After a lackluster performance against Connecticut to open the season, Michigan State is faced with another challenge on Tuesday against No. 7 Kansas.
The Spartans' defensive performance, particularly in the paint, will be vital against the Jayhawks at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Kansas is coming off a 74-55 victory over Southeast Missouri State. Senior center Jeff Withey posted 17 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in the win, proving to be a difference-maker on the low post.
Michigan State, despite a rough beginning complete with defensive lapses against Connecticut, has the personnel to limit Withey and potentially limit the Jayhawks.
Big men Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne play the kind of post defense that makes life tough on opponents, and Kansas coach Bill Self is well aware of Michigan State's interior defense.
Self said, via ESPN:
This is going to be a process and Michigan State is not going to let you get to three feet (from the basket). You're going to have to do something to get to three feet and based on what I have seen so far, we are just not aggressive.
If the Michigan State defense collapses on Withey and forward Perry Ellis, Kansas guards Elijah Johnson and Ben McLemore must shoot better. They combined to go 4-of-13 from the field against Southeast Missouri State, including 0-of-7 from downtown.
The Spartans don't figure to score a whole lot of points this season (they averaged 71.6 points per game last season, 85th in the country), so it should once again come down to the team's defense.
After allowing opponents to shoot just 37.9 percent from the floor last season (second in the nation), Michigan State let Connecticut shoot 46 percent last Friday. That included giving up 40 points to the Huskies in the first half.
The Spartans can not come out and miss defensive rotations against the Jayhawks like they did against Connecticut in the first half—or it's not going to be pretty.
Nix and Payne, along with the rest of the Spartans, must be ready to assert their will on the defensive side of the ball on Tuesday night.