Jaren Jackson Jr. helped lead a strong defensive effort against the North Florida Ospreys as the Michigan State Spartans rolled to an easy win in their first game of the season.
Jackson Jr., the 6-foot-11-inch power forward out of Indiana, finished his first collegiate game with 13 points, 13 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 assists and 2 steals, showing some nerves on offense but enough tools on defense to make NBA scouts salivate at the thought of him anchoring their defense. Jackson Jr. only had two made field goals off six attempts, but went 9-of-10 from the free throw line to register a double-double in an easy win.
Jackson Jr., the son of former NBA player Jaren Jackson, got the start alongside Nick Ward in the frontcourt, and didn’t take long to make his impact felt in the game defensively. Naismith Award contender Miles Bridges rejected Osprey guard Garrett Sams, and then Jackson Jr. sent the ball back for good after Sams grabbed the loose shot and put up a shot. That would be the first of three blocks in the first half, as the Ospreys struggled to get shots over the energetic freshman.
Jackson’s length and athleticism were on full display when he was on the court, bounding out to the perimeter to contest 3-point shot attempts and skying for defensive rebounds. Jackson was impressive with his ability to keep his hands up high, ready to explode for a block, while staying light on his feet to track guards on drives into the paint. Big men in the NBA are being asked to switch onto guards more and more frequently, and if Jackson Jr. is able to develop that talent under Tom Izzo, he is going to make a NBA coach very happy some day.
Jackson Jr. missed his first couple of field goal attempts, showing some nerves that come with playing in your first game at the collegiate level. Naturally, his first bucket came as a result of great defense that translated into an easy dunk following a steal.
Jackon Jr. had a ferocious move in the post that got called off for an offensive foul, slamming his shoulder into his defender to create space and then powering up for a two-handed dunk. He got another chance on the next possession, finishing a two-handed jam off a nice dish from Bridges in transition to reach double-digits in scoring.
Jackson Jr. showed off his vision as well, setting up his teammate Xavier Tillman on a great high-low pass with 7:47 left in the second half, dropping the ball from the 3-point line over an Osprey defender who was fronting Tillman in the post. Jackson Jr. finished with three assists, just another flavor of his game that he was able to demonstrate.
Once Jackson Jr. shakes off the nerves that come with playing on the big stage that comes with being the No. 2 ranked team in the country, he should be an X-factor for a team that has their eyes set on a Final Four appearance.
This will be an interesting season for Jackson Jr. and the Spartans. They have a deep team, but tantalizing athleticism and defensive tools could lead to a healthy amount of minutes for the freshman big. He may not put up big offensive numbers, because the Spartans offense is going to go through Bridges, Cassius Winston, Nick Ward, and Jeremy Langford. Winston should be able to get Jackson Jr. plenty of good looks, and he’ll benefit from the attention his teammates draw.
It’ll be important to evaluate Jackson Jr. on things that he can control when he’s on the court — his footwork, awareness, and patience when setting screens, his ability to get offensive rebounds, and his form when he spots up behind the 3-point line. On defense, he’ll have to do his homework to digest the scouting report and stay disciplined.
Jackson Jr. and Bridges will have a much more difficult matchup in their next game when Coach K, Marvin Bagley III and the Duke Blue Devils travel to Chicago to play in the State Farm Champions Classic on Tuesday, Nov. 14.