First, a final rankings update:
- The final coaches’ poll puts us at 13th, up from 20th in the pre-tournament poll. (I don’t think the AP does a post-tournament poll.) The voters probably weight tournament performance a bit too heavily. Despite making the Sweet Sixteen, Wisconsin dropped from #5 to #10, implying their regular season performance was only three spots better than MSU’s.
- Sagarin and Kenpom both have us at #15. And they both have Wisconsin at #5.
- Looking ahead to next season already, Luke Winn pegs MSU at #12. Andy Katz has them at #22. I think MSU has a slightly better chance of improving next year than declining from this season’s results, so I’d lean toward Winn’s ranking. Katz points to the loss of Neitzel’s ability to bail out the offense, but that role fell to Lucas as the season progressed. Note the lofty expectations for Purdue (#4/8). Mr. Winn goes so far as to toss out the word “hegemony” with regards to the Boilermakers’ prospects over the next several seasons.
- Update: Fox Sports’ Jeff Goodman is REALLY high on the Spartans’ prospects for next season–ranking them second in the nation behind UNC. I’d say that’s excessively optimistic. Roe is going to be a great player, but no one thinks he’s going to have a Carmelo-like impact as a freshman. Goodman has Purdue at #7. The Boilermakers’ prospects may drop slightly after the news that Scott Martin is transferring out of the program. As noted by Boiled Sports, this is a somewhat bizarre move given his friendship with Robbie Hummel and the prospects for the team over the next couple years. According to BoilerBrewer, the Official Purdue Correspondent of the Spartans Weblog, “The word on Martin is that he knew that he would never get significant minutes behind Hummel at the #3, and he didn’t want to bulk up enough to play the #4.”
Now to the season review content. I’ve already done the team-edition review. In terms of individual players, I’ve spoken my peace about our two departing seniors. And I’ve already had more then enough to say about Goran Suton, so I’ll resists the urge to pontificate more about his many statisctical virtues.
The goal is to take a look at the performance of the remaining MSU players over this past season in a series of posts over the next several weeks. We’ll start with the two points guards: Walton and Lucas. I’ve broken out each player’s stats into four segments of the 2007-08 season: the 13 nonconference games, the two 9-game halves of the conference regular season, and the 5 postseason games MSU played. In Walton’s case, I’ve also included his stats for the 2006-07 season for comparison.
(You’ll note these are conventional stats, rather than tempo-free ones. Two reasons: (1) It takes a lot more work than I’m willing to do to compute individual tempo-free stats for multiple sets of games within a season and (2) the main advantage of individual tempo-free stats is controlling for pace and minutes played–both of which are fairly constant for most players on a single team in the course of one season.)
Here’s Walton’s data:
- With the arrival of Lucas, Walton’s playing time decreased substantially from last season–about 9 minutes per game.
- His nonscoring stats (assists, turnovers, steals) all were reduced correspondingly.
- His scoring stats, meanwhile, plummeted. His 2-point shooting percentage dropped by 8 points. And his per-game scoring production dropped by nearly 50%. Walton had only one game this season in which he scored in double digits (12 points in the win against BYU). He had basically stopped even trying to score by postseason play, attempting a total of only 8 shots in the 5 games. One series in the Memphis game illustrated his almost complete unwillingness to shoot the ball: He made three consecutive entry passes to Suton in the post, only for Suton to have to pass it back to him because his man immediately doubled down and Walton wouldn’t shoot the open 15-18 foot jumpshot.
- One tends to forget that Walton was actually a decent 3-point shooter last season. He made 13 of 39 attempts (33.3%) during the 2006-07 season. He didn’t make a single 3-pointer this season, going 0 for 7.
- Perhaps more disconcerting than the decline in scoring production is the negative trend in Walton’s ball-handling stats over the length of the season. His assist/turnover ratio steadily declined from 3.2 in the nonconference season to 1.7 in postseason play. On several occasions in the NCAA tournament, opponents appeared to trap him on purpose, as he had lost the necessary confidence to beat a trap with the dribble. He turned the ball over at least twice in all of MSU’s final 7 games.
Travis Walton is, by all accounts, Tom Izzo’s kind of player. Michael Rosenberg on Walton and Suton:
Walton is such the opposite of Suton, he might as well change his last name to Notus. Walton left the womb in a defensive stance. He became a captain as a sophomore. He has a tattoo on his right wrist that reads GRIND NOW and one on his left wrist that reads SHINE LATER.
Walton is so competitive, he often gets angry after the Spartans win, just because he thinks they could have played better. Suton sometimes thinks, as he puts it: “Even after a loss, we did everything right, and we just lost.”
This is not good for domestic harmony.
“We get into it at times when I’m mad,” Walton said. “I tell him, ‘You need to bring more intensity.’ That really ain’t him. But at the same time, we can’t have him being him.
There’s no doubt Walton is tough, competitive, intense, and a natural leader. Those are all good things. But, ultimately, if those things don’t translate into production, they’d don’t mean a lot. Walton, of course, brings a number of things to the table that don’t translate to stats–his defensive abilities, in particular, which landed him on the all-Big Ten defensive team. At times late in the year, though, it seemed like Walton was playing defense too aggressively to try to offset his lack of offensive production and picked up some bad fouls in the process.
Simply stated, Walton has to regain some semblance of offensive confidence going into next season. We know he’s going to be on the floor for 20-25 minutes per game. MSU can’t afford to play short-handed on offense for half the game. The good news is (1) we know Walton has the ability to make a decent percentage of outside shots (his continued 70+ FT shooting % indicates he’s got a decent shooting stroke) and (2) I’m sure that Walton is as acutely aware of this as anyone and will do everything in his power to be ready to contribute more on offense next year.
Now to Lucas’s stats:
- As the season went on, Izzo slowly increased Lucas’s playing time. Lucas played 27 or more minutes in 8 of MSU’s final 9 games.
- In postseason play, Lucas became a bigger part of the offense, taking more shots than any Spartan other than Neitzel (who took 13.4 shots per game in those 5 games). And it didn’t result in a reduction in scoring efficiency, as he made 44.0% of his 2-point attempts in those 5 games. His 44.5% 2-point shooting percentage for the season isn’t stellar on its face, unless you consider the number of shots he had take late in the shot clock when the MSU’s offense stalled out.
- He took fewer 3-point shots at the season progressed, but made a higher percentage of them. If he can shoot a high percentage next season taking a couple more attempts per game, that will make his quickness that much more of an asset to create scoring opportunities going to the basket.
- His turnovers per game jumped a bit as he adjusted to Big Ten play but improved down the stretch. He gave up the ball more than two times in just one his last 11 games.
- His assists stats dropped by about one per game from nonconference play to conference play and never rebounded. The next step in his development will be to use his penetration to create scoring opportunities for his teammates.
I find I don’t have much to say about Lucas’s defense. I can’t say he ever stood out as a big liability or asset defensively. His steal numbers weren’t very high for a player with his quickness. Izzo generally doesn’t want his players to take risks on defense, but Lucas may become the exception to that rule as his career progresses.
For as many seasons as Lucas is a Spartan going forward, this will be his team. (Sidebar: I think Lucas has NBA potential, but I’m not terribly worried he’ll go pro early. I think any player of his height is going to have to overcome a certain amount of skepticism from NBA executives.) He demonstrated the ability to dominate in an up-tempo game early in the season with his coming out party in the Texas game (18 points, 6 assists). By the end of the season, he proved he could score in a half-court game, too. He scored 18 points vs. Wisconsin in the conference tournament and 19 vs. Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament.
Lucas is the first point guard Izzo has had since Cleaves with the ability to completely take over a game. Taylor, Hill, and Neitzel were all very good players, but were outside shooters by nature. If Lucas can build on a very good freshman season and consistently make good decisions with the ball next year, he may be the player that allows Izzo to scale back his scripted offense to a certain degree and give MSU more scoring flexibility against good defenses (see, for example, Lucas’s ability to score in West Lafayette when Purdue had completely disrupted MSU’s set plays).
Point guard will be MSU’s strongest position going into next season, with incoming freshman Korie Lucious adding depth at the position. That’s a good thing (as compared to, say, having to play Alan Anderson at point guard) and a reason to be optimistic about next year’s team.