Archive for December, 2007

Last links of 2007

Just did a quick check on bbstate.com ($): MSU’s 31 assists vs. UWGB are tied for the 7th best performance in college basketball this season.  And all the teams ahead of or tied with them scored more points than MSU’s 93–so it was an amazing passing performance relative to scoring output.

Izzo video clip: “I want utopia.”

MSU is up to #6 in both polls, following Dayton’s upset of Pittsburgh.   Wisconsin is back in both top 25’s after beating Texas on the road (without Trevon Hughes, no less).  After MSU/IU/Wisconsin, no Big Ten team received even a single vote in either poll.

Via the Detroit Tigers Weblog (Official Favorite Sports Blog of the Spartans Weblog), check out UM Hoops–the first hoops-only Michigan blog.  Nice to have a Wolverine blog out there not so obsessed with that game with the pointy-ended ball.

As I noted in the previous comment section, I’ve realized this blog will actually be out of commission for the first THREE conference games.  Not the best way to get a sports blog rolling, eh?  But I’ll have some posts up this week before I depart for warmer environs.  Planning to get a numbers-based conference preview up tomorrow or Wednesday.


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4:00 Saturday. Breslin Center. The Phoenix of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Big Ten Network.

This game interrupts a 13-day period between the Texas game last Saturday and the first conference game vs. Minnesota a week from tomorrow. Eight of the 11 Big Ten teams start conference play next Wednesday/Thursday.

UW-Green Bay comes in at 7-4, including a 1-1 mark in the Horizon League. This will be UWGB’s third game on the road against a Big Ten team. They lost to Ohio State 91-68 and to Wisconsin 70-52. MSU beat UWGB 76-64 last season.

UWGB’s tempo-free stat sheet says they’re pretty good on offense and not so good on defense, so this could be a fairly high-scoring affair–for MSU at least. The Phoenix’s opponents have not turned the ball over much (TO%=19.5%) and have shot the ball quite well (eFG%=51.9%). The only area UWGB is at least average in defensively is rebounding the ball (DReb%=67.3%).

On offense, the Phoenix excel at (1) not turning the ball over (TO%=18.5%) and (2) scoring from the the free throw line. They shoot 78.5% from the line, fifth best in the nation. And they get to the line quite frequently. Their free throw rate is 29.4%–50th in the nation. Free throw rate is the one major offensive statistical component I’ve underemphasized to date. It measures free throw attempts as a percentage of field goal attempts. Getting to the line frequently (and making the free throws) can compensate for poor shooting from the field.

Junior Forward Mike Schnchtner leads UWGB in scoring, averaging 18.9 points per game. And his scoring prowess seems to be legit. He’s shooting .565 on 2-pointers, .400 on 3-pointers, and .880 from the line. He shot just 2-13 against Wisconsin, though.

The Sagarin Ratings like MSU by 19 and a half in this one.

In other conference action, Wisconsin travels to Texas to play at noon on ESPN2 tomorrow. This should provide some sense of whether Wisconsin’s defense is the real deal.

As noted in the prior post, the game recap is left in the hands of the comment-section faithful.

Whew. Three posts in one night. You can see why I need a long vacation.

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Due to various leisure-related activities, I’ll be posting game previews–but not game recaps–for the next three MSU games.  I’ll put up a UW-Green Bay preview later tonight, but will then depart the blogosphere until next Tuesday or Wednesday.  I’ll try to get a couple posts up late next week, including a conference preview of some sort.  (Example: MSU/IU good; Iowa/Northwestern bad; not sure about other teams.)

I’ll be out of the country the first week of conference play.  My goal is to post at least minimal game previews for the Minnesota and Purdue games before I leave US soil.

All this leisure should leave me fully charged for nonstop blogging down the stretch as our Spartans make a run for the Big Ten crown.  In the meantime, though, I leave the game recapping in your capable hands, Spartans Weblog Nation.  Have at it.

Here’s another blog, just discovered today, to tide you over in my absence: Happy Valley Hoops.  It’s a Penn State blog, but it’s also an attempt to fill a portion of the crater left by the Big Ten Wonk’s departure.  The content includes statistical ratings of Big Ten players/teams and statistically-based score predictions for Big Ten games.  The number crunching going on there puts this supposedly-statistically-minded blogger to shame.

A few posts of particular interest to Spartan fans:

  • An excellent summary of the four statistical factors of tempo-free basketball analysis.
  • Wisconsin currently ranks above both MSU and IU in the HVH power rankings, on the strength of giving up just 0.76 points per possession on defense.
  • The HVH individual player rating system identifies our own Raymar Morgan as the best all-around player in the conference.


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Cross-sport statistical irony

Just as the MSU basketball team seems to be turning the corner on holding on to the ball, the MSU football team takes a swan dive in the opposite direction.  After turning the ball over only 13 times in 12 regular season games, the Spartans of the gridiron handed it over five times tonight in the Champs Sports Bowl.

Nevertheless, I’m hopeful about the direction of the MSU football program.  They were within a touchdown of winning in all six of their losses this season.   Hopefully, Coach Dantonio finds a way to shore up the defense and turn some of those close losses into wins next year.  The days of the MSU football season serving as a mere prelude to the basketball season (in my mind, at least) may be drawing to a close.

There you go: two full paragraphs of football analysis.  I’m afraid that’s all I’m qualified to offer.

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So we all remember how unbelievably bad our Spartans were at holding on to the ball last season. They gave the ball up on 26.0% of offensive possessions in conference play–worst among any major conference team in either 2006 or 2007. This deficiency was the one thing that held MSU back from being a truly elite offensive team, as they were pretty good at shooting the ball and very good and rebounding it.

Through the first five games of the season, this propensity to cough the ball up didn’t appear to have resolved itself over the offseason. MSU put up offensive TO percentages over 23.0% in four of their first five contests. Since then, I’ve noted that their dismal ranking in this category has slowly improved. So I thought I’d look at the trend in MSU’s offensive TO% over the nonconference season:

msu off to% dec27

As you can see, their performance has clearly improved since the first five games. They’ve kept their offensive TO% under 21.0% in 6 of the subsequent 7 games–including the microscopic 8.8% vs. Texas. (Note to self: Figure out why my calculations–which arrived at 10.4% for the Texas game–differ slightly from kenpom’s.) For the season, MSU’s offensive TO% now stands at 20.7%, good for 106th in the nation (in roughly the top 3rd of Division 1 teams).

Who, in particular, has reduced their turnovers? Basically everyone. But here are the biggest improvements:

  • Gray: 2.8 TO/G in the first five games; 1.1 TO/G in the last seven games
  • Lucas: 2.6; 1.6
  • Suton: 2.0; 1.1
  • Walton: 2.0; 1.4
  • Summers: 1.6; 1.0

(Sorry to resort to conventional stats–but calculating individual tempo-free stats on a game-by-game basis is a bit too arduous.)

So both the primary ball-handlers on the perimeter (Lucas/Walton) and both the scoring threats on the inside (Suton/Gray) have improved substantially. Players are getting comfortable in their roles and running the offense the way Izzo has designed it. (The one guy who’s still turning it over pretty frequently is Raymar Morgan–2.4 TO/G in both sets of games. Giving everything else he’s doing, though, I think we can live with this.)

A piece of this trend may be due to the opponents they’ve played. Missouri is very good at creating turnovers; NC State is not good at all. But the trend is too distinct not to represent real progress. If MSU can maintain a TO% of 20.0% rather than 25.0%, that’s an extra 3.5 scoring opportunites per game in a 70-possession game, which translates to 4-5 points the way MSU shoots and rebounds. That’s the difference between a good team and a great one.

While I had the Excel template set up, I thought I’d go ahead and look at defensive TO%, too. I didn’t expect the results to be nearly as dramatic–but they are:

msu def to% dec27

Historically, MSU has not created a lot of turnovers. Izzo wants them to play solid man-to-man defense, force a tough shot, and get the rebound. Through the first five games, MSU was not creating a lot of turnovers. Their defensive TO% was below 20.0% in all five games. In the following seven games, they’ve been above 20.0% five times–including two games at 30.0% or above.

Part of this trend is simply a matter of how few turnovers they created in the first five games (sort of like bowling a bad score the first time out to increase your handicap). And there aren’t any IPFWs or San Jose States left on the schedule. But the Spartans are showing the ability to use their depth and quickness to harass the other team into giving the ball up. These two players, in particular, have stepped it up on defense:

  • Walton: 0.2 steals/G in the first five games; 1.6 steals/G in the last seven
  • Morgan: 0.4; 1.3

If MSU can sustain both these trends, they are going to be extremely formidable in conference play and beyond. There are few teams in the country that can keep up with MSU if the Spartans are taking shots on 80%+ of their possessions and grabbing 40%+ of the shots they miss. And a hounding perimeter defense that creates turnovers and wears down the opposition could be the frosting on the cake.

Bonus Random Stat: MSU currently ranks dead last in the nation (341st) in 3-point attempts as a percentage of FG attempts. Notably, UNC is also in the bottom ten. The Spartans and Tar Heels prove you don’t have to jack up a lot of 3-pointers to have a high-powered offense. The the two teams rank 7th and 3rd, respectively, in kenpom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric.

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Post-holiday links

Jay Bilas on MSU and Izzo:

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo loves to say that players play, but tough players win. Well, coaches coach, but prepared coaches win, too. While so many coaches do a great job of preparing their teams, it is futile to try to suggest that one guy is the best. But it is impossible to refute that Izzo is one of the most prepared. If you watched the set plays and actions that Izzo ran against Texas’ zone and box-and-one defenses, you saw a well-drilled and well-organized Spartans team. Some may just have seen the final lob look to Marquise Gray on one of Izzo’s sets in the second half, but it was all set up by ball reversal, Drew Neitzel running off a baseline double screen and taking a defender with him, and the middle man being left to guard a flash and a slip. It was beautiful. Michigan State is the real thing this season. The Spartans can be beaten, but they have good talent, they score easier baskets and they defend the elbow and block well. Michigan State can beat anyone out there. And most of it is because of Izzo.

You can watch the video clip of the play Bilas is describing; scroll down to the second video screen in the ESPN.com weekly notebook.

Kalin Lucas is the Rivals.com freshman of the week.

Inside the Hall (an IU blog) is previewing all of the Big Ten basketball teams, from the bottom up. Here’s the Michigan preview.

Check out the College Basketball Chronotope. It’s an IU blog, but his Big Ten power poll of a week ago liked MSU as the #1 team in the conference (by a hair). His tempo-free player ratings judged our own Mr. Suton as the most effective player in the conference, as of two weeks ago.

Luke Winn of SI.com has an interesting piece up on the invention of the breakaway rim. The spring used in the rim was inspired by a similar spring in a John Deere cultivator.

One more Luke Winn link: Mr. Winn moves MSU up to #4 in his power rankings (vs. #7 in the current polls).  He notes that MSU’s offensive rebounding prowess is particularly encouraging in light of the fact that both of MSU’s recent first-round NCAA tournament exits were in years when MSU’s offensive rebounding percentage was mediocre (2006: 33.5%, 2004: 30.5%).  Future project: Determine whether good offensive rebounding makes a team less susceptible to being upset–the theory being that rebounding is less streaky than shooting is.

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A landmark link

The MSNBC Beyond the Arc blog asserts that MSU has vindicated itself from the Grand Valley loss with the Texas win and is now a clear national title contender (along with UCLA and Texas, with whom MSU is now caught in an infinite transitive property-defying superiority loop).

I’ve broken my self-imposed holiday blogging moratorium to post this, as Beyond the Arc blogger Mike Miller was kind enought to link to my game recap.  This is the first appearance of the Spartans Weblog in the mainstream media.  It’s a Christmas miracle!

Of additional note: Mr. Miller points out that, despite Izzo’s reputation for being a defensive-minded coach, MSU has actually been better on the offensive end than the defensive end the last several years.  I’d argue this team is more Izzoesque than the 2004-2006 teams, though, as the biggest factor in their offensive aptitude has been offensive rebounding–which, even more than lockdown defense, is the calling card of great Izzo teams.

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