Wisconsin dismantles Michigan State, 57-42. Unofficial box score here.
It’s almost as if Ken Pomeroy drew up the defensive game plan for Wisconsin. They refused to give MSU any clean looks from 3-point range all game. They had only a handful of breakdowns leading to easy MSU looks around the basket. They forced MSU to take mid-range jumpshots. And MSU didn’t make nearly enough of them. Players not named Goran made just 13 of 45 FG attempts tonight: 28.9%.
But let’s step back for one moment and look at the positives from this game:
- MSU only turned it over 6 times in a roughly 53-possession game (11.3%).
- They forced Wisconsin to take difficult shots for most of the game, holding them to 11-33 shooting on 2-point attempts (33.3%).
- They got the best of the rebounding, pulling down 37 rebounds to Wisconsin’s 31.
But Wisconsin countered by being nearly perfectly stingy with the ball–turning it over just 1 time for the entire 40 minutes. I don’t necessarily think that the Spartan defenders are to blame. Clearly, the game plan was to play active help defense to prevent open looks for the Badger shooters. And it worked. Wisconsin simply didn’t make any mental errors on offense.
And they hit 3-pointers when they needed them. They shot 8-16 from beyond the arc. Again, I’m hesitant to blame MSU’s defense. Four of the makes were by Brian Butch. Three of them were on picks up top where the MSU big man hedged toward the ball-handler and Butch took a pass and knocked down the jumper. That’s how MSU guards picks up top. Maybe Izzo should have changed the defensive tactic, but I don’t blame the defenders. Butch came into the game having made just 27.5% of his 3-point attempts on the season.
In the end, it comes down to being able to create and convert high percentage shots. And MSU wasn’t able to. Lucas and Suton were the only two players willing and/or able to attack the basket. They kept MSU close for most of the game, but eventually a team making 3-pointers is going to pull away from a team scratching out decent 2-point attempts. The ten and a half minute stretch spanning the two halves when Wisconsin only scored 4 points was perhaps the ultimate cause of MSU’s demise, as they only scored 6 points over the same time period, missing a number of good looks that could have tied the game or given them the lead.
MSU again spent way too much time passing the ball around the perimeter with no purpose. I thought the ball should have been in Lucas’ hands to try to create off the dribble more, but the stomach virus he picked up earlier in the week may have limited how much of the offensive burden he could shoulder. And he did end up taking 13 shots, making just 5 of them.
It was a terrible night for Drew Neitzel, who scored just 3 points on 1-10 shooting. Michael Flowers played him as well as a defender possibly could. By the time Neitzel started to get a few decent looks late in the game, he was completely out of rhythm. For the first time I can recall in the six years I’ve been watching him play, he looked completely shaken of his confidence in the final few minutes.
Goran Suton did everything within his powers to give MSU a shot at this game. 14 points and 15 rebounds. But he only had so much energy (witness the tugging of his jersey to signal he needed a break midway through the first half), and the second-chance points evaporated in the second half.
As much as MSU stuggled tonight, they stayed within 4 points of a very good team in a very tough place to play for 31 minutes. But Wisconsin was simply the better team down the stretch, maintaining their offensive poise as MSU ran out of energy and any remaining confidence.
That’s all I’ve got on this one. I hope the team is able to shake this one off quickly and not dwell on it. There’s still a chance to beat a top-15 team at home on Sunday, finish the regular season with road wins against two teams that are struggling, and put together a good showing in the conference tournament.