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North Carolina obliterates Michigan State 89-72 in a 76-possession game.  StatSheet box score.

This four-factor graph does not tell the story:

The turnover differential obviously shows up loud and clear, but the other bars understate the degree to which the Tar Heels outplayed us.  Statistically speaking, this game was played in two distinct phases:

  • The first 10 minutes, in which North Carolina effectively ran us off the court.  By my count, MSU turned the ball over 8 times in their first 22 possessions, to fall behind 34-11 at the 9:44 mark in the first half.
  • The remaining 30 minutes, in which we toyed with mounting a comeback several times but could never really create any sense the outcome of the game was in doubt.  On paper, MSU played UNC even, actually outscoring them 61-55 over the remainder of the game, but the miscues cropped back up whenever the lead got down around 15.

Given the way this game played out, I’m going to forego a full statistical review.  I fear it would be a poorly-informed review, anyway–since there’s no way I can stomach watching the game on DVR to ensure I know what I’m talking about.

Instead, allow me to rant about three specific complaints I have about the way things unfolded last night:

  • The multiple bad in-bounds passes early in the game were very disappointing.  How can you not know that Ty Lawson is going to be lurking and take care to only throw the ball in if the intended recipient is clearly open?  This is where the “we’re going to beat them at their own game” mentality came back to haunt us, as the team clearly wanted to push the ball up the court quickly, even off made baskets.  As much as I love Goran Suton (19 17 points and 11 rebounds in his Spartan finale) and Draymond Green, they were the culprits in this department.
  • Tom Izzo, whom I (along with nearly every basketball commentator in the country) have praised effusively for the last two weeks, should have called a time-out in the first few minutes of the game.  I understand that he doesn’t normally call timeouts when opponents are making runs because he wants his team to be able to play through them.  But: (1) This is the last game of the season; there’s no point trying to improve the team’s mental toughness at this point.  And (2) we were playing North Freaking Carolina; you can’t pretend this is just another team that we’re eventually bound to find our bearings against.
  • Chris Allen should not have played nearly as much as he did in the second half.  I laud Allen for the way he’s evolved this season, becoming a useful player even when his jumpshot isn’t falling.  But we needed to make up points quickly in this game, and after Allen had missed his first 3 or 4 shots, every regular MSU observer in the arena knew he wasn’t going to make a long jumpshot for the remainder of the game, no matter how many he took.  Just about any other player on the roster would have given us a better shot to knock down a couple 3-pointers and move the lead toward single digits.

OK, I feel a little better, having gotten that off my chest.  We weren’t going to beat this team the way they were playing last night.  But it sure would have been nice to go down in something resembling a legitimate basketball contest.

On a positive note, the crowd was fantastic last night, greatly exceeding my expectations.  During pregame warm-ups, you could barely hear the announcement of the UNC starting lineup over the PA system.  Obviously, the crowd didn’t have much opportunity to get going once the game started.  But the MSU faithful did everything they could to try to get behind the team down the stretch.  The fans in my section were up on their feet at least a half dozen times in the second half, despite the lead never getting below 13.

I know the future is bright, but I can’t help but feel a little melancholy when I stop to realize this particular team’s run is over.  Travis Walton and Goran Suton are done, and their unique skill sets and mentalities were part of what made this team so special.  Next year’s team will have just as much talent, and will hopefully be able to craft its own persona, but–at least at this point–I can’t believe it will be quite the same.

Prior to this year, I’d been to only one MSU NCAA Tournament game–the loss to Arizona at the 2001 Final Four in Minneapolis.  This year, I had the privilege to witness first-hand three exhilarating Spartan victories en route to the national championship game.  I’m grateful for that experience, knowing that this kind of run doesn’t come around very often.

On that note, it’s worth pointing out that this season clearly ranks as the third greatest in the history of the MSU basketball program:

  • 31 wins
  • An outright Big Ten title
  • The Big Ten Player of the Year award and half of the Coach of the Year award
  • Two wins over #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament
  • The program’s third-ever national championship game appearance

All that from a team that had dropped to a ranking of just #22 in the coaches’ poll released five weeks into the season.  It was one heckuva ride all the way up to #2 in the final poll.

This year, more than ever, it’s good to be a Spartan.

P.S. When I first announced I’d be closing down this blog after the season ended, I had no idea there were still eight games of basketball yet to be played.  In the next week or so, I will be moving over to a blog on the SBNation platform with a team of MSU fans/writers.  The technical kinks are still being worked out, so we’ll hang out here a few days longer.

P.P.S. Six Spartan appearances in this year’s One Shining Moment video–not counting the championship game.  Not bad, not bad at all.

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ford field msu uconn

The Spartans run, not walk, past the Huskies 82-73 in a 74-possession game. StatSheet box score.

At this point, it’s hard to find more words to describe how well this team is playing.  This game was almost a carbon copy of the Louisville game in terms of scoring flow: It was back and forth in the first half with the two teams basically playing even.  MSU eventually wore the opponent down with their depth and game plan to build a double-digit lead in the final minutes.  (The mini-collapse at the end was a little troubling, but I think there was a certain shock factor in adjusting to an opponent suddenly pressuring you full-court after playing a fairly passive defense for 35+ minutes.)

It was pretty apparent early that Tom Izzo had not consulted Digger Phelps about the game plan: The plan was to run early and run often.  By doing so, MSU was able to create scoring opportunities near the basket without Hasheem Thabeet in position to block shots.  For the game Thabeet, blocked just two shots (a stat I had a hard time believing when I saw the box score).  UConn totaled 7 blocks–just 13.2% of MSU’s 2-point attempts, which was right in line with the percentage that USC and Louisville blocked.

Looking at the four-factor numbers, things played out as we hoped they would:

We won the turnover battle decisively (looking at the stats they put up on the scoreboard at Ford Field, it seemed like were “stuck” on 6 turnovers forever), kept the rebounding margin even, and ended up taking 13 more shots from the field that the Huskies did.  We didn’t shoot the ball all that well (47.2% on 2-pointers, 31.6% on 3-pointers), but it was good enough to hit 1.11 on the offensive points-per-possession meter.  (That’s two straight games above 1.10 against two of the top three defenses in the entire country.)

As the numbers predicted, UConn took more shots from the line (33 vs. 20, with the gap narrowed by UConn’s intentional fouls at the end).  But they weren’t efficient in turning those opportunities into points, shooting just 63.6% from the stripe.  Kemba Walker’s 3-9 performance had to be particularly demoralizing to the Huskies, as Walker missed his first 5 attempts from the line.

Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrian were dominant early on.  The two players finished with a combined 30 points on 23 FG attempts.  But Izzo stuck with the strategy of playing them straight up and, eventually, they couldn’t continue to provide consistent scoring.  A.J. Price was forced to try to create offense for UConn, but Travis Walton made him take 20 shots from the field to get to his 15 points.  Even better for us, Price had just 1 assist.

For the game, UConn recorded an assist on only 8 of their 25 made field goals.  MSU forced them to make individual plays to beat them and, in the end, the Huskies couldn’t make enough of those plays.  Stanley Robinson played with tremendous efficiency (15 points on 6 FG attempts and 13 rebounds) but he still seemed like a secondary player in UConn’s overall scheme.

For MSU, this was yet another “team” effort, in every sense of the word.  I was particuarly struck by how well the three freshmen played.  Here they were, less than five months into their college careers, playing in front of 72,000 people, and none of the three seemed the least bit intimidated:

  • Korie Lucious was huge in the first half, scoring 11 points (on a total of 8 FG attempts for the game) to help keep MSU within striking distance.  With UConn playing a fairly passive defense, it was a great situation for Lucious to shine, and he came up huge.
  • Delvon Roe had 4 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks in 21 minutes of play.  He played with composure against the UConn big men, with one of his baskets coming off a move that seemed to involve at least three pump fakes.
  • Draymond Green somehow scored 8 points in just 12 minutes of play.  The man simply has no fear.  How about the confidence he demonstrated in knocking down that open 18-footer late in the game?

Moving on to the big-number performances, one came from an expected source, and one did not:

  • Kalin Lucas put up 21 points on 3-6 three-point shooting to go with 5 assists.  At this point, the only other point guard out there I’m willing to concede can match the combination of ability and moxie that Lucas has will be on the other side of the court when Monday’s game tips off.  That move Lucas made on the fast break to split the two UConn defenders was pure brilliance.
  • Raymar Morgan played the best game of his career: 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 steals against the very epitome of the kind of tall, athletic opponent he normally struggles against.  I thought his confidence would melt away after he had his first shot of the game blocked by Thabeet, but MSU retained the ball (on a team rebound) and Morgan came right back and knocked down a shot.  From there, his confidence swelled.

Your other six Spartan contributors:

  • Travis Walton made A.J. Price’s life miserable, dished out 9 assists, stole the ball twice, and didn’t record a single turnover.  With those contributions, we can live with a 1-6 shooting night.
  • Goran Suton only scored 4 points.  He wasn’t going to have any success down low, and the UConn players seemed focused on not letting him get good perimeter looks.  But he was fairly effective in denying Thabeet position (getting into foul trouble in the process), and chipped in 7 rebounds, 2 assists (including the gorgeous backdoor pass to Summers in the final minute), 2 steals, and a block.
  • Durrell Summers had a pretty nice dunk, if I recall correctly.  For the game, he posted 10 points and 6 rebounds.  At this point, I’d hope that national commentators have seen enough of his play (not to mention that of Lucas, Morgan, and Allen) to stop saying we’re lacking “talent.”
  • Chris Allen wasn’t on, shooting just 1-6 from the field in 9 minutes.  But he’s now reached the point where he’s no longer a major liability on the floor when he’s not scoring.
  • Marquise Gray scored on a dunk early in the first half.  That play doesn’t register in my memory banks; I’ll have to take note when I rewatch the game on DVR later today.
  • Idong Ibok did what he needed him to do: absorb fouls.    Three fouls and 2 rebounds in 6 minutes.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen any MSU team play 80 minutes of basketball as well as this team has played them over the last two games.  Everyone’s contributing right now.  That’s created a versatility that’s allowed us to win back-to-back games of completely different tempos: 56 possessions against Louisville, 74 against UConn.  We forced an up-tempo, pressing team to play a slow-down game, and we forced a great half-court defensive team to play up up-tempo game.  Tom Izzo has now thoroughly out-coached two (fellow) future hall-of-fame coaches in two consecutive games on the sport’s biggest stage.

Speaking of stages, the scene at Ford Field was pretty darn cool.  At least 40,000 of the 72,000 seats were occupied by Spartan fans.  But what really created an advantage was having the students there.  The Izzone members initiated  the loudest cheering, as the rest of the fans followed their lead.  The sizable fan advantage certainly wasn’t the deciding factor, but it did seem to help keep UConn off balance when MSU made their run to extend the lead to double digits in the second half.

Celebrity sightings:

  • Outside the arena: Jim Boeheim, Derrick Coleman.
  • On the concourse: Mark Dantonio, Emeka Okafor, Charles Rogers.
  • In the MSU section behind the basket: Greg Kelser, Drew Naymick (with whom Goran Suton spent 10 minutes chatting after the game), Antonio Smith, Mike Chappell.
  • Walking up the aisle in the corner of the MSU section (where the Spartans Weblog clan was seated): Most of the MSU players.  Mrs. SW was able to obtain the autograph of Mr. Draymond Green.

It was the most magical night yet in this storybook run–a run that could now end with a classic storybook ending: Beating a nemesis that humiliated us by 35 points earlier this season in the very same locale.  More on that later today.  For now, let it sink in: This team has now taken us farther than all but two other teams in the one-hundred-plus history of the Michigan State basketball program.

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MSU dismantles Louisville 64-52 in a 56-possession game to advance to the Final Four.  StatSheet box score.

After a performance as thoroughly impressive as this one, it’s hard to know where to start.  So let’s start with what each of the eight guys who played double-digit minutes today contributed:

  • Goran Suton: 19 points on 3-5 three-point shooting, 10 rebounds, 4 assists.  Tom Izzo’s game plan in the half-court offense was to put Suton in the middle of the top two defenders in Louisville’s 2-3 zone and use Suton’s shooting/passing skills to break down the defense.  Suton responded beautifully, almost single-handedly keeping MSU even with the Cardinals through the first 20 minutes.  On defense, he completely shut down Samardo Samuels.  On his first three touches of the ball in the post, Samuels traveled, missed a shot, and got called for an offensive foul.  Samuels never bounced back and went scoreless for the game.
  • Kalin Lucas: 10 points on 2-3 three-point shooting, 5 assists, 3 offensive rebounds.  He turned it over 4 times, but he handled the Louisville full-court pressure well and got the ball to the right players in the right places throughout the game.
  • Travis Walton: 8 points, 2 assists, 2 steals.  After scoring only 2 points on Friday, Walton shot the ball with confidence in this game.  He was steady at the helm for the 4-5 minute stretch that Lucas sat out in the final 6-7 minutes (why so long?).  And he absolutely shut down Terrence Williams (1-7 FG shooting).
  • Durrell Summers: 12 points on 6 FGA (2-3 from beyond the arc) and 3 rebounds.  One fast-break dunk.  Two key free throws.  Three silky smooth jumpers.
  • Draymond Green: 6 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals.  Is there anything this man can’t do?  At one point, he was helping Walton bring the ball up the court against full-court pressure.  He made a fantastic driving bank shot just a possession or two after having his shot blocked driving the lane.  No fear.  And how about that offensive put-back that seemed to hang on the rim for about 3 seconds before dropping in?
  • Chris Allen: Only 2 points, but he was our hustle/glue guy tonight.  4 rebounds, 3 assists.
  • Raymar Morgan: He didn’t score, but he absorbed some fouls against Earl Clark (to put it somewhat euphemistically).  He was sort of a perimeter version of Idong Ibok in this game.  He now has five full days to get used to the mask (which he took off at halftime?) and find his jumpshot:
  • Delvon Roe: Only 2 points–but it was a big basket.  He scored on a pass ahead on the fast break, on a play on which most big men wouldn’t have stayed under control, to put us back ahead after Terrence Williams had converted a potentially momentum-changing alley-oop dunk to tie the game early in the second half.

Put it all together, and MSU put up 1.14 points per possession against arguably the best defense in the country.  Only one other Louisville opponent (Notre Dame) exceeded that mark this season.  Hitting 8 of 16 shots from beyond the arc went along way toward scoring so efficiently against the Cardinal zone.

Defensively, MSU seemed to suck the confidence right out of the Louisville players.  Earl Clark was great, scoring 19 points on 8-17 FG shooting.  The rest of the Louisville players, however, combined for just 10 made field goals (in 30 attempts).  MSU matched their physicality (and then some, as evidenced by the foul count).  And the absence of bad turnovers against the Louisville pressure meant we didn’t give up a single fast-break basket.  Unable to create easy baskets in the paint or in transition, Louisville had nothing to fall back on.  Williams and Clark ended up taking some ill-advised off-balance jumpers in the final 10 minutes.  And Rick Pitino seemed to give up–not even attempting a miracle comeback by fouling intentionally when we were still in the one-and one.

(Speaking of Pitino, did he show us some respect by having his players not trap as aggressively in the back court?  It seemed like he knew Izzo would have a precise plan for creating easy baskets if he double-teamed our ball-handlers.)

OK, here’s your four-factor graph:

The one factor Louisville beat us at–free throw rate–turned out to not be a big deal, as the Cardinals made only 10 of their 18 FT attempts.

Eight hours after this game ended, the result still seems somewhat surreal.  Five Final Fours in 11 years.  Perhaps more impressively, Tom Izzo has now reached the Final Four with three completely distinct active rosters.  (To do list: Figure out how many coaches have achieved that feat.)

A great coach.  A great team.  A great weekend.  A great week ahead.  Stay tuned.

Next up: The University of Connecticut Huskies.  Saturday, 6:07 p.m.  You may have heard of the venue: Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan.

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The Spartans claw their way past the Jayhawks 67-62 in a 66-possession game.  StatSheet box score.

It’s 1:49 in the a.m. as I begin this game recap.  So what I write below may or may not be coherent.

Further, from my seat in section 242 of Lucas Oil Stadium, this game much more as an emotional experience than it was an analytical experience.

And, even if one tried to systematically analyze this game, where would you start?  This four-factor graph makes no sense whatsoever to me:

Instead, I give you a dozen random bullets:

  • Kalin Lucas could not be any more clutch.  18 points, 7-7 FG shooting, 7 assists, 4 steals.
  • Goran Suton scored 20 points tonight (to go with 9 rebounds and 5 steals), and he didn’t even really look completely on his game.
  • Draymond Green just keeps getting better.  He played the fifth most minutes (21) of any Spartan tonight, believe it or not.
  • Durrell Summers showed up: 9 key points and 5 big rebounds
  • 11-19 assist-turnover ratio for Kansas.  That caught up with them in the end.  As good as Sherron Collins (20 points on 9-13 FG shooting) and Cole Aldrich (17 points, 14 rebounds) were, they combined for 10 of those turnovers.
  • What was Tom Izzo thinking putting Raymar Morgan back in the game with 2 minutes left, after sitting him for almost all of the second half?  (Apparently something happened to his nose?)  Regardless, it worked, as he dunked the ball off a pass from Lucas on the first play he was back in.
  • 16-17 FT shooting for the team.  Huge.  Miss a couple of those and the game is out of reach in the final few minutes.
  • Key play most people won’t be talking about tomorrow: Durrell Summers scoring on the sequence when we got like 3 offensive rebounds but couldn’t get the ball to go in.  If Summers doesn’t finally score, Kansas is up 5 with the ball and only 3 minutes left.
  • Gotta love Idong Ibok trying to inbound the ball off an MSU made free throw.  He still looks nothing at all like a basketball player, but he’s an awfully nice luxury to have in a game like this one.
  • Pretty good MSU contingent down here–although not as big a numbers advantage over the Kansas contingent as I expected.  Arena was 75% Cardinal red.  Sunday’s game will effectively be a road game.

This was a pretty ugly win.  I’m disappointed the team came out looking so tight–Raymar Morgan, in particular.  But, consistent with the resilience they’ve shown all year, they never caved in to their own failures.  I think I’m correct in saying that this team still has yet to lose a game that’s within a single possession with 2-3 minutes to go.

I think it’s safe to say that Louisville isn’t shaking in its boots right now.  We’re going to have to play much better than we did tonight, and the Cardinals are going to have to play considerably worse than they did tonight, for us to have a chance on Sunday (2:20 tip-off).  Two things Arizona did that I don’t expect us to, though: (1) Play a zone defense that gives Louisville two dozen clean 3-point looks and (2) fail to attack the full court press for easy baskets.

Tom Izzo, master short-timeframe game planner, has his work cut out for him: get the team prepared for both a full court press and a half court zone in a period of 38 hours.

That’s all for now.  I’ll get some sort of game preview up tomorrow for Sunday’s game, but I’m not sure exactly when.

GO STATE!  ELITE EIGHT!

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The Spartans battle past the Trojans 74-69 in a 69-possession game.  StatSheet box score.

It’s a cliche’ to say that a player “willed” his team to victory.  But, if ever that cliche’ was true, it was today.  Here’s a breakdown of the 74 points MSU scored today:

  • 24 points on free throws.
  • 18 points on 3-pointers.
  • 16 points on Travis Walton 2-pointers.
  • 16 points on 2-pointers scored by the other 10 Spartans who played in the game.

It looked to me like Tom Izzo had gone out of his way to tell Walton that he needed to shoot every open jumper he got–and shoot them with confidence.  On the first possession of the game–when USC came out employing the box and one–Walton got the ball about 18 feet from the basket in an open spot in the zone.  Usually, you’d expect him to hesitate at least briefly before shooting the ball so early in the game.  But, instead, he immediately squared up and knocked down the shot.  From their, his confidence ballooned; eventually he knocked down a couple shots where he had to adjust the arc of the shot due to an onrushing USC defender.

Beyond Walton’s career day, this win was a team performance.  Seven players played between 17 and 26 minutes–with Kalin Lucas going 35 minutes.  Those eight guys all contributed in different ways:

  • Lucas wasn’t able to drive the lane consistently against the taller USC defenders, but he played a very efficient game running the offense: 10 points on 6 FGA, 7 assists, 1 turnover.
  • On top of his 18 points, Walton contributed 2 key assists and stole the ball twice.
  • Durrell Summers was a huge spark in the first half.  For the game, he scored 11 points on 3-4 three-point shooting and pulled down 8 rebounds–4 of them on offense.
  • Chris Allen had 8 points on 2-5 three-point shooting and pitched in 3 assists.
  • It seems like Draymond Green becomes a more important player to this team every single game.  He played 22 minutes tonight, putting up 7 points and 9 rebounds (8 of them defensive).  More importantly, he played solid defense on Taj Gibson, eventually instigating Gibson’s 5th foul on a picture-perfect box out.
  • Delvon Roe scored 10 points on 5 FGA and 7 FTA.  During the stretch Suton was out of the game, he and Green both found ways to get open inside for dunks and/or free throw opportunities.
  • Goran Suton struggled with his outside shot, converting only 1 of 10 FG attempts.  But he contributed everywhere else: 10 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, a block, and fantastic defense against Gibson.
  • Raymar Morgan had a tough day.  He failed to make a field goal, scoring 3 points at the free throw line.  But he played hard throughout the game, helping to neutralize USC’s athletes some on defense.

In total, MSU recorded 20 assists on 22 made field goals.  Against one of the very few teams in the nation that’s more athletic than they are, the MSU players relied on execution and passing to win the game.  They turned the ball over a few too many times (TO% of 23.2%), but that was largely a function of playing aggressively against an athletic and long USC defense.

Defensively, the key was obviously making Taj Gibson a nonfactor.  Gibson’s stat line: 3 points, zero FGs, zero rebounds, 5 blocked shots, 3 turnovers, 5 fouls.  Gibson’s obviously a fantastic interior player, but MSU’s team of big men was too much for him.  Suton played him perfectly early, moving his feet on defense to prevent Gibson from getting good position.  On the other end of the court, the MSU players kept attacking the basket–despite Gibson’s 5 blocks–eventually forcing him to pick up his 3rd foul four minutes into the second half.

DeMar DeRozan, Daniel Hackett, and Dwight Lewis played well–scoring 50 points on 41 FG attempts by wearing down the MSU guards and forcing fouls in the lane.  But once MSU built a small lead late in the game, they couldn’t respond.  For the game, those three players combined to make just 1 of 9 three-point attempts.

The Trojans were every bit as athletic and physical as their statistical profile indicated; this was not your father’s #10 seed.  But, in the end, MSU was just a bit tougher due to their depth.  We won the rebounding battle and ended up forcing them to foul us 3 more times than we fouled them, leading to a 5-shot advantage from the line:

The early 3-point makes by Summers and Allen–along with Walton’s jumpshooting spree–were huge, as they forced the USC defenders to guard us aggressively on the perimeter, which eventually led to a few easy looks and a bunch of USC fouls on the inside.

Neither of our first two wins were big-time blowouts, but I feel like we’ve played about as well as we could have hoped to in both games.  Izzo now has another four full days of practice with the full roster healthy to get the team ready to take its best shot at getting to Ford Field.

Up next: A return to Indianapolis and a rematch with the Jawyhawks.  Friday night.  Approximate game time is 9:37.

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The Spartans bounce the Colonials 77-62 in a 65-possession game.  StatSheet box score.

The Kenpom prediction was a scoreline of 73-60, so the game result was in line with statistical expectations.  Robert Morris kept things close early by knocking down some 3-pointers, but eventually MSU’s size and athleticism were too much for the Colonials to handle.  Michigan State used a 21-point run spanning halftime to put the game out of reach with roughly 15 minutes to go.

The four factor graph shows MSU’s dominance on the boards and getting the ball inside to create situations in which the Colonials had to foul:

Five players hit double digits in scoring:

  • Raymar Morgan scored 16 points on 7-14 FG shooting.  He came out aggressively in the game and looks like he’s fully back to being the player he was before his illness.
  • Draymond Green also scored 16, converting 7 of 8 FG attempts.  Green took advantage of RMU’s small lineup to score in multiple ways around the basket.
  • Kalin Lucas had 13 points, knocking down his only 3-point attempt and hitting all 4 of his free throw attempts.
  • Goran Suton was a man among boys: 11 points and 17 rebounds.  He would have hit the 20-rebound mark if Izzo hadn’t pulled the starters with 5-6 minutes left.
  • Chris Allen scored 10 points on 2-4 three-point shooting.  Exactly the kind of game we need out of him; now the question is whether he can do it in back-to-back games.

Travis Walton did his usual number on the opponent’s top perimeter scorer, holding Jeremy Chappell to 11 points on 14 FG attempts (which was still the team high for RMU).

A positive resulting from putting the game effectively out of reach early in the second half is that no MSU player had to play more than 25 minutes.  Despite winning by 17, USC played three of its players for the full 40 minutes and a fourth player for 36 minutes.  Hopefully, that creates an advantage 40 hours from now.

Tonight’s win was a workmanlike effort–exactly the kind of performance you want as a high seed in the first round of the tournament.  It’s encouraging that multiple players contributed throughout the game.  Ten players played at least 11 minutes.  To make a deep run, we’re going to need productive minutes throughout the playing rotation.

Next up: An all-Greek affair, as the Spartans battle the Trojans on Sunday.  Game time is 5:00 p.m.  I’ll try to get a game preview up tomorrow, but it probably won’t be until late in the day.

P.S. For what it’s worth, only three of the top eight seeds in the Midwest region remain alive.  Of course, those three teams are the top three seeds: Louisville, MSU, and Kansas.

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The Spartans bow out to the Buckeyes 82-70 in a 69-possession game.  StatSheet box score.

Your bar graph:

Your bullets:

  • The difference in 2-point shooting percentages was fairly narrow, so the big differential in the eFG% bar was driven almost entirely by 3-point shooting.  They hit 9 of 16 from beyond the arc.  We hit 3 of 21.  There’s your ball game.
  • It’s surprising we haven’t had a game like this yet this season, in which the complete inability to hit a 3-pointer costs us the ability to compete for a win.  We actually ended up with pretty good turnover and offensive rebounding numbers; knocking down a few 3-pointers was the only real problem on offense.
  • The main problems today were on defense.  As I feared, Ohio State’s lineup caused us fits.  Izzo stayed big and tried to defend Evan Turner by putting a big man on him and hedging the other defenders toward him when he drove.  It worked for a while, but eventually he figured it out and created points by dishing to Jon Diebler outside and B.J. Mullens inside.
  • And we couldn’t take advantage of the mistmatch on the other end of the floor.  Gray, Green, and Roe combined to shoot just 4-11.
  • William Buford, please go pro.
  • When P.J. Hill and Jeremie Simmons combine to make 3 of 4 three-point attempts, you know it’s not your day.
  • Should Izzo have put the full court pressure on earlier–to take advantage of Ohio State’s lack of depth and suspect point guard play?
  • Korie Lucious: 16 points in 18 minutes.  Opposing defenses are going to have a real challenge guarding both him and Lucas for 20 minutes per game next year.
  • My theory on Chris Allen: Let him take take three jumpshots.  If he makes one, great: Let him play 20 minutes.  If he doesn’t, sit him down.  He doesn’t appear to have the ability to shoot himself out of a slump.

Losses in the conference tournament hurt–but not quite as much as regular season conference losses or NCAA Tournament losses.  It would have been nice to get this monkey off our backs, too–but it was the smaller of the two monkeys.

On to the Big Dance.  I think the #1 seed/#2 seed thing has probably been overblown.  There are 8 teams at this point that are clearly in the top tier.  As long as we’re not in the same region as UNC, I’m not sure if it matters which of those teams we’re grouped with.

P.S. Robbie Hummel looked oftly spry for a guy with a bad back playing his second game in two days this afternoon.  I wouldn’t want to be a #1 seed that has to play Purdue in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

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