MSU returns to action on Saturday afternoon to face the Binghamton Bearcats at the Breslin Center. Binghamton is 2-4 on the young season, with a win coming in their most recent game against Colgate. The Bearcats suffered through an awful 6-26 season but were extremely young, and with most of their production back are expected to be a middle of the pack team in America East. This represents the first meeting ever between the two programs. With Kentucky’s loss on Thursday night combined with Maryland’s defeat at UNC earlier in the week, MSU is in position to grab the #1 ranking in the nation with a victory, something they last held early in the 2013-14 season.

BACKCOURT – Binghamton has started multiple different lineups this season, so it’s difficult to know for sure who will get the start. It’s likely that 6’3″ freshman Everson Davis will be the starter at point guard, as he leads the team in assists so far this season. He’s also scoring 9.8ppg so far, but has struggled with his shooting, hitting just 38/13% so far. 5’11” junior Marlon Beck is the one serious deep threat Binghamton has, as he’s hitting 46% from deep and is second on the team in scoring at a little over 11ppg. That’s up slightly from his 8.2ppg as a sophomore. The third starter is likely to be 6’5″ sophomore Justin McFadden. McFadden gives the team a physical presence and a defender on the wing, but he’s not scoring much…just 4.8 ppg in almost 26 minutes per contest. They’re missing junior Yosef Yacob, who was a big part of their team last year. He’s out for the season with a shoulder injury.

Coach Tommy Dempsey will play several guys off his bench, as he’s used a fairly large rotation thus far. 6’6″ sophomore Romelo Walker is averaging 5.7ppg in around 19 mpg of action on the wing. His production is down a bit from last season, so they expect more from him scoring-wise than they’ve gotten so far. 6’1″ freshman Timmy Rose and 6’6′ redshirt freshman John Schurman are both playing small roles, each averaging around 6mpg. Neither has provided much in the way of production but they’ve each seen the floor in every game so far, so I would expect that will repeat at least to some extent against MSU.

FRONTCOURT – By far the biggest weapon Binghamton has is 6’6″ sophomore Willie Rodriguez. The native of Central Florida led them in scoring and rebounding last season as a freshman and has taken his game to a higher level this season, averaging 17ppg and 7.2 rpg so far. He also leads the team in steals with 10. Rodriguez is mostly an inside the arc player. 6’9″ 230lbs sophomore Dusan Perovic has only started twice thus far but he is the biggest, most physical option they have, so I’m figuring he may get the call in this game. He’s averaging 6.2 ppg but only 2.2 rpg. Offensively, he’s more of a stretch player, hitting 37% from three this year and 45% last season in 15 games before injuries cut his season short.

6’9″ freshman Thomas Bruce will see major minutes off the Bearcat bench if he doesn’t actually start the game. He’s averaging 28 mpg so far in his first year, though he’s only scoring 4.8ppg. He is second in rebounding at 5.2 per game, so he’ll be important in any attempt to try to hang with MSU on the glass. 6’6″ sophomore Bobby Ahearn is an undersized power player who gives Binghamton a little bit of bulk and about 12 mpg in their rotation.

THE 5 KEYS

1. Play The Game – I’ve said this a few times this year, as MSU’s non conference schedule has veered from serious tests (KU, the Wooden Legacy games and Louisville) to mismatches (the rest). Thus far, they’ve done a pretty good job against lesser opponents in terms of playing with energy and focus. Every game is an opportunity to establish and/or maintain habits, both good and bad. That has to be the primary goal coming out of this game…play MSU basketball the way MSU wants to and execute at both ends.

2. Glass – MSU continues to re-establish its bona fides as the nation’s best rebounding program, and the effort against Louisville was just one more step down that path. Binghamton is a small team which has been getting whipped on the glass by its low D1 opposition thus far…no reason for MSU to not completely control the backboards in this game.

3. Pace – Izzo mentioned in the Louisville post game presser that MSU didn’t get up quite as many shots as they’ve set as a per game target (think the number is in the mid 60s, IIRC). I would think Binghamton is absolutely going to look to slow this game down and prevent MSU from running up and down the floor and in general playing a quick game. To allow the Spartans to do that could mean a blowout of epic proportions. So, it’s incumbent upon MSU to be insistent in pushing the tempo and playing the game the way they want to. Now, Binghamton normally does look to play fast…they’ve been known to press and want to get up and down the floor. I don’t think they’ll try to do that against MSU but if they do, it could make the Spartans’ job in this area easier.

4. Deep Ball – This is another game where MSU comes in with a massive advantage from three. Binghamton only shoots a shade under 30% from outside the arc as a team. There should be a good deal of separation between the two teams in this area of the game.

5. Playing group – If MSU can get control established early, this should present an opportunity for a lot of guys to play substantial minutes, and there are a few who could use it. I think Eron Harris can stand to play more extended minutes as he continues to try to round his game, particularly on the defensive end, into shape. Marvin Clark and Javon Bess can use extended minutes as well, with Marv still looking to shake off some rust and Javon needing a good performance to get back on track after a couple of low output outings.

OVERALL – On paper, this is obviously a mismatch. Binghamton is a very young team and one which would seem to be ill equipped physically to go up against Michigan State. So, looking at things based on the facts, it’s clear that one should expect an easy MSU victory.

Things don’t always work out that way, though. You have to bring focus and energy in every game, else you ca find yourself being tested when you least expect it. I think this is a very good MSU team but it’s not a perfect one and it’s not nearly talented enough to just roll out the ball and steamroll people without being focused and energetic. Fortunately, so far this season I’ve felt the Spartans have done a very good job in these kinds of situations. There hasn’t been a ton of half-assing.

So that’s really the goal in a game like this one. Keep the focus dialed in and keep the effort level high. Do those two things and the result will be just fine.