The Michigan State basketball offense continued to hum against Oakland as it cruised to an easy win against the Grizzlies.
Michigan State basketball has always struggled against Greg Kampe and the Oakland Grizzlies. It’s likely due to this fact that Tom Izzo continues to schedule the in-state university year after year. Kampe always has his boys ready to play, and, coming into Monday night, the same was expected. This Oakland team was fresh off taking both Illinois and Ohio State to the wire, and went to Xavier and came away with a win. Add in the emotional high MSU was riding after dismantling number six Baylor over the weekend, and you have the makings of a letdown game.
MSU would not let that be the case, however. After a semi-slow start, Michigan State created some distance, and never looked back. Every Spartan seemed to play their role perfectly, and used a hot second half from deep to extend the lead, eventually pulling to 27 at one point. Michigan State would finish with a 79-62 victory over Oakland, getting above .500 once again.
Here are the good, great, bad, and ugly from the win at the Breslin.
Good: Spartan big men, once again
I’m ecstatic to write about MSU’s big men in a good light for multiple weeks. It feels as though we haven’t been able to do so since Xavier Tillman left years ago. With that being said, Michigan State had all three centers make positive impacts against Oakland. Carson Cooper and Mady Sissoko finished with seven points and eight rebounds each, and Xavier Booker even got in on the fun.
Cooper is truly improving with each game he plays in, and looks extremely comfortable doing so. He is running the rim extremely well and proving he is deserving of a majority of the minutes down low. Booker finally had some things go his way in his seven minutes of play. This was the first game in which you felt his true talent as a five star. Eventually he will be the guy here, but it will take time.
There’s a clear difference in centers across the country, and centers in the Big Ten. For years, the Big Ten has boasted some of the best big men in college basketball. So it’s important we saw growth from the Spartans down low in these few non-conference games. They soon will need to take this newfound confidence and abilities and put them front and center against the likes of Zach Edey and Cliff Omoruyi.
Great: Tyson Walker
Tyson Walker has been deserving of a great mention in almost every game this season. On Monday night, he went above and beyond due to his record breaking performance. After scoring 14 points against the Grizzlies, a slight down night for Walker, Tyson became one of just 54 Spartans who have recorded 1,000 points for the green and white. Walker has been phenomenal this year. Even when Michigan State has looked lost, Walker was shouldering the load. Tyson is leading Michigan State basketball in points per game with 20.1, and also in steals with 1.7.
When Tyson came to East Lansing by way of the Northeastern Huskies, Izzo knew he was getting a Colonial Athletic Association first-team player, league defensive player of the year, and Lou Henson Award Finalist (2021), awarded to top mid-major player in the country. But, there were still legitimate questions on whether his talent would transfer to the Big Ten. A higher level of opponent talent and a larger spotlight isn’t for every player. Tyson took the challenge head on and has been the best Spartan on the court since Cassius Winston. He proved this again on Monday night, finishing with 14 points, two rebounds and five assists. See, Tom Izzo? The transfer portal can be a good thing.
Bad: Slow-ish start
As mentioned above, Michigan State now set the precedent on what can be over the weekend against Baylor. They were out and running from the jump at LCA on Saturday. We know what they are capable of now, so anything less is a disappointment. While this is obviously somewhat satire, there is some truth to it. Michigan State basketball started extremely average against Oakland on Monday night. After getting out to a 6-0 lead, Michigan State and Oakland really were on the same level for the next 15 minutes. Both offenses went a little cold, and while MSU never relinquished the lead, they allowed the Grizzlies to hang around for too long. They would eventually begin to pull away as the first half came to a close, but for a few possessions, there was some slight concern.
Michigan State would obviously use a hotter second half to widen their margin, but as satire as it is, we now know what they are capable of from an offensive standpoint. Getting off to a hot start will be the difference this season in conference play for MSU.
Ugly: Perimeter defense (sort of)
Admittedly, this feels extremely nit-picky. To be completely honest, MSU just came off one of its best performances in years. One in which they truly didn’t do anything terribly. However, to have back to back games with having done nothing ugly would be a cop-out. If there is one thing that I think Michigan State could have done better on, outside the slow-ish start, it would be their perimeter defense.
Oakland isn’t a great 3-point shooting team. As a unit, they shoot just 32 percent, but they have multiple guys who average over 40 percent. Mostly within the first half, when Oakland was keeping it close, it felt as though Michigan State could have done a better jump closing out and getting a hand up in defense of the Oakland shooters. MSU lucked out on a few, as Lampman and Townsend both were missing a few shots that they normally can hit. In a half that was already pretty close, if Oakland hits one or two of those, the entire game could have gone in a different direction. We saw this against Nebraska last week.
Again, Michigan State must have done enough to keep the Grizzlies at bay as they would eventually pull away and safely come away with the win. Michigan State has one of the best defensive teams in the country so it’s not likely this is something they will need to worry about.
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