Dec. 7, 2012
The Flyers enter the week with their highest national ranking in school history, checking in at No. 18 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Poll and No. 19 by the Associated Press. Dayton is off to a 9-0 start, including two wins over nationally-ranked opponents. They are one of the top teams in the nation offensively, ranking fifth in the NCAA in points (83.3), seventh in assists (19.3), 11th in 3-point field goals (8.2), 13th in rebound margin (+12.0) and 19th in field goal percentage (46.0%). Sophomore Ally Malott has been the leader so far, leading the team with 14.0 points and 7.6 rebounds. Like MSU, four players average in double-figures, as Andrea Hoover (11.7), Samantha MacKay (11.6) and Amber Deane (11.3) join Malott. MacKay is the team leader with 48 assists and 21 steals.
AGAINST THE FLYERS
Michigan State leads the all-time series over Dayton, 7-3. The two teams last met two seasons ago in Breslin Center a 74-62 Spartan win (Nov. 15, 2010). MSU is 2-3 at Dayton, and have not won there since Dec. 3, 1994 (90-67).
Courtney Schiffauer has had success against the Flyers in her two games against Dayton, averaging 14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in 27.0 minutes. In the Spartans' last trip to Dayton on Nov. 13, 2009, Schiffauer led MSU with 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
AGAINST THE NATION'S BEST
Saturday will be Michigan State's first game against a ranked opponent this season. Under Coach Merchant, Michigan State is 15-17 against ranked teams. Since the beginning of the 2004-05 season, the Spartans have 36 wins over nationally-ranked opponents, including 12 over top-10 teams and 17 on either the road or neutral floor. Last year, MSU went 4-5 against teams in the top-25.
QUICK HITTERS FROM WEDNESDAY (MSU 75, OAKLAND 43)
- The Spartans opened with a 7-2 lead in the first four minutes and never trailed in the game.
- Michigan State maintained a double-digit lead for the entire second half, but put the game away in the final 10 minutes. With 10:20 left, MSU ran off 10-unanswered points to go up 60-36, and extended that run to 18-2 over an 8-minute span.
- The Spartans shot a season-high 56.9% from the field, including a 72.0% mark in the second half.
- Michigan State continued its efficient offense with 18 assists and only 12 turnovers.
- MSU also controlled the glass with a +23 edge in rebounding (43-20), and was +24 (38-14) in points in the paint.
- Klarissa Bell led the way with 16 points and a career-high nine rebounds, while Annalise Pickrel poured in 14 points.
- Bell was 7-for-9 from the field for her 16 points, also adding four assists and a career-high tying two blocks.
- Jasmine Thomas and Becca Mills each chipped in 10 points, combining to go 10-for-13 from the field. Thomas also added four assists, five rebounds and two steals, while Mills grabbed seven rebounds, including four offensive.
- Courtney Schiffauer filled the box score again with nine points, seven rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals.
- Michigan State has won 36 of its last 37 games against in-state schools, including a 21-2 mark under Coach Merchant.
- The Spartans have won 37 straight games when scoring at least 70 points.
- Bell has led MSU in scoring in five of the first seven games, after leading the team just twice in her first two seasons.
- Michigan State improved to 9-4 all-time against Oakland, winning the last five meetings.
- The 32 point margin of victory was the largest in the series between the two schools.
- MSU held Oakland's leading scorer Annemarie Hamlet (13.3 points) to only two points on 1-for-9 shooting. Hamlet entered the game ranking fifth in the nation with a 59.4% 3-point percentage, but was 0-for-5 tonight.
- Oakland set a single-game home attendance record with 2,635 fans.
The Spartans are off to their best start in program history, having won their first eight games of the season. Previously, the 1999-00 held the mark with a 7-0 start. MSU is currently the only undefeated Big Ten team and one of 18 in the nation, along with Dayton.
The Spartans have not trailed since the early minutes against Albany on Nov. 21, a span of 197:38 minutes. For the season, Michigan State has been behind for a total of 5:19 minutes.
The key to the Spartan success so far this season as been their ability to defend. Michigan State leads the nation, allowing only 41.4 points per game. The 331 points that MSU has allowed in its first seven games are the third fewest all-time to begin the season, and the fewest since the addition of the 3-point line in 1987-88. The two lowest marks happened in the first two seasons - 1973-74 and 1972-73.
MSU has held four of its first eight opponents below 40 points. It already ties for the second most game under 40 points in a season, trailing only the 1973-74 team (nine times). Entering this season, the Spartans had only held 32 opponents under 40 points in the first 1,124 games of the program.
Against Virginia Tech (Nov. 18) and Albany (Nov. 21), Michigan State allowed only 64 points combined. The total tied the sixth-fewest allowed in back-to-back games in program history. The five lowest totals were all during the 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons.
Last Thursday, NC State entered the game, ranking 13th in the nation, averaging 80.1 points per game, and the Spartans held them 29.1 points below their average. MSU has limited its last six opponents to well-below their season averages (Robert Morris - 18.5 points below, Albany 24.5, Virginia Tech - 24, NC State 29.1, Milwaukee 17.5, Oakland 21.7).
LOCKING DOWN THE LEADER
Michigan State has been especially effective in shutting down the opposing team's leading scorer. Each players has been held below their scoring average by a combined margin of 7.1 points per game. The players have also combined to shoot 28.2% (24-for-85) from the field. On Wednesday, MSU held Oakland's leading scorer Annemarie Hamlet (13.3 points) to 2 points on 1-for-9 shooting, including 0-for-5 from behind the arc.
GUARDING THE ARC
For the third game in a row, one of the keys to Saturday's game will be the Spartans' ability to defend the 3-point line. Dayton is 11th in the nation with 8.2 3-pointers made per game and 30th in the country with a 36.8% mark. MSU's last two opponents entered the game top-20 in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage, and the Spartans were able to hold them in check. Oakland went 5-for-16 (31.3%), while Milwaukee was 5-for-29 (17.2%).
Michigan State leads the Big Ten and is top-25 in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage defense (23.5%), while allowing only 28 3-pointers (3.5 per game) all season. Over the last five games, MSU opponents have combined to shoot 20.2% (17-for-84) from 3-point range.
LIMITING THE MISTAKES
Over Coach Merchant's first five seasons in East Lansing, the Spartans have struggled with turnovers, averaging 17.6 per game. However, early on in the 2012-13 season, Michigan State has turned the ball over only 12.0 times a game, which leads the Big Ten and is third in the country.
The Spartans ability to distribute the ball joined with their low turnover numbers, put them atop the Big Ten and fourth in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4). The starting backcourt of Jasmine Thomas, Klarissa Bell and Annalise Pickrel have led the way, combining for 90 assists compared to only 39 turnovers (2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio), while each averaging over 32 minutes a game. Over her last six games, Thomas has a 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio (42 assists, 14 turnovers), while Pickrel has committed just two turnovers this season in 258 minutes of action. Of late, senior Courtney Schiffauer has added to the success, moving up to fourth in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.1), after posting a 17:5 ratio over the last three games.
KEEPING THEM OUT OF THE BONUS
Coach Merchant has harped early in the season on the importance of keeping the opponent off the free throw and out of the bonus. So far, the Spartans have listened to their head coach, committing only 11.3 fouls per game, ranking sixth in the nation, and allowing only 8.8 free throw attempts per outing.
STEPPING IT UP
Growing up in East Lansing and being named Michigan's Miss Basketball as a high school senior, brought about high expectations for Klarissa Bell. However, through her first 48 games as a Spartan, she struggled to find a role and a spot on the floor. Bell averaged just 2.2 points, 1.8 rebounds and 0.6 assists in 10.2 minutes during that time. However, she was inserted in the starting lineup on Jan. 29 (vs. Penn State) and started the final 11 games last year. As a starter, including the first eight games this year, Bell is averaging 11.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 32.9 minutes.
So far this season, Bell has stepped up as the team's offensive leader, leading the team with 15.4 points, ranking 11th in the Big Ten. She also ranks among the top-15 in the conference in minutes (fourth, 35.9), field goal percentage (seventh, 52.7%), assist-to-turnover ratio (eighth, 1.7), assists (10th, 4.0), 3-point field goal percentage (12th, 40.0%), rebounds (15th, 6.3) and 3-point field goals made (15th, 1.5).
Bell is currently the only player in the Big Ten to average at least 16 points, six rebounds and four assists. If she was able to keep up that pace, no Spartan has ever averaged those marks in a single season.
Bell has increased her scoring 11.3 points from last season (4.1 ppg in 2011-12), which is currently the best improvement in Spartan history and the largest increase from last year among Big Ten scorers.
Bell has set career highs in points three times already this season - in each of the first two games, pouring in 19 points vs. UT Arlington and 20 at Eastern Michigan, and then posting 21 points at NC State. In the opener vs. UTA, became the first Spartan in over 11 years (Kristen Rasmussen at Cincinnati on March 18, 2000 - 22 points, eight rebounds, six assists) to reach at least 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists in a game, and also the first MSU player to lead the team in points, rebounds and assists in the same game since Lykendra Johnson vs. Ohio State on Feb. 23, 2011.
An uncertain role for her senior season awaited Jasmine Thomas as the 2011-12 season came to a close. Thomas was replaced as the starting point guard by Kiana Johnson by the end of the season, and managed to average only 5.0 points and 1.8 assists, while shooting 33.9% from the field, in 21.4 minutes. However, a nine-game suspension for Johnson to begin this season, opened the door for Thomas to step up as the team's leader in her final season.
Thomas has done just that on both ends of the floor, ranking second on the team with 11.9 points, having scored in double figures in all eight games, while leading the team with 5.5 assists and 2.1 steals. She ranks fourth in Big Ten and 31st in the nation in assists, while placing eighth in the conference in steals. Turnovers had been an issue for Thomas, maintaining a negative assist-to-turnover ratio over her first three seasons (160 assists, 183 turnovers), but this season, she is second in the league and is 25th in the nation with a 2.4 a:to margin. More impressively, over the last seven games, she has 42 assists and just 14 turnovers (3.0 a:to). Thomas has done all of this, while playing 36.4 minutes, which is second in the conference.
PICK AND POP
Junior Annalise Pickrel got her first career start in the opener vs. UT Arlington, and has proved in the first eight games that she belongs in that role. The 6-3 forward is averaging 11.9 points, including a career high 18 points in the opener, while dishing out 1.8 assists per game, and committing just two turnovers all year. Pickrel has already topped her point and assist totals of last season.
More importantly, Pickrel has become a threat from behind the 3-point line. She is 19-for-45 (.422) from 3-point so far this season, after making only 19 in her first two seasons (59 games) and shooting 30.2%. Her 2.4 3-pointers a game is sixth in the Big Ten, while her 3-point field goal percentage is 11th in the conference. With the graduation of three seniors, and the early season suspension of Kiana Johnson, the Spartans needed someone to step up from behind the arc. Those four accounted for 70.0% of MSU's made 3-pointers in 2011-12.
DOING ALL THE DIRTY WORK
Senior Courtney Schiffauer may not get all the recognition, but has been a vital part of the early season success for Michigan State. Having moved in and out of the starting lineup throughout her Spartan career, she has finally solidified her spot in the starting five this season. Her numbers have been solid across the board this year with 7.1 points, a team-best 6.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game, while compiling a 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Her distribution of the ball has increase immensely over the last three games, averaging 5.7 assists during the span, including setting career highs in each game, after averaging 0.9 assists through her first 96 games as a Spartan.
Schiffauer has also become a threat behind the arc from the 4 position. She is 12th in the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage at 40.0% (8-for-20). Over the last two seasons, she was only 17-for-79 (21.5%).
FINDING A RHYTHM
Sophomore Becca Mills struggled offensively over the first five games of the season, but has turned it on of late, providing another weapon for the Spartan offense. Mills entered the season as MSU's top returning scorer (7.2 points) and rebounder (4.3), but was forced to move from the 4 to the 5 position due to Madison Williams' season-ending injury. It took her some time to adjust, as Mills averaged 7.2 points and shot just 26.2% (11-for-42) from the field and 25.0% (2-for-8) from 3-point range in the first five games. Since then, a span of three games, Mills is averaging 10.7 points and shooting 70.0% (14-for-20) from the field, including a 3-for-3 mark from the 3-point line in 19.7 minutes
Sophomore Jasmine Hines came to East Lansing as Michigan's high school career points and rebounds record holder. Thrust into a large role than expected as a freshman due to Madison Williams' season-ending injury, Hines was productive when she was on the floor. In only 10.3 minutes per game, she averaged 5.1 points and 2.5 rebounds, while shooting a team-best 54.2%.
Again a season-ending injury to Williams will increase her playing time this season. In the first eight games, Hines is averaging 10.3 points and 4.4 rebounds in only 19.5 minutes, while shooting 54.8% from the field, which is fourth in the Big Ten. MSU is 8-0 when she reaches double-digit points in her career.
NATIONAL STAT LEADERS
The second NCAA statistical report came out on Monday, and the Spartans were among the national leaders in many statistical categories. Michigan State led the country in points allowed with 41.4 per game, ahead of the rest of the nation by 2.2 points per game (Connecticut, 43.6). The Spartans were also third in fewest turnovers (12.0), fourth in field goal percentage defense (.292), fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4), sixth in fewest fouls (11.7), seventh in scoring margin (+29.0), 16th in field goal percentage (.464), 21st in rebound margin (+10.0), 22nd in assists (17.1) and 3-point field goal percentage defense (.223).
In head coach Suzy Merchant's tenure, when two numbers on the scoreboard were achieved it typically has been a sign of a MSU win. When the Spartans have scored at least 70 points, their record is 55-4 (93.1%), including winning their last 37 games, while when they hold opponents to 60 points or less, their record is 96-8 (92.3%).
CRASHING THE BOARDS
Michigan State led the Big Ten for the third time in four seasons in rebound margin (+6.3), which was 22nd in the nation. The Spartans have been top-40 in the country in rebound margin each of the last four seasons, getting as low as ninth nationally in 2010-11. This season, MSU leads the Big Ten and is top-20 in the NCAA with a +11.6 rebound margin. MSU has out-rebounded 55 of its last 66 opponents. The Spartans have outrebounded three of its last four opponents by at least 20 rebounds a game, averaging a +16.8 margin during that span.
CLOSING IT OUT
The Spartans have been extremely effective closing out games over the last couple years, winning 64 of their last 65 games when leading with five minutes left, including an 18-1 mark last season and a 8-0 record so far in 2012-13. In Coach Merchant's tenure, Michigan State is 106-5 (95.5%) when holding a lead with five minutes left.
GETTING TO THE LINE
A common theme between Michigan State's wins and losses last season was its ability to get to the free throw line. In the wins, MSU shot 395 free throws (19.8 a game), in comparison to 13.5 a game in the losses (162 total). In its 20 wins, MSU is +66 in free throw attempts (+3.3 a game), while -98 (-8.2) in the 12 losses.
MSU has shot 40 more free throws than its opponent (110-to-70) over the first eight games this season. The Spartans have been 50-5 (90.9%) over the last four seasons when attempting more free throws than their opponent, including a 7-0 record this season and a 12-3 mark last season.
ON THIS DATE
Michigan State is 6-2 all-time on December 8.