, with former Piston and father of an ex-MSU football player Michael Curry at the helm and former Spartan great Eric Snow as one of his assistants. FAU struggled to a 9-20 mark last season but they return 4 starters, the vast majority of their scoring, and think they can be improved in Conference USA.
BACKCOURT – FAU will lean heavily on their three returning perimeter starters. The leader is junior PG Marquan Botley. Botley led the team in scoring and assists, though he wasn’t a tremendously efficient player in either area (37/33% shooter and a little bit less than a 2:1 assist to TO ratio). He’s a smaller guard at 5’10” and relies upon quickness to do damage. Solomon Poole and Jackson Trapp will start on the wings and the two seniors were also double digit scorers last season. Poole is another smallish guard at 6 feet who had some production but wasn’t a great shooter (34/34%) after transfering in from Georgia Tech. Trapp is the best deep shooter on the team, hitting 42% from long range. He also provides some size at 6’4″. The Owls also have the possibility of some decent depth, led by 6’3″ Clemson transfer Adonis Filer. Filer scored 5 ppg for the Tigers two years ago. Nick Rutherford is a 6’3″ freshman from Texas who will also see minutes for this team. Actually, he and Filer both started their exhibition game over Poole and Botley, though the veterans played more minutes.
FRONTCOURT – Up front, FAU expects big things from freshman forward Jeantal Cylla. The 6’7″ newcomer led FAU in scoring in their exhibition win and is one of the more highly regarded HS recruits in school history (rated 37th in the nation at his position by one service). He is athletic and skilled (went 3-7 from deep in the exhibition game) and has a scorer’s mentality. CJ Turman is the true post player in the starting lineup. The 6’9″ 250lbs center averaged 5.8ppg and 3.3rpg last season but FAU needs a lot more now that he’s a sophomore. Depth will come from 6’9″ Spaniard Javier Lacunza, who averaged 13 mpg last season. The senior takes a lot of perimeter shots but was sub 30% from the arc last season, so that has to improve. Jesse Hill is a 6’8″ freshman from New Jersey who could bring a bit of physicality to the court in a reserve role.
1. Health – MSU is already missing Marvin Clark and Gavin Schilling for this game. Heading into Kansas next week, you’d like to see the roster remain intact beyond the losses which have already occurred, particulalry inside.
2. Pace – FAU was a slow paced team last season and I’d expect them to not look to get into a transition dominated game with MSU in this one. MSU has to push aggressively after makes and misses in order to maximize its advantages in talent, athleticism and depth.
3. Rotations – This is the first real game and thus should be the first one where we see Izzo actually start to put together the rotations and playing groups he’ll rely on for the season. With a couple of guys out, this certainly won’t be the way it goes for the rest of the season in totality, but I think we’ll see player combinations start to come together.
4. Glass – Always a key, FAU was a poor rebounding team last season and their lack of overall size suggests they may not be much better this time around. In the past, we’ve seen MSU have more trouble than they’d like against undersized opponents, and I think it’s critical that guys like Zel, Bess, Harris, and Forbes all chip in on the boards and prevent many guard rebounds for the Owls.
5. Ball Movement – The key to MSU’s offensive success last year (and most years, frankly)was the quality of ball movement. When MSU passed the ball quickly and with a purpose, good shots tended to result and makes tended to follow at a nice clip. They’ve looked sharp in this area for the most part in the two exhibition games…time to covert that to a game under the real lights.
OVERALL – FAU expects to be better than they were last season and that seems to be a reasonable expectation. They have a lot of guys with experience and have added some good young talent to the mix as well. That said, this is one MSU should cruise in if they’re reasonably focused, even without Gav and Marv. FAU was a terrible defensive team against the two point shot last year, suggesting that they gave up a lot of easy looks at the rim. They were actually very good both in percentage allowed and in limiting attempts from deep, but MSU is such a good jumpshooting team that I’d still expect the Spartans to have some success from out there.
The big thing is to play MSU’s brand of basketball and get tuned up for a big test next week in Kansas.