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With the Tigers’ odds of contending for a playoff spot rapidly dwindling to naught, the five months until the 2008-09 MSU basketball season begins are looking even longer to me than they otherwise would. Nonetheless, let’s look ahead to how the team fits together, at least on paper.

I’ve now provided my thoughts on all the returning scholarship players:

Goran Suton

Travis Walton and Kalin Lucas

Raymar Morgan

Durrell Summers and Chris Allen

Isaiah Dahlman, Idong Ibok, and Tom Herzog

Marquise Gray

Putting these 10 guys in with the three incoming freshman and preferred walk-on Austin Thornton, I see the depth chart looking something like this next season:

Starter Bench
Point Lucas Walton Lucious
Wings Allen Dahlman Thornton
Morgan Summers
Bigs Roe Gray Green
Suton Ibok Herzog

Comments:

  • That starting lineup looks awfully explosive in a transition game. Of course, the trick is getting into a transition game. Failing that, a key will be taking advantage of mismatches that are bound to happen in the half-court offense with a frontline of Morgan/Roe/Suton.
  • The depth is pretty good across the roster. There’s one proven back-up in each of the three categories (Walton/Summers/Gray; I’m giving Gray the benefit of the doubt) and everyone ought to be able to at least hold down the fort in a pinch. If Dahlman were to redshirt, they could be a tad thin at the wing positions, as Thornton probably won’t be ready to contribute and Morgan will likely play some at the 4 spot again.
  • Also, we’ll probably see 10-15 minutes per game (hopefully no more than that) of two point guards on the floor, which will reduce minutes for wing players.
  • There’s 30 fouls there to be absorbed by big men.
  • I haven’t read anything about freshman redshirts. Roe certainly won’t. Izzo hasn’t redshirted guards historically, so Lucious probably won’t. Green could be a candidate, but I’d tend to doubt given that Izzo can’t be sure how many minutes he can rely on Gray for.
  • In terms of playing time distribution, the question is how Izzo will fill in Neitzel’s 30+ minutes/game and Naymick’s 20+ minutes/game. Hopefully, Roe is healthy enough to take up Naymick’s minutes right away. I’d guess Allen will increase his PT pretty dramatically–somewhere around 25 minutes/game. The team will need his pure shooting ability on the floor more often than not. Hopefully, Lucas, Summers, and Morgan can all become reliable perimeter shooters, as well, as Allen won’t be able to fill Neitzel’s shoes alone.

Here’s how I’d project playing time for the full roster:

  1. Lucas: 25-30 minutes
  2. Morgan: 25-30 minutes
  3. Suton: 25-30 minutes
  4. Allen: 25 minutes
  5. Roe: 20-25 minutes
  6. Walton: 20 minutes
  7. Summers: 15-20 minutes
  8. Gray: 15 minutes
  9. Green: 5-10 minutes
  10. Lucious: 5-10 minutes
  11. Ibok/Herzog: 0-5 minutes
  12. Dahlman/Thornton: Minimal PT

Averaging out the ranges, these figures add up to 200 minutes per game. They imply that Morgan would slide to the 4 spot for just 5 minutes per game and the team would have two point guards on the floor for 15 minutes.

Projecting the freshman is obviously the hardest, having not seen them play. There don’t seem to be a lot of minutes there for Lucious with two established point guards ahead of him. He is supposed to be a better pure shooter than Lucas, though, so maybe that gets him some time on the floor. Green would seem to have a shot to take some minutes away from Gray.

Coffee Talk time: What do you think? Who do you see stepping up to replace Neitzel? What excites/worries you most about this roster?

Speaking of Neitzel . . .

He’s been invited to the NBA pre-draft camp, which began in Orlando today. Other Big Ten players participating are Jamar Butler, Brian Butch, and Othello Hunter. (Eric Gordon is there for a physical only; D.J. White and Kosta Koufos aren’t in Orlando. White may or may not think he’s a lock to be a Piston.)

We’ll keep our eyes open for updates on Neitzel’s performance. His lack of size still seems like a huge obstacle to making it in today’s rough-and-tumble NBA, but I hope he gets every opportunity to find a niche with a team looking for an efficient ball-handler with shooting range. We do tend to forget how good a passer he is, given that those skills were underutilized during his college career as he was relied on as the primary scorer for the last two years.

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Drew Neitzel is POTW

Kudos to #11.  Full release here.

Michigan State men’s basketball senior guard Drew Neitzel was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Jan. 28. In wins over Northwestern and Michigan, Neitzel averaged 19.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds, shooting .583 from the field and .500 from 3-point range. This is the first weekly accolade for Neitzel this season, and the fourth of his career.

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Pregame Reading

Dave Dye discusses Neitzel’s lowered offensive output, as we did the other day.  Neitzel himself makes a good point about something he contributes that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet:

“I don’t think I’ve lived up to the expectations as much as I could,” Neitzel said. “But at the same time, teams are playing me a lot differently.

“We got six or seven wide-open dunks, layups (against BYU) because I’m coming off a down-screen, and both (defenders) are hedging out on me, trying to take me away.”

Really, a big piece of Gray’s and Naymick’s lofty PPWS figures (1.36 and 1.41, respectively) is a tribute to the attention Neitzel draws from opposing defenses.

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Through the first nine games of the season, Drew Neitzel is averaging 14.2 points per game–down 3.9 points per game from last season. This is a substantial decline: 21.5%. I thought I’d take a look at what might be responsible for the decline and if we can expect his scoring average to go back up (or whether it needs to).

But before we get to those questions, let’s step back a moment and take a look back at Neitzel’s career to date. Among all the basketball players in the universe, Neitzel may be the player I’m most qualified to write about. He and I share the same high school alma mater (Wyoming Park; Go Vikings!) so I’ve followed his career even more closely than those of other Spartan stars.

Drew Neitzel was a superstar in high school, winning Michigan’s Mr. Basketball award as a senior. For his high school career, he finished as the state’s 6th all-time leading scorer and 2nd all-time assist leader. As a senior, he averaged 33.0 points and 9.2 assists per game playing at the Class B level. Those are lofty numbers at the high school level–where they play 32 minute games and don’t have a shot clock.

I saw Neitzel play in person 6-8 times during his final two years of high school. And it was a sight to behold. He played nearly every minute of every game. The ball never left his hands until he was double-teamed. At times, he was instructed to wait for the triple team before passing. He had the green light to shoot from anywhere on the court. I don’t have the stats to back this up, but he must have taken at least half of his team’s shots as a senior.

So he came to MSU as a freshman with a legitimate reputation as a big-time scorer. Of course, when he arrived there was very little need for him to score. Between Ager, Anderson, Davis, Brown, Torbert, and Hill, Izzo had all the scoring options he needed. Neitzel averaged just 3.5 points per game as a freshman as he focused on running the offense and distributing the ball.

As a sophomore, his scoring averaged increased to 8.3 points/game as Anderson, Hill, and Tobert all moved on. As a junior, he was the lone returning legitimate scoring option and, as we all know, he blossomed–scoring 18.1 points/game.

Below is a summary of Neitzel’s shooting stats over his first three seasons, with the fourth season thrown in for future reference:

Season   Pts/G  FGA/G  2pt%  3pt%  eFG%

2004-05    3.5    3.4  42.2  32.7  45.1

2005-06    8.3    7.1  41.3  40.4  50.4

2006-07   18.1   13.3  44.7  41.2  54.8
***************************************

2007-08   14.2   10.3  43.6  42.6  55.4

Most remarkable about these numbers is that, as Neitzel’s shooting attempts increased, so did his scoring efficiency. His effective FG percentage increased by nearly a full 10 percentage points from his freshman season to his junior season–despite the fact that he was taking more difficult shots and the defense was focusing on him more.

This points to something about Neitzel’s game I’ve theorized since high school: the more he shoots, the better he gets. In high school, he’d miss four or five shots in a row at times. But he always had the green light and eventually he’d knock down several big shots in a row. While he’s certainly a great shooter, I’m not sure he’s the same kind of a shooter as someone like J.J. Reddick or Shawn Respert, who has picture-perfect, textbook form on every shot. Neitzel is more of a touch shooter. The more shots he takes, the more he zeroes in on the rim.

This theory makes sense intuitively. It explains why his shooting stats were poor as a freshman, when he almost never took enough shots to get into a rhythm. It also explains the high number of game where he’s scored very few points in the first half of a game only to heat up in the second half and score 12-15 points.

But I also wanted to test the theory a little more rigorously. So I took Neitzel’s career game logs from ESPN.com (which only include regular season games) and broke them down by number of FG attempts. Here are the results:

FGA  #ofGames  eFG%
0-4      28    35.1
5-9      33    48.9
10-14    20    55.3
15+      13    59.1

The results confirm the theory: the more shots Neitzel takes, the more efficiently he shoots the ball. At the high end of the range, he shoots at a lofty 59.1 effective FG % when he takes 15 or more shots in a game.

And this isn’t just a result of the fact that the number of shots he took increased as his career (and presumably his scoring ability) progressed. The trend above holds for each of his first three individual seasons (I’ll spare you all the numbers; trust me).

So now that we’ve established Neitzel’s scoring tendencies coming into this season, let’s look at his performance to date this season. As shown in the first table above, his shooting efficiency is actually almost exactly where it was last season. But he’s taking three fewer shots per game. So, broadly speaking, the reason for his scoring decline is pretty simple: he’s taking fewer shots.

There’s been quite a bit of variation in his shooting proficiency over the first nine games of the season, though. Here are his game-by-game performances:

OPPPONENT    FGA  Pts  eFG%
Chicago St    10   12  60.0
ULMONROE       5   15  80.0
Missouri      10   21  75.0

UCLA          11   13  45.5

Oakland        9   12  44.4

NC State      11   17  77.3

Jacksonville   7   10  57.1

Bradley       16   13  31.3

BYU           14   15  53.6

Sadly, for those of us who prefer elegant mathematical results, these figures don’t jive with what we would have predicted based on the data from his first three seasons. The one game he put up more than 15 shots was his lowest eFG% of the season (Bradley). And he shot very well in his first three games, when he was taking 10 or fewer shots per game.

The quantitative analysis of this season’s games having failed me (and keep in mind we’re dealing with a limited sample size against uneven competition), I’m now going to resort to some qualitative analysis:

  • In the first two games, the freshman we’re being phased in and Raymar Morgan stepped up his scoring from last season. So there was no need for Neitzel to shoot much against inferior opposition. But he shot well on his relatively few attempts.
  • He then hit the stretch of four games against tougher opposition, but was fighting illness. So his shot attempts didn’t go up much. His shooting performance was uneven–two good games, two bad games.
  • Throw out the Jacksonville game.
  • In the Bradley and BYU games, he clearly looked to shoot more. But he shot poorly for three out of four halves, before heating up in second half against BYU. As I expressed in an Bradley recap post, to me he just looked like he was a little off. And that was one of the rare games where he kept shooting but never heated up. In the BYU game, he also kept shooting and heated up in the second half.

So I’m going to throw out seven of the games due to inferior opponents and illness, assert that the Bradley game was an anomaly, and state unequivocally that the BYU game proves my theory: Neitzel needs to keep shooting. In the world of academia, this is what is called “data mining.”

The trick for Izzo to figure out down the stretch is the balance between using the multiple scoring options he now has at his disposal (Morgan, Suton, the freshmen) and making sure Neitzel gets enough shots to get in the groove. To some extent, this will be a function of how much they push the ball up the court to score in transition (where Morgan and the freshmen will probably be bigger factors) and how much they pull the ball back and run their half court offense (where Neitzel and Suton will be bigger factors). Given that the Big Ten looks like it will continue its lethargic ways this season, though, ensuring that Neitzel is getting enough opportunities to shoot off screen in the half court game will undoubtedly be essential to a successful conference season.

And Izzo certainly knows this: “When he’s passing up shots, he’s going to hear about it.”  As the schedule gets tougher and the freshmen find their roles, I think it’s a pretty good bet Neitzel will finish the season with a scoring average closer to last year’s 18 points/game than the 14 points/game he’s scored so far this season.

OK, I’ve carried on long enough here. What do others have to say? Does Neitzel need to score more for MSU to have a successful season? And, if so, how does MSU get him more shots?

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Through the first nine games of the season, Drew Neitzel is averaging 14.2 points per game–down 3.9 points per game from last season. This is a substantial decline: 21.5%. I thought I’d take a look at what might be responsible for the decline and if we can expect his scoring average to go back up (or whether it needs to).

But before we get to those questions, let’s step back a moment and take a look back at Neitzel’s career to date. Among all the basketball players in the universe, Neitzel may be the player I’m most qualified to write about. He and I share the same high school alma mater (Wyoming Park; Go Vikings!) so I’ve followed his career even more closely than those of other Spartan stars.

Drew Neitzel was a superstar in high school, winning Michigan’s Mr. Basketball award as a senior. For his high school career, he finished as the state’s 6th all-time leading scorer and 2nd all-time assist leader. As a senior, he averaged 33.0 points and 9.2 assists per game playing at the Class B level. Those are lofty numbers at the high school level–where they play 32 minute games and don’t have a shot clock.

I saw Neitzel play in person 6-8 times during his final two years of high school. And it was a sight to behold. He played nearly every minute of every game. The ball never left his hands until he was double-teamed. At times, he was instructed to wait for the triple team before passing. He had the green light to shoot from anywhere on the court. I don’t have the stats to back this up, but he must have taken at least half of his team’s shots as a senior.

So he came to MSU as a freshman with a legitimate reputation as a big-time scorer. Of course, when he arrived there was very little need for him to score. Between Ager, Anderson, Davis, Brown, Torbert, and Hill, Izzo had all the scoring options he needed. Neitzel averaged just 3.5 points per game as a freshman as he focused on running the offense and distributing the ball.

As a sophomore, his scoring averaged increased to 8.3 points/game as Anderson, Hill, and Tobert all moved on. As a junior, he was the lone returning legitimate scoring option and, as we all know, he blossomed–scoring 18.1 points/game.

Below is a summary of Neitzel’s shooting stats over his first three seasons, with the fourth season thrown in for future reference:

Season   Pts/G  FGA/G  2pt%  3pt%  eFG% 

2004-05    3.5    3.4  42.2  32.7  45.1 

2005-06    8.3    7.1  41.3  40.4  50.4 

2006-07   18.1   13.3  44.7  41.2  54.8 
*************************************** 

2007-08   14.2   10.3  43.6  42.6  55.4

Most remarkable about these numbers is that, as Neitzel’s shooting attempts increased, so did his scoring efficiency. His effective FG percentage increased by nearly a full 10 percentage points from his freshman season to his junior season–despite the fact that he was taking more difficult shots and the defense was focusing on him more.

This points to something about Neitzel’s game I’ve theorized since high school: the more he shoots, the better he gets. In high school, he’d miss four or five shots in a row at times. But he always had the green light and eventually he’d knock down several big shots in a row. While he’s certainly a great shooter, I’m not sure he’s the same kind of a shooter as someone like J.J. Reddick or Shawn Respert, who has picture-perfect, textbook form on every shot. Neitzel is more of a touch shooter. The more shots he takes, the more he zeroes in on the rim.

This theory makes sense intuitively. It explains why his shooting stats were poor as a freshman, when he almost never took enough shots to get into a rhythm. It also explains the high number of game where he’s scored very few points in the first half of a game only to heat up in the second half and score 12-15 points.

But I also wanted to test the theory a little more rigorously. So I took Neitzel’s career game logs from ESPN.com (which only include regular season games) and broke them down by number of FG attempts. Here are the results:

FGA  #ofGames  eFG% 
0-4      28    35.1 
5-9      33    48.9 
10-14    20    55.3 
15+      13    59.1

The results confirm the theory: the more shots Neitzel takes, the more efficiently he shoots the ball. At the high end of the range, he shoots at a lofty 59.1 effective FG % when he takes 15 or more shots in a game.

And this isn’t just a result of the fact that the number of shots he took increased as his career (and presumably his scoring ability) progressed. The trend above holds for each of his first three individual seasons (I’ll spare you all the numbers; trust me).

So now that we’ve established Neitzel’s scoring tendencies coming into this season, let’s look at his performance to date this season. As shown in the first table above, his shooting efficiency is actually almost exactly where it was last season. But he’s taking three fewer shots per game. So, broadly speaking, the reason for his scoring decline is pretty simple: he’s taking fewer shots.

There’s been quite a bit of variation in his shooting proficiency over the first nine games of the season, though. Here are his game-by-game performances:

OPPPONENT    FGA  Pts  eFG% 
Chicago St    10   12  60.0 
ULMONROE       5   15  80.0 
Missouri      10   21  75.0 

UCLA          11   13  45.5 

Oakland        9   12  44.4 

NC State      11   17  77.3 

Jacksonville   7   10  57.1 

Bradley       16   13  31.3 

BYU           14   15  53.6

Sadly, for those of us who prefer elegant mathematical results, these figures don’t jive with what we would have predicted based on the data from his first three seasons. The one game he put up more than 15 shots was his lowest eFG% of the season (Bradley). And he shot very well in his first three games, when he was taking 10 or fewer shots per game.

The quantitative analysis of this season’s games having failed me (and keep in mind we’re dealing with a limited sample size against uneven competition), I’m now going to resort to some qualitative analysis:

  • In the first two games, the freshman we’re being phased in and Raymar Morgan stepped up his scoring from last season. So there was no need for Neitzel to shoot much against inferior opposition. But he shot well on his relatively few attempts.
  • He then hit the stretch of four games against tougher opposition, but was fighting illness. So his shot attempts didn’t go up much. His shooting performance was uneven–two good games, two bad games.
  • Throw out the Jacksonville game.
  • In the Bradley and BYU games, he clearly looked to shoot more. But he shot poorly for three out of four halves, before heating up in second half against BYU. As I expressed in an Bradley recap post, to me he just looked like he was a little off. And that was one of the rare games where he kept shooting but never heated up. In the BYU game, he also kept shooting and heated up in the second half.

So I’m going to throw out seven of the games due to inferior opponents and illness, assert that the Bradley game was an anomaly, and state unequivocally that the BYU game proves my theory: Neitzel needs to keep shooting. In the world of academia, this is what is called “data mining.”

The trick for Izzo to figure out down the stretch is the balance between using the multiple scoring options he now has at his disposal (Morgan, Suton, the freshmen) and making sure Neitzel gets enough shots to get in the groove. To some extent, this will be a function of how much they push the ball up the court to score in transition (where Morgan and the freshmen will probably be bigger factors) and how much they pull the ball back and run their half court offense (where Neitzel and Suton will be bigger factors). Given that the Big Ten looks like it will continue its lethargic ways this season, though, ensuring that Neitzel is getting enough opportunities to shoot off screen in the half court game will undoubtedly be essential to a successful conference season.

And Izzo certainly knows this: “When he’s passing up shots, he’s going to hear about it.”  As the schedule gets tougher and the freshmen find their roles, I think it’s a pretty good bet Neitzel will finish the season with a scoring average closer to last year’s 18 points/game than the 14 points/game he’s scored so far this season.

OK, I’ve carried on long enough here. What do others have to say? Does Neitzel need to score more for MSU to have a successful season? And, if so, how does MSU get him more shots?

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