Archive for January, 2009

Penn State Game Preview

Saturday Morning Links

Penn State Game Preview

Noon Sunday.  The Breslin Center.  BTN.

Penn State is the third team MSU will face twice in the first half of its conference schedule, joining Northwestern and Ohio State.  Two and a half weeks ago, our Spartans escaped Happy Valley with a win by the skin of their chinny chin chins, after nearly blowing a 17-point second-half lead.

Since that game, Penn State has gone out and taken care of business, beating Indiana on the road and Michigan and Iowa at home.  With a conference record of 5-3, the Nittany Lions are now looking for a couple wins against ranked opponents to stake their claim to an NCAA Tournament berth.

Everything that was true about the Lions going into the first match-up continues to be true:

  • They can shoot the three.
  • They don’t turn the ball over.
  • They rebound well on defense (but not so much on offense).
  • They don’t create a lot of turnovers.
  • They don’t foul a lot.

(Tempo-free profile here.)

The offense revolves around the trio of Talor Battle, Jamelle Cornley, and Stanley Pringle.  Battle and Cornley were simply sensational the first time around, each reaching the 20-point mark.  Both players manage to play with a high level of efficiency and consistency despite generally matching up with players 2-3 inches taller than them.  Travis Walton did a pretty good job on Battle the first time around, but Battle still put up 20 points.  Walton and Lucas will need to play 40 minutes of intense defense in the rematch to avoid letting Battle take the game over for any stretch of time.

Cornley has stepped up his game even further over the last three contests, averaging 19.3 points/game on 65.0% FG shooting.  He may actually be the greater threat in this game, as Goran Suton has been the only compentent MSU post defender of late.  This would be a great game for Delvon Roe to show he can match up with an athletic player in the paint.

Pringle was a nonfactor in the first game, but MSU can’t forget about him.  He’s averaging 14.2 points per game on 50.0% 3-point shooting on the season.

On offense, expect MSU to be much more prepared for Penn State’s 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone looks than they were in the first game, when Penn State caught them off guard by waiting until the second half to deploy the zone defenses–on a rotating basis, no less.  I’d feel a little better about this game if Raymar Morgan were at full health (70% is the latest word), as he and Goran Suton are the two players capable of attacking the middle of the zone against Penn State’s undersized interior players; Morgan scored 17 points on 7-9 FG shooting in the first match-up.  Again, this is a chance for Delvon Roe to contribute.

Beyond that, the guards simply have to recoginze the different defensive schemes, make precise passes, and knock down perimeter shots (we only shot 4-15 on three-pointers in the first game).  Durrell Summers should get some more good 3-point looks.  And Chris Allen will likely get another shot at playing his way out of his recent slump.

Kenpom predicts a 77-65 Spartan win in a 65-possession game.  Given the way Penn State is playing right now, and how hungry they’re going to be coming in, I think a 12-point margin is probably on the high side.  This game represents an opportunity for MSU to reestablish its home court dominance by playing with intelligence and intensity against an emerging, but still less talented, opponent.


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I’ve been meaning to do a post on Travis Walton’s defense for a while.  Joe Rexrode’s excellent blog entry on Walton finally pushed me to do it.  Here’s (some of) what Rexrode had to say:

And Travis Walton, once again, turned it. If you’ve watched Iowa much this year, you know that Jake Kelly’s playmaking drives this team. He’s 6-6 and gangly, gets into the lane, gets defenses out of position, gets a lot of hockey assists with a kick-out pass, followed by one more to a wide-open shooter.

Walton absolutely took Kelly out of this game. Add this to a season resume that includes great defense on A.J. Abrams, Jon Diebler and even Talor Battle (even though Battle ended up with 20), and Walton should be in the discussion for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

Measuring individual defensive performance is, of course, the one great weakness of basketball statistical analysis.  But I thought we could take a look at how well the opposing players Walton has guarded have played offensively in recent games.  Here’s such a game log, going back 11 games:

TEX A Abrams 8 0.70 3 6 0 4 2 3 3 3
OAK E Kangas 15 1.44 3 5 2 4 3 3 2 2
MINN L Westbrk 11 0.85 5 8 0 4 1 2 0 2
NW C Moore 16 1.14 2 3 4 11 0 0 2 0
OSU J Diebler 10 1.12 1 2 2 6 2 2 4 1
KAN S Collins 25 1.21 4 6 2 8 11 14 8 8
PSU T Battle 20 1.31 2 3 3 8 7 9 5 4
ILL D McCamey 3 0.28 0 2 0 7 3 4 7 3
NW C Moore 11 0.85 1 1 2 10 3 4 2 1
OSU J Diebler 12 1.62 0 0 3 6 3 3 2 1
IOWA J Kelly 6 1.00 3 4 0 2 0 0 2 5
AVG 12.5 1.05 2.2 3.6 1.6 6.4 3.2 4.0 3.4 2.7
FG% 60.0% 25.7%

This approach is clearly imperfect.  As Rexrode notes, MSU switches a lot on the perimeter, so Walton usually ends up guarding a number of players on the opposing team.  But I think I’ve managed to identify the primary perimeter player Walton has been assigned to in each of these games.  And, to the extent those players have matched up with other MSU defenders for parts of games, that only makes the numbers even more remarkable (assuming we all agree Walton is our best perimeter defender).

To sum up the table: Over the last 11 games, Travis Walton has turned some of the the best perimeter scorers in the Big Ten, along with three very good guards playing for nonconference opponents, into a player averaging 12.5 points per game on 25.7% 3-point shooting.  This imaginary player is also a pretty mediocre ball-handler, averaging 3.4 assists and 2.7 turnovers per game.

And, despite how physically Walton plays on defense, only two of the 11 players have managed to get to the free throw line more than 4 times in a game.  The 2-point shooting percentage is a little high, but he’s only allowing opposing guards to get off three and a half shots per game inside the arc.

These stats confirm what we already thought: Travis Walton is extremely valuable on the defensive end of the court.  The question has always been what be brings offensively.  While’s he’s been a little up and down this season in terms of his shooting stroke and ball-handing reliability, he seems to be settling into an efficient role on offense.  Over the last six games, Walton has shot 18-35 from the field (51.4%) and posted a solid 19-7 assist-turnover ratio.

As I’ve commented in the past, I think Walton is at his best when he doesn’t have to play point guard.  He can focus on defending the other team’s best perimeter scoring, knocking down open jumpshots, and making smart decisions with the ball as a secondary player in the offense.  Tom Izzo seems to agree.  After playing Walton some at the point late in the nonconference season, he’s now using Korie Lucious as the exclusive back-up to Kalin Lucas again.

Bottom line: Walton is one more player who seems to be fitting into the overall team puzzle exactly as we need him to.

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MSU beats down Iowa 71-56 in a 62-possession game (a regular track meet by Hawkeye standards).  StatSheet box score.

This one played out according to plan–MSU’s plan, that is.  We dominated on the boards (although that edge faded some in the second half), forced Iowa to take a lot of tough 3-point shots (8/26=30.8%), and manged to push the tempo against a tempo-less team (14 fast break points).  There were some early turnover issues, but most of them came from playing aggressively, rather than mental errors.  And Iowa actually ended up turning the ball over one more time than we did.  Your bar graph:

Other than a very brief stretch at about the 7-minute mark of the second half when they allowed Iowa to squeeze the lead down to 9, MSU played arguably its most complete game of the Big Ten season tonight.  They systematically built a 20-point lead over the game’s first 25 minutes, never allowing Iowa to feel like they had a real shot at winning.

Player bullets:

  • What more can you say about Kalin Lucas?  24 points on 13 FG attempts.  His spectacular finishes in the lane are starting to seem a bit mundane at this point.
  • Durrell Summers is emerging as a mini-MoPete (and could take on MoPete’s old six man role once Morgan is back to full health).  21 points on 9 FG attempts.  Three turnovers, but you can live with that when he’s as involved in the offense as he has been the last two games.
  • A Sutonesque performance by Goran Suton: 6 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals.
  • We expected Delvon Roe to get some chances around the rim today.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t put those chances to good use.  He scored only 1 point and turned the ball over 3 times.  10 rebounds in 20 minutes, though.
  • Chris Allen still looked out of sorts (2 turnovers and 4 fouls in 13 minutes), but he did knock down 2 of 3 three-point attempts, so there may be hope.
  • Only 2 points in 8 minutes for Raymar Morgan.  If this virus continues to linger, I wonder if they shouldn’t just shut him down until it’s gone.
  • A combined 6 assists and zero turnovers for Travis Walton and Korie Lucious.  That’s all we really need from those two on offense.
  • Draymond Green played 9 minutes; Marquise Gray played 7.  Green was better tonight against the small Iowa lineup, scoring 4 points off 2 offensive boards.

Defensively, the team played cohesively, switching well on ball screens and recovering quickly on the back side.  Izzo put Suton, rather than Roe, on the fourth Hawkeye perimeter player, allowing Roe to play more at home against the lone Iowa big man in the paint.

At 5-0, we’re now guaranteed a winning conference road record.  And we’ve exceeded our total number of conference road wins over the previous two seasons.  Can’t beat that with a stick.

Next up: A Sunday game against Penn State (noon, BTN) to open a three-game home stretch.

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MSU-Iowa Open Thread

I’ve made a couple minor site upgrades:

  • Added an Archives page, with collapsible listsings of posts by month.
  • Added user-enabled editing of comments.  You now have five minutes after you make a comment to go back and edit it.  This is intended for those obvious typos/errors you notice immediately after you click “Submit Comment.”

OK, let’s get the conversation rolling.  Here’s an ice-breaker question: What’s the first word that pops into your mind when someone says, “Iowa.”

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Pregame Reading

Open thread tonight (and, until further notice, for all games).  Be there or be square.

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Iowa Game Preview

7:00 Thursday.  Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City.  ESPN.

Iowa enters this game with a conference record of 2-5.  The two victories were both at home: a 5-point win over Indiana and an overtime win over Wisconsin.  They have played a couple good teams close on the road, though: Ohio State (3 points) and Penn State (4 points).

Here’s the scouting report on what the Hawkeyes do really well:

  • Shoot the ball.

That’s it.  But they do that one thing really, really well.  Their team shooting numbers for the season all rank in the top 50 nationally: 52.0/39.2/75.5 (2pt/3pt/FT).

The Hawkeyes’ conference-only 3-point shooting percentage of 37.1% ranks third in the Big Ten, and their free throw percentage of 77.5% ranks first.  (Note: I’m going with conference-only stats from here on out, unless otherwise noted.)  Iowa is a heavily guard-oriented team; they also rank third and first in the league in the percentage of their total points scored from beyond the arc and the charity stripe, respectively.

With regards to 3-point shooting, there’s good news and bad news in looking at MSU’s defensive profile:

Six Hawkeyes players are averaging 2 or more 3-point attempts per game, led by freshman guard Matt Gatens.  Gatens is shooting 50.0% from 3-point range on a team-high 28 attempts.

Surprisingly, Gatens’ scoring average of 12.0 points/game is not the best on the team in Big Ten play.  That honor goes to 6’9″ junior center David Palmer, who is averaging 12.3 points/game on 53.1% FG shooting, despite the fact he’s only received substantial minutes in Iowa’s last three games.

Other major contributors are sophomore point guard Jeff Peterson (10.7 points/game, 5.1 assists/game, 27.8% 3pt%) and sophomore guard Jake Kelly (10.1 points/game, 38.5% 3pt%).  Senior forward Cyrus Tate may return for this game after sitting out four games with an ankle sprain; Tate was averaging 7.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on the season prior to the injury.

(Note: Tate’s 6.3 rebound/game figure is more impressive than it looks at first, given (1) how slow a pace Iowa plays at, (2) the limited number of missed FGs they have on offense due to turnovers and good shooting, and (3) the limited number of field goals attempts Iowa’s opponents miss.  Tate sports very solid rebounding percentages of 16.1 and 22.8.)

If you can stop the Iowa shooters from getting good 3-point looks or beat you off the dribble to get to the free throw line, you’re in good shape.  They turn the ball over even more than we do (OffTO% of 23.9%, better than only Indiana), and they don’t pull down offensive rebounds (OffReb% of 25.5%, also second worst in the league).  Despite the Hawkeyes’ top-notch shooting strokes, they rank only 9th in the conference in offensive efficiency.

Defensively, they’re even less impressive, ranking 10th in the league in efficiency.  They’ve allowed all but one conference opponent to post an offensive efficiency figure of 105 or better.  They don’t block shots, they don’t steal the ball, and they’re susceptible to giving up offensive boards.

Of the top nine players in Iowa’s rotation, only two of them are taller than 6’7″.  If Tate can’t play, that number goes down to one.  The Hawkeyes basically play a four-guard lineup.  MSU should be able take advantage of their size advantage throughout the game.  If Raymar Morgan is healthy enough, this could be a 20-point outing for him.  It’s also a great opportunity for Delvon Roe to play 20+ minutes and score some points in the paint.  And, the over/under on MSU offensive rebounding percentage in this game is approximately 55%.

Kenpom predicts a 65-61 MSU victory in a 59-point game.  Regardless of how well MSU plays, I can almost guarantee this game will not make for exhilerating viewing.  Iowa ranks dead last in the league at 59.7 possessions per 40 minutes.  If the MSU guards can prevent the Iowa shooters from getting good looks, though, the viewing experience should be much more pleasant than last year’s game was.

Getting out of Iowa City with a win would put MSU at 7-1 in Big Ten play with a three-game home stretch to follow.  With Purdue pulling out a squeaker in Madison last night, there’s no margin for error in the conference title race at this point.

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Tuesday Night Links

That’s all I’ve got tonight; Iowa game preview tomorrow night.

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