UConn could struggle down low vs MSU

When the Michigan State Spartans and Connecticut Huskies open up the season today, the Huskies will have their hands full.

Highest Offensive Rebound Percentage
Big Ten Last Season

Michigan State has an imposing duo down low of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix along with small forward Branden Dawson. Does UConn have the manpower to compete with the Spartans around the basket?

Payne, Nix and Dawson all ranked in the top eight of the Big Ten last season in offensive rebound percentage. Dawson, who grabbed 13.3 percent of available offensive rebounds, led the conference.

The Spartans led the Big Ten in offensive rebound percentage and points in the paint per game last season.

UConn ranked 284th in the country in defensive rebound percentage last season. The Huskies lost their top two (Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi) and four of their top five defensive rebounders by percentage.

On the other end of the court, Payne led the Big Ten in block percentage -- he blocked 6.9 percent of opponents' field-goal attempts while he was on the court -- and Dawson ranked eighth.

UConn doesn’t have much down low. Their four returning frontcourt players -- Enosch Wolf, DeAndre Daniels, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander -- combined for eight post-up points last season. And all four of those players drew fewer than three fouls per game, so getting the MSU big men into foul trouble may be a difficult task.

If the Huskies won't be able to compete around the basket, how will they compete with the Spartans?

UConn will rely heavily on their backcourt trio of Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier and freshman Omar Calhoun. Boatright and Napier each took more than 20 percent of the Huskies' shots when they were on the court last season.

Fewest Points per Play AllowedBig Ten Last Season

Keith Appling will be the key defensively for the Spartans. He'll be responsible for matching up with one of those guards. Last season, Appling held opponents below 30 percent shooting. Appling, Nix and Dawson were all in the top five in the Big Ten in fewest points per play allowed among the 82 players to defend at least 100 plays.

Of the 125 players nationally to defend at least 250 plays last season, Appling held opponents to the 12th-fewest points per play.

The combination of the Spartans' size and talent down low and their defense will make Kevin Ollie's debut an uphill battle for UConn.