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Michigan State Scouting Report and Preview

Kentucky Basketball is taking a business trip today to Indianapolis, to take on Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans in the Champions Classic. In the building where Kentucky was sent home by St Peter's last year, Kentucky has its first opportunity to prove themselves on the national level and you can't help but feel like this game just means more to John Calipari and crew.

Michigan State is currently unranked, but are the top rated team outside of the Top 25, equivalently making them 26th in the country. They are a last second shot falling away from beating #2 Gonzaga on a neutral site last Friday, falling to the Bulldogs 64-63 and moving on to 1-1 on the season.

With Kentucky and Michigan State both playing four total games this season, three of which against low major opponents, it is hard to get a full scouting report for either team to this point. However, with enough statistical analysis and film watching, here is what I gathered from Kentucky's opponent:


The old saying that "defense travels" should be in full effect tonight for the Cats, as Michigan State has been very unimpressive scoring the ball so far. They are currently scoring 68.0 points per game (ranked 278th out of 358 teams in D1), shooting 42.7% from the field (245th), and 27.9% from three (291st).

Their offense is centered around two players, AJ Hoggard and Mady Sissoko, getting as many paint touches as they can and working from the inside out. Hoggard is the lead point guard and primary ball handler for Michigan State, with almost every possession being centered around him in the dribble-drive. He leads the Spartans in points per game (10.5), assists per game (7.0) and free throw attempts 6.5. This is a product of his heavy offensive usage and trying to get to the paint. Tom Izzo is known for having his veteran point guard that he relies on heavily on the offensive end and it will be no different for Hoggard. Tyson Walker will get some usage in a combo guard role, but the offense will start and go with Hoggard. He is a great player, but not on the level of a Cassius Winston that we have seen in the past in this role under Izzo. If Cason Wallace and Sahvir Wheeler can lock him down, which I think they should be able to, Michigan State's offense is gonna have a hard time creating shots and scoring.

Mady Sissoko, the big man, will get his paint touches via low post-ups with his back to the basket. Sissoko is not a great passer out of the post, so if he gets the ball down low, it is almost certainly going up. He was very effective against Gonzaga, who made the mistake of leaving him 1-on-1 in the post quite often. He used his height and strength to get close looks at the hoop. First, Kentucky's center rotation of a healthy Oscar Tshiebwe and the breakout freshman Ugonna Onyenso should give tougher 1-on-1 post defense than anyone on Gonzaga could. Also, Calipari will hopefully recognize Sissoko's lack of passing ability and have Jacob Toppin or Daimion Collins offer strong-side double teams, forcing Sissoko to make a play that he is uncomfortable making. Much like Hoggard, if we don't let Sissoko get going, their offense will struggle to score.

When Hoggard and Sissoko are playing effectively, and are able to consistently get to the paint, that opens up some shots for a pair of Michigan State shooters in Joey Hauser and Pierre Brooks. They are shooting 36.4% and 45.5% from deep, respectively, on 5.5 attempts per game each. However, that is where Michigan State's shooting threats end, as no one else on the roster is shooting over 20% from behind the arc.

If you let Cason and Sahvir lock down Hoggard and don't let Sissoko get comfortable in the low post, Michigan State won't be able to get open looks in the half court and they won't sniff 70 points.


Similar to the offense, the Spartan's defense will be anchored by Hoggard and Sissoko. Hoggard is a great on-ball defender, with good size, athleticism and instincts for a point guard. He will likely take on the responsibility of defending Kentucky's primary ball-handler, which will alternate between Sahvir Wheeler and Cason Wallace.

Sahvir Wheeler's play will be one of the biggest deciding factors on how Kentucky's offense will look tonight. On one hand, Wheeler has struggled in the past against more tall and physical defenders, which Hoggard is at 6'3" 220 lbs. He also is not as effective in slower paced and half-court offenses. Michigan State's game plan is going to be to slow down the ball and limit possessions as much as they can. If these deficiencies show up again, Cason Wallace will have to step up in a big way in his first prime time game at Kentucky. However, if Sahvir Wheeler can continue on what was an impressive 11-11 performance against Duquesne, Michigan State will not have an answer for anything we do. When the ball gets into the paint via the dribble drive, Michigan State's entire defense collapses, literally. When the ball touches the paint, all five sets of eyes turn to the paint and all five bodies start to close in. With this defensive strategy, if Sahvir Wheeler can consistently break down his defender, he should be in line for another double double with the amount of open shooters we will have open on the wing.

This also means that the wings will need to be "on" tonight. If the defense commits to collapsing and crowding the paint, Kentucky shooters need to make them pay. If the first pair of games are any indication, Antonio Reeves and CJ Fredrick should continue to lead the charge in shooting.

We haven't seen a ton of offensive production from the 4 position so far. But with Daimion Collins returning, Chris Livingston getting more and more acclimated with the offense and Jacob Toppin continuing to adjust to his new offensive role, the Kentucky power forwards should have a great opportunity to break out against Michigan State. Joey Hauser and Malik Hall rotate playing the 4 spot for the Spartans, and they might rank as the worst and second worst defenders on the whole roster

Assuming Oscar is back, Kentucky should be back to getting their elite 15-15 production in the post from the reigning National Player of the Year. But if Kentucky really wants to run it up on offense, Sahvir Wheeler will need to be his best self, shooters will need to continue their hot streak and we will need to finally get some offensive production from the power forward position.


As previously noted, Kentucky is returning to the venue in which they saw their season end last year, in their first opportunity to prove themselves on the national stage. I think we see Kentucky come out with a similar energy that we saw our team last year show when they went into Allen Fieldhouse to play Kansas or in Las Vegas against North Carolina, both of which ended in 20+ point blowouts. I think the Cats win convincingly 85-60, with Cason Wallace leading the charge by handling the ball, knocking down shots on the wing and providing elite defense.


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