Michigan State Basketball: Previewing the Hitachi College Basketball Showcase

District Detroit will host four of the top teams in the state of Michigan inside Little Caesars Arena for the Hitachi College Basketball Showcase. (Header: Lansing State Journal)

DETROIT, Mich. — Fans have been waiting patiently since April for December 16th to roll around, and the wait is finally over.

The Hitachi College Basketball Showcase will be the first-ever college basketball event to be played inside the newly-constructed Little Caesars Arena in District Detroit. Four of the top teams from the state of Michigan will put their talents on display in front of a sold out crowd in the Motor City.

Saturday’s festivities kick off with a match-up that features the Detroit Mercy Titans and the Michigan Wolverines at 12:00pm EST, followed by the Oakland Golden Grizzlies taking on the second-ranked Michigan State Spartans at approximately 2:30pm EST.

All four teams in the event have the opportunity to add a quality non-conference win to their resume, and you can bet that the fans will be treated to high-quality basketball across both games.

Here’s what you need to know in advance of the event.

Scouting Report – Detroit Mercy v. Michigan

The history between the Titans and Wolverines dates back to 1919, when the two teams squared off on the hardwood for the first time. However, Saturday will be the second time that they’ve been the first college basketball game inside a new Detroit facility.

Back in 1979, when the historic Joe Louis Arena first opened for business, Detroit Mercy and Michigan went head-to-head in the first-ever event inside the building. The Wolverines knocked off the Titans, 85-68, and have had the Titans’ number over the years.

Entering Saturday, Michigan has a 14-game winning streak against the Titans, and they lead the all-time series 24-4. Detroit Mercy’s last win over their in-state rival came back on December 19th, 1981, when the Titans picked up a 55-51 win in Ann Arbor.

After a strong start to the 2017-18 season, a stretch that saw them win four of their first six games, the Titans come into Saturday heading in the wrong direction. They have lost four straight games, and now sit at 4-6 on the year. Three of their six losses have been by single digits, so their record could easily be .500, or better.

Defense has been the issue for the Titans through 10 games. They are allowing an average of 91.6 points per game, which ranks 349th in the nation. They have allowed teams to score 80 or more points on eight occasions. Detroit Mercy’s offense is among the tops in the country, ranking tied for 12th with an average of 89.4 points per contest, but you won’t win many games if you give up more than you can score.

The Titans have four players who have seen action in all 10 games and are averaging double-digit points per game. The young back court trio of Corey AllenJermaine Jackson Jr., and Josh McFolley have the team clicking on the offensive end, and give the Titans several scoring options from the back court.

As for the Wolverines, they make their mark on the defensive end, and while they don’t score nearly as many points as the Titans, they have their share of weapons that can go off at any minute.

Michigan comes into Saturday having won three of their last four contests, including a seven-point win on the road over the Texas Longhorns in their last outing. At 9-3 through the first month of the season, the Wolverines seem to have things figured out after key departures in the off-season.

The return of Moritz Wagner was a big boost for the Wolverines in the off-season, and the 6’11” German is averaging a team-high 15.6 points per game while shooting over 55% from the field. His return gives Michigan a bonafide weapon in the paint, which is needed in a Big Ten Conference that is loaded with talented big men.

Like the Titans, Michigan has their own talented back court, led by Charles Matthews and Duncan Robinson. Both are averaging more than nine points and three rebounds per game, and they give Beilein several options on offense, along with Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman.

The ties between Detroit Mercy and Michigan this season stem from several different angles. Titans’ head coach Bacari Alexander was an assistant under Michigan head coach John Beilein with the Wolverines from 2010-2016. Alexander was on the staff when Michigan advanced to the 2013 National Championship game.

Kameron Chatman (0) will look to lead the Titans to a win over his former team on Saturday afternoon. (Source: Detroit Free Press)

Remember Kameron Chatman, who transferred from the Wolverines following the 2015-16 season? He’s having himself a strong debut season with the Titans, averaging close to 18 points and eight rebounds per game. He is an important part of the offense for Alexander, and has a pair of double-doubles to his name already.


Players to Watch

Detroit Mercy – Corey Allen

The high scoring sophomore has scored in double-figures in all 10 games for the Titans this season. He has topped the 20-point mark on three occasions, and he’s gone for more than 30 points in two of those games. Last time out, he posted 32 points against the Western Michigan Broncos. Against a talented defensive team like the Wolverines, Allen will be the main focus on each possession. He will need to create his own opportunities, or look to his teammates for higher quality looks at the basket, because he will have a defender glued to his hip at all times.


Michigan – Duncan Robinson 

Robinson got off to a strong start in 2017-18, scoring in double-figures in six of the Wolverines’ first seven contests. He posted 21 points in their season opening win over the North Florida Ospreys. As of late, he has just one double-digit scoring performance over his last five games, and it came against Texas (10 points). Robinson struggled from the floor in the previous four games, going a combined 5-of-30 from November 29th through to December 9th. If Robinson can regain his form from the first two weeks of the season, he will be yet another weapon in the arsenal for the Wolverines, who will look to keep pace with the high-scoring Titans.

Duncan Robinson will look to regain his early season form on Saturday and help guide Michigan past Detroit. (Source: Rick Osentoski – USA Today Sports)

Prediction

Defense wins championships, and while this isn’t a championship game, it could very well guide Michigan to a win over Detroit. The Wolverines hold their opponents under 63 points per game, and while they’ll have their hands full with a talented Detroit Mercy offense that can score in bunches, Michigan has the edge on defense and that will lead them to victory.

Michigan: 85
Detroit Mercy: 75


Scouting Report – Oakland v. Michigan State

The second game of the day features a pair of preseason favourites in their respective conferences. Many tabbed the Golden Grizzlies to win the Horizon League title, while the Spartans are the clear favourites in the Big Ten Conference this season.

Oakland and Michigan State last met during the 2016-17 season. The Spartans picked up a 77-65 win over the Golden Grizzlies inside the Breslin Center. It also marked the first-career start for Nick Ward, who posted 25 points in the win.

Michigan State has never lost to Oakland in their history, going a perfect 15-0 against the Golden Grizzlies. They’ve had their share of close games, including an overtime thriller and another that was decided by a single point. The average margin of victory for the Spartans against Oakland has been just 6.8 points.

The Golden Grizzlies always play the Spartans tough, and this year should be no exception. A stellar back court that’s led by Martez Walker and Kendrick Nunn will cause problems for the Spartans on Saturday afternoon. Michigan State should be familiar with Nunn, as he played for the Illinois Fighting Illini before transferring to Oakland.

Both Nunn and Walker are averaging more than 21 points per game this season. Despite missing three games, Nunn is averaging a team-best 21.7 points per game, with Walker not far behind at 21.2 points per contest.

Martez Walker will look to lead Oakland to their first-ever win over Michigan State on Saturday in the Hitachi College Basketball Showcase. (Source: Rey Del Rio – Getty Images)

If Oakland wants to have any chance at beating the Spartans, they will need to get big games from their forwards. Michigan State has arguably the deepest front court rotation in the country, so the likes of Jalen Hayes and Isaiah Brock will need to bring their A+ games on Saturday.

The Spartans are one of the top teams in the nation on defense, and they will make things extremely difficult for Hayes and Brock inside. Michigan State leads the country with 8.3 blocked shots per game, and freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. accounts for three of those blocks per night out.

Add in the fact that the Spartans lead the nation in terms of defensive field goal percentage (33.1%) and are 13th in terms of scoring defense (61.3 ppg), and it’s easy to see why Oakland will have their hands full right from the opening tip.

The Spartans have only allowed two teams to score more than 70 points this season. (Shout out to Duke and Stony Brook.)

While they are known for their defense, the Spartans are no slouch on offense, either. Their sophomore group – Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston, Josh Langford – has been as advertised through the first 10 games. Combined, the four are averaging over 53 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists per game.

As a team, the Spartans are averaging better than 80 points per game on offense, while dishing out 18.8 assists per contest, which is good for the 12th-best mark in the country. Winston has emerged as one of the top ball distributors in the country, and he has become more confident with each passing game.

With so many weapons on both ends of the floor, the Spartans can roll with different lineup combinations and not skip a beat. No player on the team is averaging more than 28.1 minutes per game (Bridges), which shows just how deep this team is, and the level of confidence that Tom Izzo has in his group.


Players to Watch

Michigan State – Jaren Jackson, Jr.

From game one, Jackson Jr. has been a force in the paint on both ends of the floor. He is one of the most athletic forwards in the country, and he uses his length to his advantage on both ends of the floor. He can finish at the rim and in traffic, and if that’s not there, he can step out and hit shots from beyond the arc. He has at least two blocked shots in each of his last six games, and has recorded eight blocks in a game during that stretch. Against an Oakland team that gets blocked more than anyone else in the nation, don’t be surprised if Jackson Jr. posts his first-career triple-double on Saturday, with points, rebounds, and blocks.

Freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr. has flirted with a triple-double on several occasions this season. Can he post his first one on Saturday against Oakland?

Oakland – Jalen Hayes

For Oakland, the game will be won or lost in the front court, which means that Hayes will need to find a way to produce against the talented front court of Michigan State. After missing the first four games of the season, Hayes has been a force inside for the Golden Grizzlies in his six games of action. He enters Saturday riding a streak of five straight games with double-doubles. Last time out, he went for 30 points, on 12-of-14 (85.7%) shooting, and 10 rebounds. With the Spartans’ strength lying in the front court, Hayes will need to find ways to get Michigan State’s starters in foul trouble early and throw them off their game.

Easier said than done.


Prediction

Michigan State is clicking on both ends of the floor right now, having won eight straight by an average of more than 20 points since their loss in the 2017 Champions Classic. The Spartans will need to come out with a high level of intensity from the start and avoid a slow start.

Oakland, on the other hand, is struggling to get things moving on a consistent basis. Nunn is nursing an injured ankle, and James Beck is also recovering from an injury. The Golden Grizzlies are a senior-heavy group, which will help to a certain extent. But, things aren’t going that well for the Golden Grizzlies right now, and against a team like Michigan State, that’s not a recipe for success.

Michigan State has been a second half team all season long. Several games have been close in the first half, before the Spartans pulled away in the second frame. They won’t take the Golden Grizzlies lightly, but everything points to a big win for the Green and White.

Michigan State: 93
Oakland: 70

– T. Bennett