ACC/Big Ten Challenge Preview: Part IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 30th, 2017

For the first time in its 19-year history, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is being played over four days. With high profile schools such as Duke, Michigan State and North Carolina participating in last weekend’s PK80 tournament in Portland — which involved a handful of late Sunday night games — ESPN and the two leagues decided to push the event out an extra day rather than put all the marquee matchups on Wednesday. After three days of action, the ACC leads the challenge 11-2, clinching the overall event for the second year in a row in dominant fashion. Still, tonight’s finale between Notre Dame and Michigan State in East Lansing (ESPN – 7:00 PM ET) has a lot on the line for both teams. Here are some key storylines to follow.

Strength Against Strength: Notre Dame Offense vs. Michigan State Defense

Senior point guard Matt Farrell leads a talented Notre Dame offense into East Lansing to face the imposing Michigan State defense. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The Fighting Irish come into this game with the fifth-best effective field goal percentage (60.4%) in college basketball, while the Spartans’ defensive rate (39.9%) ranks third nationally. Something’s got to give, right? It’s a little early in the season to make any sweeping statistical judgments, but perhaps it’s fair to gather predictive data from the few challenging games each school has played thus far. Notre Dame has faced one elite defense already — Wichita State in the Maui Invitational finals — and the Shockers held the Irish to a 52.9 percent effective field goal rate. Michigan State’s defense has faced two of the nation’s top-15 offenses (Duke and North Carolina) so far, holding both under 40 percent shooting on two-point shots. With that kind of rim-protection exhibited by Tom Izzo’s big men, expect the Irish to struggle to reach its normal shooting acumen.

Key Stat to Watch: Shot Volume

One way for Mike Brey‘s squad to make up for what will likely be an off shooting night is to take more attempts at the basket. If both teams hold to statistical form, Notre Dame could have a huge advantage in turnover margin. Michigan State is giving the ball away an average of 16.5 times per outing, compared with only 8.7 miscues per game for the Irish. As long as Notre Dame holds its own on the glass, it could find eight or more additional and very important shot opportunities against the sloppier Spartans.

Key Question: Will Michigan State’s Depth Make a Difference?

Brey likes to keep his starters on the floor — four Irish players average more than 31 minutes per game this season — on the theory that sustained familiarity helps his team’s offense click. On the other hand, Izzo has been utilizing his much deeper bench — 10 Spartans are averaging double-figure minutes — to wear teams down. Given that rotation, Michigan State has been able to play Izzo’s preferred brand of basketball — crashing the boards on offense and using physical defense to harass opponents without any fear of foul trouble.

Star Watch

  • Notre Dame: Bonzie Colson (20.0 PPG, 10.5 RPG) and Matt Farrell (17.5 PPG, 4.3 APG)
  • Michigan State: Miles Bridges (15.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG) and Cassius Winston (12.2 PPG, 7.5 APG)

X-Factors

  • Notre Dame: T.J. Gibbs (15.5 PPG, 53.3% 3FG)
  • Michigan State: Jaren Jackson, Jr. (10.0 PPG, 8.2 RPG)
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