On to the Sweet Sixteen. Michigan State knocks out Pittsburgh, 65-54. Unofficial box score.
Early on, it looked like MSU might come out on the wrong side of some early fouls. Morgan and Naymick both picked up two fouls and had to sit out the rest of the first half. But Neitzel’s 3-point shooting and Suton’s work inside kept us in the game through the first 20 minutes, while Pittsburgh struggled to create quality shots.
Michigan State went on an 8-0 run to start the second half. That 10-point lead was eliminated by Pitt over the next 7 minutes, but MSU pulled back ahead–fueled by an 8-point scoring spurt by Neitzel over a two-and-a-half minute span–to win pretty comfortably in the last couple minutes.
- MSU won the battle of the boards. They gathered 10 offensive rebounds in 27 opportunities for a healthy 37.0% offensive rebounding %. But the real work came on the defensive end, where they pulled down 27 of Pitt’s 36 misses for a stellar 75.0% defensive rebounding % against one of the top ten offensive rebounding teams in the country. Suton led the way with 9 rebounds, and Naymick chipped in 7 defensive rebounds–many of them in traffic.
- Neitzel (21), Lucas (19), and Suton (14) all played to their strengths on offense. Neitzel hits 5 of 8 three-pointers, most of the contested looks. Lucas used his quickness to convert in transition and with the shot clock running down. Suton used his length to create scoring opportunities over the shorter Pitt defenders, converting 7 of 11 FG attempts. The efficiency of this trio was enough to offset the fact that Morgan (4 points on 4 FG attempts) could never get into a rhythm.
- Let us not forget the contributions of Idong Ibok. For as awkward as he looked when he tried to score, he gave this team 13 tough minutes on a night that needed them, pulling down 3 offensive rebounds in the process.
- 14 turnovers in 61 possessions (23.0%) for MSU. There were a few too many bad turnovers again, but the rebounding and scoring efficiency were enough to offset them. Walton turned it over 3 times as he struggled with several double teams. I hate to pick on him tonight, but the offense really bogged down when he was running the show. Even when he managed to drive to the hoop, it took too long to develop and his shot was blocked. His defense remains a strength, but he also picked up some bad fouls that led to additional Pitt free throws. He may be overcompensating for his offensive struggles by playing a little too physically on defense.
- On the defensive end, MSU never really let Pitt get in a rhythm. Pitt made just 2 of 17 three-point attempts (.118) and 15 of 35 two-point attempts (.429). Take away Levance Field’s 6-12 FG shooting, and the rest of the team made just 11 of their 40 FG attempts (.275). Hard to say how much of the shooting woes were a function of Pitt being worn out from playing their 6th game in 11 days. The Pitt big men missed a number of close looks inside and the perimeter players missed badly on several jumpshots where it appeared they just didn’t have their legs under them. But MSU made sure they didn’t get many clean looks, either.
- Pitt stayed in the game on offense by using their quickness to create free throw attempts. And they made 18 of their 19 FT attempts (.947).
As good as Neitzel and Lucas were, combining to score 20 of MSU’s final 25 points, I’m going to name Suton the Spartans Weblog Player of the Game. Not only did he assert himself on offense, he also managed to hold Sam Young to 15 points on 4-12 FG shooting. That’s fairly remarkable, as Young clearly had a massive quickness advantage. I did note that the other MSU defenders were hedging a bit toward Young to cut off his driving lanes. I thought Izzo would go small more, but he played two big men for all but 7 minutes of the game, choosing to exert the Spartans’ will on Pitt, rather than reacting to their athletic advantage in the frontcourt. It worked.
A gutsy team performance tonight, with 10 players seeing at least 5 minutes. (Gray made the most of his 5 minutes, by the way, defending Young well and making a nice pass to Naymick for a dunk.) They needed a little more one-on-one play on offense tonight than usual (only 12 assists on 25 FG makes), and Neitzel, Lucas, and Suton all came up big–scoring 54 of MSU’s 65 points. And they forced Pitt to be even more reliant on individual plays–just 4 assists for the Panthers.
MSU will play the Memphis-Mississippi State winner Friday night. You can scout at least some of that game at 4:45 Sunday afternoon. The other games in that time slot are Louisville-Oklahoma and UNC-Arkansas. Hopefully, CBS forgoes the big ACC name in favor of the game of direct interest to us. Kenpom predicts a 72-62 Memphis win, so you might want to focus a bit more on scouting the Tigers.
Big Ten Update
The conference sports a 5-2 record in the tournament, with the Badgers also advancing to the Sweet Sixteen by beating Kansas State handily. Purdue, meanwhile, fought valiantly but couldn’t keep up with Xavier in the end.
Note that the purportedly defensive-oriented Big Ten has actually been better on the offensive end now that they’re playing teams outside the conference. In all 7 tournament games they’ve played, Big Ten teams have scored at least 1.00 points per possession. It was defense that did IU and Purdue in, as they gave up 1.26 and 1.12 points per possession to their opponents, respectively.
And the 7 games involving Big Ten games have averaged a whopping 68 possessions per game. Apparently, Big Ten teams can run a bit. We should try this is conference play some time!