Wednesday night will bring two teams together who are going in opposite directions in 2015-16. On one side, you have a team who has reached the top of the most recent rankings in the college basketball world. On the other, you have a team who is looking to regain the level of confidence they played with just one season ago.
The Michigan State Spartans enter the week as the top team in the entire country for the first time since the 2013-14 season. They have impressive wins all over their schedule so far in 2015-16, and have seen several players step up in a big way over the first month. Michigan State will look to extend their winning streak on Wednesday, and avoid looking ahead to a big game on Saturday.
As for their opponent, the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks are desperately searching for any form of positive momentum moving forwards. Coming off an 18-win season, the Hawks are riding a three-game losing streak into their showdown with the Spartans. They have started to play some strong basketball, but have been unable to put together a complete 40-minute performance. Coach Collins is hoping for a big performance from his team on this night.
Last season, the Spartans suffered a head-scratching home loss on December 20th to the Texas Southern Tigers, who entered the game with a 1-8 record. This season, the Hawks are in a similar position to the one that the Tigers were in a year ago.
Can history repeat itself on Wednesday night? Only time will tell.
Time: 7:00pm EST
Location: Brelsin Center, East Lansing, MI
Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks (1-7, 0-2)
Through their first 8 games of the season, the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks have struggled to put together a complete 40-minute performance. They have been lacking consistency over the duration of their games, and that is a big reason why they enter East Lansing with a 1-7 record.
Over the weekend, the Hawks completed the December portion of their conference schedule. They suffered losses on the road at North Carolina Central (70-59) and North Carolina A&T (80-74). Both the Eagles and Aggies are expected to contend in the MEAC this season, so the Hawks playing both teams close is a step in the right direction.
The performance that UMES put together in the second half on Monday against the Aggies is the type of showing that Coach Collins is looking for from his players. Early in the second half, the Hawks found themselves trailing by 19 points, but they didn’t quit. They clawed their way to make it a 1-point deficit in the closing minutes, but were unable to come all the way back. If the Hawks can play like that for an entire game, things will quickly turn around for last year’s darlings of the MEAC.
Against the Aggies, Dominique Elliott continued his strong play as of lare, recording his first double-double of the season. He recorded 13 points and 11 rebounds in the loss, and is now averaging 12.3 points and 7.0 rebounds over his last four contests. Against the Spartans, Elliott and Bakari Copeland will have their hands full trying to defend the big men that Michigan State will throw at them. An emphasis will be placed on their shoulders as the Hawks will look to establish themselves in the paint early on.
The guard duo of Ryan Andino and Devin Martin will have the tall task of defending Michigan State’s loaded back court who can score in bunches at any given point. In turn, the Hawks will need big games from both players on offense if they want to stand any chance. Andino is averaging 10.0 points per game over his last three, and has started to gain some momentum after his slow start to the season.
#1 Michigan State Spartans (9-0, 0-0)
Coming into Wednesday night’s tilt with the Hawks, you’d be hard-pressed to find a team playing better basketball in the NCAA right now than the Michigan State Spartans. They have quality wins throughout their schedule so far (Kansas, Boise St, Providence, Louisville), and their recent dismantling of Binghamton has vaulted them to the #1 ranking in the country.
Against the Bearcats over the weekend, the Spartans led from start to finish and cruised to the 76-33 victory. You know a team is playing confident basketball when they score the first two points of the game without the ball ever touching the floor. Don’t believe me? Check this out. Off the tip, two passes in the air led to an alley-oop jam from Denzel Valentine, and the Spartans were off to the races.
Valentine has done a little bit of everything for the Spartans this season, and has solidified himself as a serious contender for the Wooden Award with his 19.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game averages to start the year. He has put together two triple-double performances so far, and has reached double-figures in points in 8 of the Spartans’ 9 games. He will carry the Spartans this season, but the team is not a one-trick pony.
In the absence of Branden Dawson, freshman forward Deyonta Davis has stepped in and made a seamless transition to the Division I level. The 6’10” forward has been a welcome addition to the front court for the Spartans, alongside veteran Matt Costello, and is averaging 9.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per contest. He brings a high level of energy and intensity on both ends of the floor, and is a steady, reliable force in the paint for Coach Izzo. Look for Davis to be a big factor in Wednesday night’s contest against the Hawks.
Players to Watch
Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks
Devin Martin (G) – 15.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.3 apg
Dominique Elliott (C) – 10.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 0.9 bpg
Ryan Andino (G) – 6.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.9 apg
Michigan State Spartans
Denzel Valentine (G) – 19.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 7.9 apg
Deyonta Davis (F) – 9.9 ppg, 6.1 pg, 2.2 bpg
Lourawls Nairn Jr. (G) – 3.7 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 4.4 apg
On paper, this contest would appear to be a no-contest. The high-powered Michigan State Spartans are the top team in the country, and come in riding a nine-game winning streak. However, the Hawks do have the talent in place to keep the game close as the game wears on.
In order for the Hawks to keep things from getting out of hand, they need to take advantage of every opportunity presented to them on either end of the floor. The Breslin Center is one of the toughest buildings to play in, so if they can get off to a hot start and take the wind out of the arena in a hurry, that could bode well for them moving forwards.
Wednesday night presents a classic David vs. Goliath match-up, as the Hawks take on the Spartans. Anything is possible in the world, and you’ll have to tune in to see how this one plays out.
We will be LIVE in East Lansing, MI for this contest as a part of our continued coverage of the Maryland-Eastern Shore Hawks in 2015-16. Follow us on Twitter (@CC_Report) for tweets throughout the game!