To date, this basketball season has been a blogging dream. On the court, our team has fulfilled, if not exceeded, preseason expectations by running away with the Big Ten Championship–despite a series of injuries and illnesses along the way. On the blog, I managed to make some pretty good predictions before the season began (more on that later), and readership has continued to grow, exceeding 1,000 page views per day the last few weeks.
But I can’t keep it up.
As rewarding as this experience has been–it’s forced me to learn a lot more than I previously knew about college basketball, and it’s introduced me to a lot of really smart MSU fans–I can no longer maintain the daily posting pace needed to keep a good sports blog going. Pesky things like a job and a family (both of which are expanding this year) keep getting in the way.
So, effective at the end of MSU’s NCAA Tournament run, the Spartans Weblog will cease operations.
That’s the bad news.
Here’s the good news: Something even better is going to replace it. All the details haven’t been finalized. But a team of some of brightest minds in the MSU blogosphere (or at least the brightest minds willing to talk to me–most of them are people you already know) will be joining forces to bring you a bigger, better MSU blog experience.
Upside for me:
- I’ll still have an outlet to share insights (or, absent insights, Excel-generated scatterplots) when they occur to me.
- I won’t have to try to do that every day of the week.
Upside for all of us:
- You’ll get multiple perspectives on MSU athletics, not just mine.
- There will be a lot more football talk.
- We’ll all still have a gathering place to analyze, discuss, celebrate, and commiserate about events in Spartan land.
Thanks to everyone who’s helped make this website what it is today. If not for you, I wouldn’t even have thought of putting together the new blogging team. As much as I’m going to miss running this blog solo, I think the new site is going to be a blast. Stay tuned for all the details.
Until then, though, I have every intention of manning my post (or, rather, laptop) until the final buzzer goes off on the 2008-09 Michigan State basketball season.
Now, back to how smart I am (That’s what we were talking about, right?)
We’ve touched on this in the last couple days, but let’s examine it in excruciating detail: Did I hit the nail on the head with my preseason predictions or what?
(Note: Predictions are not presented in chronological order.)
- There are six nonconference games that should be comfortable wins (Idaho/IPFW/Bradley/Alcorn St/Citadel/Oakland). That leaves six games against BCS-level competition (three in the Old Spice Classic). With Delvon Roe slowly getting up to full speed and the team adjusting to a more up-tempo style, I think 9-3 would be a reasonable outcome. If they made the Old Spice Classic final, lost to UNC, and split with Texas/Kansas, they’d hit that mark.
- In conference play, this team should be good enough to hold court against the entire league for a 9-0 home record. Road games against Purdue and Ohio State lean toward losses. Thankfully, we don’t play in Madison this season. Toss in one more road loss against the middle of the league (Minnesota/Illinois/Penn State/Michigan) and you get a conference record of 15-3.
I was within one game on the nonconference mark. We actually beat my 9-3 prediction by a game (assisted by the easier Old Spice Classic schedule the opening-round loss to Maryland created). And I hit the conference mark exactly.
Had I known Goran Suton and Raymar Morgan would both miss substantial playing time, I doubt I would have been so optimistic in my prognostications. But the mark of this team from the beginning was depth, and that depth paid dividends when injury/illness struck.
Looking ahead, I had us going a combined 5-2 in postseason play. Let’s hope we get 3 of those wins in the BTT or 4 of them in the Big Dance to earn ourselves another banner, eh?
So I must force myself to make at least one bold prediction about the upcoming season. I worry they’ll pull my sports blogger union card if I don’t. Here it is:
Kalin Lucas will be the Big Ten Player of the Year.
The popular preseason picks for this honor are Hummel and Morgan. And you can make a reasonable argument for both. My inclination is to think that there’s less room for either of those guys to improve on their performances from last year (at least statistically) than there is for Lucas, though.
. . .
Lucas, meanwhile, should see substantial increases in his numbers. MSU’s commitment to push the ball on offense, along with Lucas’ new role as the clear #1 point guard, should boost his assists/game number from last year’s 3.8. There’s room for his shooting percentages to rise from the .445/.364/.768 numbers he posted last season, and he’ll have even more oppotunities to score in the half-court offense as the go-to guy with the shot clock running down. Both those factors should boost his scoring from 10.3 points/game.
Bammo! As I pointed out last night, Lucas wasn’t even named to the preseason all-conference team. So you can’t say this was a UNC-will-win-the-national-title kind of a prediction. I’m just that smart. (And let’s say we ignore the part about how B.J. Mullens could be a contender for POTY, OK?)
The major outstanding question is what happens when the team is forced to play half-court offense. Last year, the team struggled to score at times when things bogged down, leading to inconsistent offensive performance in conference play.
The good news is that we have several players who should be able to create scoring opportunities near the basket: Lucas and Summers off the drive and Morgan, Roe, and Suton in the low-post. To keep those options open, though, MSU will need to show it can consistently make perimeter shots, particularly from 3-point range. Otherwise, defenses will be able to collapse on players in the paint and it will be tough to create good looks at the basket.
. . .
My intuition is that if Lucas and Summers both shoot 37% or better from 3-point range this season, while each taking 2-3 three-point shots per game, MSU will have a Big Ten Championship/Final Four-caliber offense.
Well, here you go:
- Kalin Lucas: 39.5% 3pt%.
- Durrell Summers: 38.5% 3pt%
(Man, do I love that photo.)
Now the path to that banner wasn’t quite as simple as I laid it out in that preseason post. Statistically, our offense was driven almost entirely by getting to the free throw line and rebounding the ball. And we slumped pretty badly shooting the ball from beyond the arc down the stretch; over the first seven games of the second half of the conference schedule, the team made less than 30% of their 3-point attempts in all but one game.
Still, Lucas and Summers both hit some big 3-point shots at various points during the season. And, over the full season, their numbers are quite good (better, in fact, than the one guy we thought would be our most reliable long-range shooters). Summers, in particular, has been a big enough threat from 3-point range that you’ve seen defenses adjusting to make sure he doesn’t get good looks from beyond the arc in the last several games.
So I’m definitely chalking that one up as a success, too. Three for three, baby! (Maybe I should retire completely from the blogging business, as my odds of ever repeating this feat are roughly 1,000-1.)
P.S. There’s still time to enter the The Second Annual and World’s Only (As Far As We Know) Big Ten Tournament Bracket Contest. I admire everyone’s fidelity to MSU, given the fact that picking the same team as 90% of the other entries reduces your odds of winning. But I have to say–having been as optimistic as any Spartan observer out there over the course of the season–I now have a strange, ominous feeling about our fate in the conference tournament (visions of Northwestern staking their claim to an NCAA tournament slot at our expense). Hopefully, that’s just my subconscious overcompensating.
(More rational discussion of BTT chances: On the one hand, Izzo might not want to burn the team out by pushing the players full-bore over the three-day weekend, given that we took home the regular season conference title. On the other hand, playing 2-3 more games with the full lineup at 100% is probably a good thing in terms of establishing an offensive rhythm going into the Big Dance. My bet: He pushes the team hard, but keeps the starters’ minutes below 30 per game.)
P.P.S. One of the reasons I think this is a good time to step away from this site and move to something more specifically MSU-focused is the emergence of the Big Ten Geeks. (The impetus for starting this blog, after all, was the departure of the Big Ten Wonk.) Be sure to check out their excellent defense of the Big Ten’s credentials for the Big Dance (I love disagreements among stats-prone writers) and their stats-based All-Big Ten team (superb analysis of Lucas’ adapation over the course of the season).