Behind Enemy Lines: Six questions with State News

The biggest game on Seton Hall’s non-conference schedule is finally here.

The Pirates will host No. 3 Michigan State in front of a sold out Prudential Center crowd on Thursday. Myles Powell’s status for the game is up in the air due to a sprained left ankle, but that has not prevented the hype surrounding the Gavitt Games matchup from dying down.

In an effort to get to know the Michigan State team that will take the floor, The Setonian caught up with State News men’s basketball beat writer Jayna Bardahl to preview the matchup.

Photo via Michigan State University

Q: It’s no secret that Cassius Winston does it all as Michigan State’s floor general. What exactly does the All-American bring to the table on both ends of the floor that Seton Hall should be wary of?
A: Offensively, Winston is a strong shooter and a smart decision maker. Winston can put points on the board he knows that, but he looks to get the team involved first, proven by his 13 double-doubles that he has accumulated throughout his career. Defensively, Winston has improved. He’s not the biggest guy and may not be able to block like Xavier Tillman or Kyle Ahrens but he makes up for it by fighting to get the ball back in the Spartans possession, proven by his 89 career steals. Winston plays hard on the court and is constantly working to get the ball in the Spartans possession.

Q: How has Michigan State adjusted to life without Joshua Langford? Who has the potential to step up and establish himself as Winston’s right-hand man against Seton Hall?
A: Not having Langford on the floor was definitely a disappointment, especially since the Spartans thought he would be back this season. With that being said, freshman Rocket Watts has shown potential in the guard position. Watts is still learning and improving on the collegiate court, but as the season progresses, I see him becoming a more dominant player for the Spartans. Sophomore Marcus Bingham Jr. is coming off of a career high in points in the Spartans last game and is showing major potential to become one of the Spartans go to guys this season as well.

Q: Michigan State isn’t exactly a sharp-shooting team from the perimeter and it showed in the loss against Kentucky. How does that impact the offense’s ability to operate to its full potential?
A: Michigan State has been struggling behind the arc, no question. With last year’s senior class the Spartans lost 40.4% of their 3-point shooting, and without Langford on the floor the team is desperate for someone new to step up. Even in the Spartans most recent win over Binghamton they only shot 7 for 25. Without shots going in from the perimeter, the Spartans rely on ball movement, free throws and Winston’s ability to carry the ball through the paint to get their shots in. If the Spartans can’t improve their 3-point shooting they are going to need to start playing a very smart game.

Q: Aaron Henry has been lauded as a player who oozes with potential has a chance to be a star for Michigan State. What has he shown so far in his sophomore year?
A: In Henry’s sophomore year, he’s shown he can play right along with the big guys. In the off season, Henry worked on his ball handling, shooting and defense and it shows even this early in the season. Henry was one short of tying Winston and Tillman for the team high in points last game. He makes smart decisions offensively, shooting a .833 field goal percentage against Binghamton and going 2 for 2 in three-point attempts. On defense Henry doesn’t slow down. He’s a strong rebounder and will definitely see a lot of playing time and pressure this season.

Q: Seton Hall has a pair of 7-footers down low in Ike Obiagu and Romaro Gill. How does that impact Michigan State’s gameplan and how are Xavier Tillman, Kyle Ahrens and the rest of the MSU’s bigs positioned to deal with that kind of size?
A: Seton Hall is stacked with physically dominant players, which will most definitely be MSU’s biggest challenge this Thursday. Even Tillman joked that he will “look like a guard” against the Pirates big guys after Tuesday’s practice. However, size has never been something MSU lets get in its way. To deal with a size disadvantage I see the Spartans moving the ball around a lot. Tillman and Ahrens will definitely step up to bring their size and physicality when defending the Pirates. As a team the Spartans will try to keep pressure on Seton Hall and try to force turnovers.

Q: What is your prediction for the game?
A: I think MSU will win, but if they continue to struggle from the perimeter it will be a close game. Getting through Seton Hall’s big guys in the field is going to be hard, so the Spartans really have to focus on improving their 3-point percentage. With that said I see the game going in favor of the Spartans, 76-63.

Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at tyler.calvaruso@student.shu.edu. Find him on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.

Jayna Bardahl can be reached at jayna.bardhal@statenews.com. Find her on Twitter @Jaynabardahl.

Author: Tyler Calvaruso

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