This Saturday Baylor will face off against the Michigan State Spartans in the Florida Sunshine Tournament. This game will be against our highest ranked opponent since Tennessee as well as our second game against a ranked opponent. As I said in my season preview, this game might be our best test yet in the season.
In case you hadn't heard yet, Michigan State plays in the Big 10 conference. While there may be questions surrounding the conference when it comes to football, those questions are not applicable in women's basketball. Michigan State is one of four ranked teams in the conference and one of twelve teams with a winning record. They have played nine games and have a record of 7-2. Both of their losses came against their only two ranked opponents (it must be a Michigan State thing). They lost by eight to (5) Notre Dame at home and by nine to (15) Georgia at Georgia. Their other games look as abysmal as ours, with their wins coming against teams that hav an average RPI of 233.
Michigan State is traditionally solid team. Looking over the last decade of play, every team has finished above .600. In that same span, they have only had one team finish outside the Top 50 in RPI and that was 64. They have made the NCAA tournament nine times in ten years, and finished as WNIT runner-up the year they missed the tournament.
In the Kim Mulkey era, this marks the third meeting between the two teams. The first meeting was a memorable one, both as a part of Baylor history as well as personally. Baylor defeated Michigan State 84-62 in the national championship game in 2005. I was personally at this game and it was memorable because we couldn't believe it finished as easily as it did. Both semi-final games set records for the largest deficit overcome in a final four game and so we kept expecting for Michigan State to put together a surge and make it a close game, but it never happened and all us fans were in disbelief when the final buzzer sounded until it hit us that the sound we heard meant the Lady Bears were national champions.
The second meeting occurred on November 19, 2010 in Waco. Baylor, led by sophomore Brittney Griner, defeated the Spartans 78-52. This game marked the fewest points scored by Michigan State that year as well as most points allowed. This was also Brittney's second highest storing game in non-conference play.
Suzy Merchant has been the coach of Spartans since Joanne McCallie left to become head coach of Duke. Her two previous stints as a head coach were at Saginaw Valley State University and Eastern Michigan. In her 19+ years as a head coach, she has compiled a record of 369-184 (.667) and has only had one losing season (02-03). Every year she has been at Michigan State the team has had a 20-win season and has made the NCAA tournament six years in a row. In her first appearance to the NCAA tournament as Michigan State's head coach, she helped to advance her team to the Sweet Sixteen, defeating the #1 seed Duke Blue Devils, and Coach McCallie, along the way. Interestingly enough, after that Sweet Sixteen berth, she has only advanced to the Second Round for five straight years.
Offensively, the team is led by two sophomores: Tori Jankoska, a guard who is averaging 18.4 points per game, and Aerial Powers, a forward averaging 18.9 points per game. Powers also leads the team with 12.1 rebounds a game. A third player to keep an eye on is senior forward Becca Mills who averages 9.3 points and 6.7 boards per game. Her field goal percentage leads the team at 55.9%. Tori Jankoska is the biggest threat on the outside, having taken 60 three point shots and make 31.7% of them. Senior guard Anna Morrissey has also taken 32 three point shots and hit 10 of them.
Defensively, Powers is the primary rebounder, averaging 12.1 rebounds per game. For both Powers and the team as a whole, they are significantly more successful with defensive rebounds than offensive rebounds. Powers also leads the team in blocks and steals, averaging 1.2 blocks and 2.1 steals per game.
On paper this is a good matchup. Baylor has played a tougher schedule and has better scoring average (91.8 v 74.0), shooting percentages, assist-to-turnover ratio, opponent shooting percentage, and are on par in points against, rebounds, and blocks. Look for Baylor to focus on Powers on defense and take the gamble that Jankoska cannot carry the team by herself. On offense, I think that we will continue to feed Nina Davis as well as spread the ball around to our multiple players that can score. Hopefully this game will be less in doubt that last night's game against Syracuse.
- Who scores more points on Michigan State: The football team or the Lady Bears?
- Who has a larger margin of victory over Michigan State?