Updated: Nov 17
The Butler Bulldogs have started the season 3-0 and looked pretty darn good doing so. That said, the real tests start now, as the Bulldogs travel to the Breslin Center to take on the #18 (#15 in our House Poll) Michigan State Spartans. Let’s see how ready these Bulldogs are for this test!
Where To Watch: FS1
Time: Friday Night at 6:30
Spread: Michigan State -10 (expected to win by 10 points)
Location: East Lansing, Michigan
Michigan State’s Start to the Season
Michigan State was the victim of the biggest day one upset this year, as the James Madison Dukes (Sun Belt favorites, and a really good team) went into the Breslin Center and knocked off Michigan State in overtime. The Spartans rebounded with a win over Southern Indiana, but didn’t look as flawless as their preseason #4 ranking would indicate.
The Spartans were the third-ranked three-point shooting team in the country a season ago at 39.3%, but through their first two games, they were 2/31 from beyond the arc. The loss of Joey Hauser (Marquette transfer, 46% from deep) certainly hurt, but they should still shoot much better than that.
In their Champions Classic Game against Duke, Tyson Walker attempted to will his team to stay competitive, but they were outmatched by an excellent Duke team, falling 74-65. Walker went for 22 and Forward Malik Hall added 18 in the loss.
Scouting the Spartans
Michigan State isn’t going to shoot 16% from three for the entire season. They shot it better against Duke, but still haven’t cracked a 33% threshold from three this season.
Tyson Walker is their star. The PG transferred in from Northeastern for the 2021-22 season, and has been excellent for the Spartans ever since. The fifth-year senior is averaging 23.7PPG in this young season, including a 35-point performance in their loss to JMU. Walker is an efficient scorer at every level and sets up his teammates pretty well. Walker has shot over 40% from beyond the arc in both of his seasons at Michigan State, including an incredible 47.3% in his initial campaign with the Spartans. He’s their leader.
AJ Hoggard and Jaden Akins join him in the backcourt. Both have struggled this season. Hoggard is a downhill guard, he’s best when he gets a head of steam going to the basket. From there, he creates very well for others, leading their team in assists a season ago, at 5.9 assists per game, which ranked twelfth in the country. That said, he also averaged nearly 13PPG last season, and is only at 5PPG this season, shooting 19% from the field and 0/7 from three. Defensively, he's the guy who guards your best offensive guard every time down. He's a very solid two-way guard, whose offense will be better than his output this far into the season.
As for Akins, he’s the leading rebounder for the Spartans this season at 8.7 per game, but much like most of Michigan State’s roster, hasn’t lived up to his scoring potential. He's only shooting 10% from three-point range this season, down from 42.2% a season ago. His rebounding has been huge for the Spartans, and he played his best game of the season against Duke (considering competition), but he’s yet to fully put it together offensively.
Another Spartan who played his best offensive game last time out is Malik Hall. The fifth-year senior has been a fairly consistent producer for the Spartans, averaging 8.9PPG in each of the last two seasons. Hall, a 6’8” F, is not the type of player that will absolutely wow you, but he’s solid in his role and pretty good at everything, but not great at any one skill in particular.
Their bigs are next on this list, and Mady Sissoko is their starting five-man. Sissoko, only standing at 6’9”, is a big-bodied center who’s very physically imposing. He’s really solid defensively, around the rim, though the block numbers don’t reflect it. You can take advantage of him in space, but he’s really effective inside and is a very solid rebounder. His offensive skillset isn’t much more than dunks and layups off of rolls, but when you have the set-up guys that this team does, that’s really all you need.
He also decided to build a school back in Mali with his NIL money, which is absolutely incredible.
Off the bench, Izzo runs Carson Cooper as the backup five, a slower, defensive-minded, low-usage big man, Coen Carr, an incredibly athletic freshman (see below video) and Tre Holloman, a 6’2” sophomore guard. Their starters play the bulk of the minutes (unsurprisingly), and Izzo doesn’t look too deep on his bench. Freshmen Jeremy Fears and Xavier Booker will play spot minutes and are incredibly talented, but haven’t significantly cracked Izzo’s rotation, yet.
If Butler is going to shock the world, it starts with Posh Alexander’s matchup with Tyson Walker. If Alexander can contain Walker and take him out of the game for stretches, Michigan State’s offense could really struggle. Walker is the engine that drives this team, and if he’s not on his A-Game, it could take everyone else out of rhythm. Of course, that is significantly easier said than done, because Walker is an All-American level talent.
I don’t imagine Michigan State continues to shoot 16% from three on the season, that said, if Butler can contain their three-point shooting and make them keep missing from beyond the arc, we’ve got a game. Butler’s swarming defense has been excellent through three games, but will that hold true against the significant offensive upgrade that Michigan State brings to the table?
Butler’s three-point defense on the season ranks 39 in the country and their two-point percentage defense ranks a stunning SECOND nationally. Opposing teams have really struggled to score on this Butler defense. Michigan State has three veteran, experienced guards, how will Butler's pressure defense fare against them? Can the Bulldogs keep Hoggard out of the lane and contain Walker? If they take Walker out of the game, can another Spartan step up?
On the other end for Butler, how does Pierre Brooks look against his former team? On one hand, he likely knows how Izzo is going to try to guard him, but on the other hand, Izzo saw him in practice every single day for two years, will he have a game plan ready for him?
The Bulldogs have had a balanced scoring effort in every single game this season, can that continue against the Spartans? Butler has four guys averaging between 13.7-11.3 points (Posh and DJ Davis both have 41 points on the season, one single point ahead of Pierre Brooks’ 40), will their balanced scoring be a help in this matchup, or will their lack of an offensive alpha show up late in this game?
The Bulldogs have been remarkably efficient inside the arc, shooting 61.6% from two-point range (ranking 23), and have gotten to the line effectively and converted when they get there. Will they be able to get around a longer, more physical Michigan State defense?
Butler’s offense is able to score from all three areas on the floor (three, free-throw and from two), which has made them much tougher to guard in their first three games. I’m very interested in seeing how it looks against the nationally elite defense that Michigan State brings to the table.
Michigan State presents such a different test to any of Butler’s other opponents. Butler has passed those tests with flying colors, but this game is a significant step up in quality. Don’t overreact to their 1-2 record or their loss to James Madison, this Michigan State team is a great basketball team that will be playing meaningful ball in March. They’re going to be angry after losing to Duke in Chicago.
That said, if you don’t think this Butler team is playing with a chip on their shoulder after being picked to finish tenth in the Big East, you clearly haven’t been paying attention. Let’s be straight up, this team is incredibly confident and they believe they can walk into East Lansing and win this game. These guys are playing with a chip on their shoulder that we haven’t seen in a while. They’re not going to get bullied or be afraid of the moment.
That said, I think this jump in quality will be a little much for the Bulldogs. If this game is close, I’m going to trust the team that has spent years on the court together and the home veterans. These guys have been tested multiple times this season, and I think those tests and that experience will reign supreme in the end.
Butler will put up a fight, but I think the Spartans pull away in this one. This is a very interesting test for Butler, because this is a great opportunity to show how good this team really is. Make no mistake, Butler can win this game, this isn’t a game I’d say they have a 0% chance to win, but I think Michigan State takes it more often than not. This is a proving ground for this Bulldogs squad, let’s see what we learn.
Final Score: Michigan State 72, Butler 68
That said, if we keep saying Butler will win, maybe they just will. Speak it into existence. Dawgs by 100. Dawgs by 100. Dawgs by 100. Manifest it. Go Dawgs.
The spread opened at -8 and within a few hours or so shot up to Michigan State -10. Around this number is where I would consider taking Butler. It's not a particularly confident side, but I think the Dawgs keep this within double digits. There are so many variables at play, but if Michigan State plays to the level that they've played in their first three games, ten points is simply too much. That said, with the number shooting up, the hope is it goes up more, and you can get Butler at a better number at tip time. And if it doesn't, I'm still going to root for the Dawgs. Let's shock the world.