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Archive for September, 2008

This is a basketball blog.

But this is also a statistics blog.  And the statistics say that 8 out of my last 11 eleven posts have been out about football.  There are three reasons I can identify for this:

  • I generally blog about what interests me (within the general realm of college athletics) and, at the moment, the MSU football team interests me.
  • I still haven’t found a great internet forum for serious discussion of Spartan football that doesn’t involve wading through piles of non-useful information (although G0EL is on its way toward that goal).
  • There just isn’t a lot to talk about regarding Michigan State basketball at the moment.

While taking more time to analyze the football team’s performance has been a fun diversion, it’s just not my bag.  I don’t see the game with the same passion or clarity that I do for basketball.

I’m looking forward, therefore, to getting back into the rhythm of the basketball season, when the content here can be driven primarily by what happens on the basketball court.  The plan for the month and a half remaining before the regular season begins is:

  • Continue to talk some football, but scale those efforts back as the start of the basketball season approaches.
  • Once practice starts on the 17th, talk about whatever developments arise.
  • Do some sort of stats-based preview of the rest of the Big Ten.  The Big Ten Geeks have already done pretty thorough TFS-based previews of each team, so my goal is to something a little out of the box–maybe a smaller-scale historical look at each team’s statistical tendencies over the last 5-10 years.  (On a related note, I’m expecting that the emergence of the Geeks will mean (1) less need to do conference-wide analysis here and (2) more statistical context in which to analyze MSU’s performance.  Speaking of which, they have a good post up on pace in the Big Ten relative to other conferences.)

I’m, as always, happy to take under advisement any suggestions you, the readers, might have about topics of discussion you think would be worthwhile.  Having started this blog after the regular season had already begun last season, this is still my first time blogging through a basketball preseason.

Finally, I want to again thank all of you who have made this endeavor more worthwhile by taking the time to contribute your own thoughts and opinions.  In particular, here is the list of Spartans that have left at least 10 comments during the 10 months this blog has existed:

  1. Spartalytical (113)
  2. DP99/DMP (69)
  3. witless chum (59)
  4. Hubert (50)
  5. Dan (49)
  6. TMadison25 (46)
  7. spartanproducer (34)
  8. Ben (30)
  9. GBBound (20)
  10. wifeofaspartan (18)
  11. Dave (17)
  12. Kurt (17)
  13. Dr Huxtable (17)
  14. MooTheKow (15)
  15. SpartanDan (12)
  16. matt (11)
  17. Nick (10)

These 17 individuals are hereby designated The Friends of the Spartans Weblog.  (That’s all the reward our budget allows for, I’m afraid.)

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FO on Ringer

Football Outsiders, the leading purveyors of advanced football statistics, are concerned about Javon Ringer’s workload to date, comparing him to current Lion Kevin Smith, who carried the ball 450 times for Central Florida last season:

One of the factors at least partially mitigating Smith’s huge workload last year was that he was playing in Conference USA against a relatively smaller, less talented group of players than he would in the NFL. Ringer really has no such excuse; although he hasn’t got into the most difficult part of his Big Ten conference schedule, he’s playing some of the largest — and most talented — defensive lines in the nation. Since 1996, Conference USA has sent 36 front seven players to the NFL; the Big Ten’s sent 118.

(One of FO’s basic working theories is that “A running back with 370 or more carries during the regular season will usually suffer either a major injury or a loss of effectiveness the following year, unless he is named Eric Dickerson.”)

FO also notes the decline in Ringer’s average yards/carry from 5.9 last year to 4.8 this year.  While I certainly agree that Ringer’s workload is a cause for concern for MSU fans–and won’t be good for his NFL draft status– I would note that at least part of the reason for the decline in his yards/carry is that he’s now used in short-yardage situations, whereas Caulcrick handled nearly all those attempts in previous years.

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Bad News: This is another football post.

Good News: At least the post is based on statistical analysis.

(Bad/good from the standpoint that this blog’s tagline used to be “A statistical look at Michigan State basketball.”)

Brian Hoyer remains an enigma to Spartan fans.  His season stats are pretty mediocre to date: 59-127 (46.5%) for 961 yards (7.6 yards/attempt) with 2 interceptions.

A significant question, though, is the degree to which the run-heavy offensive attack Mark Dantonio is choosing to employ is affecting Hoyer’s performance.  My sense has been that MSU needs to pass a tad more on first down to keep defenses honest and give Hoyer more of a chance to get into a rhythm.  Since the Cal game, when MSU was playing from behind for most of the game, Hoyer has averaged only 14.3 pass attempts per game.  He’s had limited opportunities to make plays and has been inconsistent with those opportunities.

To investigate Hoyer’s performance further, I went back and broke down his passing stats for first down passing attempts, which have been even more limited in number, and attempts on other downs, when the defense presumably is more accutely aware a pass atempts is coming.  Here are the stats through five games:

First down attempts: 18-38 (47.4%) for 353 yards (9.3 yards/attempt) and 1 interception

Attempts on other downs: 41-89 (46.1%) for 608 yards (6.8 yards/attempt) and 1 interception

There’s no negligible difference in completion percentage; Hoyer’s been equally inconsistent on first down and second/third downs.  But the yards/attempt figure is two and a half yards higher on first down.  In fact, Hoyer’s yards/attempt have been higher on first-down attempts than on second/third-down attempts in all five of Michigan State’s games to date.

We’re obviously working with a limited sample of data against uneven competition, but it appears that, when Hoyer gets the chance to throw the ball on first down, the odds of a big passing play are pretty good.  Now some of that is set up by the fact the opponent expects MSU to run the ball three out of four time on first down, so the advantage may diminish if MSU beings passing more on first down.  And Hoyer’s sub-50% completion percentage on first down means that throwing the ball on first down has put the team in a second-and-long position more often than not.

As the team moves into games against better Big Ten defenses that MSU won’t necessarily be able to force their will on with the running game, Mark Dantonio and Don Treadwell have a fine line to walk.  They have to mix in more first down passing attempts to keep defenses honest, without foregoing the advantage that  gaining 4 or 5 yards on first down by running the ball can create.

And, of course, Hoyer has to increase his passing percentage on all downs (with the help of his receivers not dropping balls)–but on first down in particular.  Hopefully, Saturday’s 14-26 (53.8%) performance was a step in that direction.

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Note: It was a busy Saturday at the Spartans Weblog residence, so I only saw about three-quarters of the game.  These musings are, therefore, even more random than my normal football musings.  Nevertheless:

  • Another monumental performance by Javon Ringer: 198 yards on 44 carries.  The offensive/special teams touch counts are now up to 203 for Ringer vs. 108 for the rest of the MSU roster.
  • On that note, might it be time to take Ringer off kick-off duty?  He’s now returned 11 kicks for 224 yards (20.4/return), with a long return of 33 yards.  Solid numbers, but it doesn’t appearing he’s creating an enormous advantage in the return game.  Might be better to spare him a few extra hits per game.
  • Good game for Hoyer.  He wasn’t perfect, but college QBs generally aren’t.  14-26 for 261 yards.  And there were some dropped passes and a pass interference call in there that would have resulted in more yardage.  (Of course, there were also one or two picks that should have been made by the IU defense.)
  • Player of game: Brett Swenson.  His three field goals from 45+ yards out gave MSU enough breathing room to keep them (barely) in control of the game throughout.
  • First down stats: Ignoring the two drives to end halfs, MSU ran 33 first down plays.  They ran the ball on all but six of those plays: 27 carries for 129 yards (4.8 yards/carry).  (Those numbers are driven up by a 29-yard rushing attempt by B.J. Cunningham on MSU’s third drive; was that an end-around or a lateral?)  All in all, the run-heavy strategy worked.  MSU gained at least 4 yards on 17 of the 27 first-down rushing attempts.
  • There was a period in the second quarter (8 first-down rushing attempts for 10 yards in that quarter), though, when the IU defense knew the run was coming and stopped it.  Hoyer took advantage of that on MSU’s first drive of the second half by completing a 33-yard pass to Cunningham to set up Ringer’s goal-line touchdown run.  (This was obviously in response to the advice I posted over at Pete’s site.)  For the day, Hoyer was 4-6 for 64 yards on first down pass attempts.
  • The secondary looked very vulnerable again, giving up a long passing TD (and avoiding another long one on the safety call*) and getting called for pass interference three times (and I thought they could have been called for a couple more).  The pass defense is still the number one issue going forward, IMO.

*I will say that safety call was poetic justice, though. On the first down play of that drive, how is the Indiana running back falling forward onto the ground with the ball clearly still in the endzone not indisputable evidence of a safety?

Choose your own conclusion:

  • Optimistic version: While the 42-29 scoreline brings to mind MSU’s conference tendencies from last year–either winning or losing games with lots of scoring on both sides–I actually thought this game ended up playing out the way Dantonio wants Spartan victories to play out.  MSU controlled the fourth quarter.  They ran the ball with authority in the final quarter, even when IU knew the run was coming, and the secondary made the stops they needed to to put the game way.
  • Pessimistic version: If Kellen Lewis doesn’t get hurt, do we still win this one?  We gave up 284 passing yards to a team that (1) was averaging 178 yards through the air against much weaker competition coming into the game and (2) was forced to play its back-up quarterback for half the game.  Does the defense have enough to give our Spartans a shot at playing competitively against the upper echelon teams in the conference (an echelon we thought included Wisconsin, and not Michigan, but maybe not)?

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First, a few basketball links:

Now to the football stuff:

Ringer already has 143 carries, 30 more than any other FBS back. If Michigan State reaches a bowl game and Ringer maintains his current pace (35.75 cpg), he would finish the season with 464.75 carries, surpassing the FBS single-season record of 450 set by Central Florida’s Kevin Smith last season. Smith, who played in 14 games, broke Marcus Allen’s 26-year-old record for single-season carries (403) and became the first back to eclipse 400 carries in a season since Iowa State’s Troy Davis in 1996.

Game time is noon on ESPN.  Sagarin says MSU by 10.  The FEI forecast is more generous: MSU 35 Indiana 14.

Coffee Talk: Which of those projected point spreads looks more accurate to you?  Does MSU grind out another win?  Or does the offense put up big numbers this week?  Or do we have to consider the possibility that Kellen Lewis (331 rushing yards in three games; 9.5 yards/carry) finds a way to carry his team to the upset?

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Around the Big Ten (quickly)

Nifty graph from the Big Ten Geeks: efficiency margin vs. percentage of returning minutes.  The data indicate Purdue, MIchigan State, and Wisconsin are in good shape.  Indiana, not so much.

In two years, the talent level in the conference looks like it may jump a notch.  UMHoops notes that 12 of the 38 top-150 recruits for the class of 2010 who have made verbal commitments are headed to Big Ten schools, led by Ohio State and Illinois.  Keith Appling is MSU’s contribution to the dozen early commits.

In fact, Ohio State’s recruiting is going so well that Thad Matta is already overcommitted by a scholarship for 2010–and he’s not quitting.  Apparently, he’s pretty confident the early exodus of Buckeyes to the NBA will continue.

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Must . . . not . . . get . . . emotionally . . . invested . . . in . . . MSU . . . football . . . team.

We’re now just 25 days from Midnight Madness (Friday, October 17; haven’t seen any details yet).  Let’s chat about how this basketball team will fit together.

We’ve talked about how depth appears to be a key to the success of Izzo-coached teams.  The 2008-09 team has the potential to utilize a deeper rotation than the teams of the last several years, with 13 scholarship players who could conceivably contribute in the right situation.  But those 13 players are pretty clearly divided into two groups–with seven guys who will almost certainly be major contributors and six guys whose roles aren’t very well defined.

Here are the seven players who, assuming they stay healthy, are very likely to play at least 20 minutes per game:

  • Kalin Lucas
  • Travis Walton
  • Chris Allen
  • Durrell Summers
  • Raymar Morgan
  • Delvon Roe
  • Goran Suton

That’s a pretty versatile group, with five guys who can play the three perimeter spots and three guys that can play the two “big” spots.  Hopefully, though, the regular playing rotation will be at least eight players deep, if not nine or ten deep.

Here’s a rundown of the six candidates to fill those additional spots in the playing rotation (in alphabetical order):

Isaiah Dahlman: Given his lack of playing time last season, and the talk of a redshirt this year (which I now assume won’t be happening), it’s hard to see Dahlman getting major minutes.  But if Izzo intends to play a smaller lineup much of the time, they could need an extra wing player at some point.

Marquise Gray: As a fifth-year senior with loads of natural ability, Gray would be an obvious choice to get significant minutes.  But there are two major questions that continue to haunt him: Can he stay healthy?  And can he avoid the major mental lapses that led to his minutes getting severely reduced at the end of last season?

Draymond Green: I don’t know a ton about Green, but the loss of weight over the offseason reported by Eric Lacy yesterday indicates he could be a candidate to play a similar role to Morgan–using a combination of mid-range shooting and rebounding ability to shift between the 3 and 4 spots.

Tom Herzog: It’s hard to see Herzog getting major minutes on a consistent basis, particularly with Izzo’s statements about playing smaller and faster.  But Herzog has added weight over the offseason.  At some point, he may become a potential fill-in for Suton in the middle.

Idong Ibok: Ditto.  Except Ibok has probably developed as much as he’s going to as a college basketball player.

Korie Lucious: Having two experienced point guards in Lucas and Walton would, on first analysis, seem to preclude Lucious from playing a major role this year.  But (1) we know Izzo isn’t opposed to multiple point-guard line-ups (much to my chagrin at times) and (2) Lucious is reportedly a pure outside shooter, and this team may need more shooters on the floor in the absence of Drew Neitzel.

So here’s your Coffee Talk question: Who do you think becomes the #8 guy in the playing rotation?  How many players deep do you expect the playing rotation to go?  Vote and comment below.

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