No. 4 Spartans look for 6-0 start with visit from Oakland

NCAA Men's Basketball

Oakland University completes its brutal nonconference schedule with a visit to East Lansing, Mich., to take on in-state rival No. 4 Michigan State on Sunday.

The Golden Grizzlies (0-6), from the Horizon League, started the season with three double-digit losses in the Xavier Invitational after little practice time due to a coronavirus-related pause.

Then they nearly upset then- No. 25 Michigan before succumbing in overtime, and a blowout loss at Purdue followed. Then Oakland led Oklahoma State for nearly 18 minutes before the Cowboys pulled away to an 84-71 victory on Dec. 5.

“I think this team’s got a lot of wins ahead of them. We’ll have our moments,” coach Greg Kampe said. “I told them we’ve played some great, great basketball teams this year, but the best one we’re going to play all year is sitting and waiting for us.”

During the Golden Grizzlies’ game against the Wolverines, their zone defense forced 15 first-half turnovers. Kampe is hoping for similar results against the Spartans, but he also fears his team could get pounded on the boards. Oakland has been out-rebounded by an average of 43.3-31.7.

“It will be interesting to see how coach (Tom) Izzo handles the zone and what they do against it,” Kampe said. “And it will be really interesting to see if we can hold them off the glass because that’s what they’re known for.”

Michigan State’s defense will have to pay strict attention to guard Rashad Williams on the perimeter. Williams sank half of his 20 3-point attempts against Oklahoma State while scoring 32 points.

“Don’t think he’s not going to have a lot of games where he gets 15-20 (3-point attempts),” Kampe said. “That’s how we’re going to play, and he’s capable. That’s going to make it better for everybody else.”

Michigan State will be playing for the first time since Dec. 6. The Spartans were supposed to face Virginia on the road in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge on Wednesday, but the game was postponed due to a virus outbreak in the Cavaliers’ program.

In their last outing, the Spartans (5-0) defeated Western Michigan 79-61. Marquette transfer Joey Hauser led the way with 24 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals.

“I’m really pleased for him because he’s trying to fit in, and trying to fit in is not easy, when you come with a team that’s got some players back,” Izzo said. “I think he’s done a good job of fitting in.”

Hauser shot 6-for-10 beyond the arc on a night when Michigan State collected assists on 28 of 32 made field goals.

“He works on his shot a lot,” said point guard Rocket Watts, who had 10 points and six assists. “When I pass it to him, I feel like he’s going to make it every time. He’s got great confidence in himself and it’s fun playing with him. I’ll just keep swinging the ball to him and he’s going to keep knocking them down.”

The Spartans will have another weeklong break in the schedule before opening the Big Ten season at Northwestern on Dec. 20. It creates a different kind of hurdle — trying to follow COVID-19 protocols while the players have so much time on their hands.

“They’re almost in prison,” Izzo said. “I don’t want to make light of it, but it’s more difficult than we all think.”

–Field Level Media

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