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Wednesday Links

The Expectations Game

I think it’s fair to say that, going into this season, expectations for MSU basketball are as high as they’ve been in half a dozen years.  And for good reason: The roster of players Izzo has to work with this year is as talented, versatile, and deep as any he’s had since the national championship season.  Here’s one way to look at it: Listed below is the player playing the 9th most minutes/game (and their class year) in each of the last 9 seasons:

  • 1999-2000: David Thomas (RS junior)
  • 2000-01: Adam Ballinger (RS sophomore)
  • 2001-02: Tim Bograkos (RS freshman)
  • 2002-03: Tim Bograkos (RS sophomore)
  • 2003-04: Matt Trannon (freshman)
  • 2004-05: Delco Rowley (RS sophomore)
  • 2005-06: Drew Naymick (RS sophomore)
  • 2006-07: Idong Ibok (RS sophomore)
  • 2007-08: Durrell Summers (freshman)

At this point, I’d forecast Korie Lucious or Marquise Gray to be the 9th man in MSU’s playing rotation this season.  Both those players can reasonably be expected to contribute more on the court than any of the players on this list below David Thomas.

So the parts are all there.  The question is just how good a team they add up to.  More specifically, what’s a reasonable expectation for this team’s overall record?  Here’s my (admittedly unscientific) take:

  • 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.
  • MSU should be favored to at least make the Big Ten Tournament final.  Let’s say 2-1, given that the regular season conference forecast is on the optimistic side.
  • A Sweet Sixteen appearance is be expected.  A Final Four appearance is certainly possible.  Split the difference and you’ve got a 3-1 record in the Big Dance.

Add all that up and you get to 29-8.  If they could achieve this scenario, I think we’d be pretty content.  The key, though, would be hitting that 15-3 Big Ten mark, which would presumably get us at least a share of the regular season conference title.  That seven-year conference title drought continues to weigh on the program.

At the same time, getting to a Final Four being held in our home state to keep Tom Izzo’s every-four-year-player-has-been-to-a-Final-Four streak alive would be happiness inducing, as well.

Coffee Talk: What’s the highest priority this season?  Winning the conference?  Or making the fifth Final Four appearance of the Izzo era?  (I’ve laid these choices with two stark scenarios out in a poll below.)  Are the expectations I’ve laid out above in terms of W-L record too high, too low, or juuuuust right?

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Tuesday Links

A Singular Bold Prediction

I find that I do a lot less prognosticating than most college sports bloggers do.  Two reasons:

  • I’m not very good at it.  (If I were good at it, I wouldn’t spend all my Sunday afternoons mumbling about the bad decisions I made regarding my fantasy football lineup.)
  • I’m not sure how interesting predictions are to my readers.

Example of the latter: Nearly every prediction I’ve seen about the Big Ten standings for the upcoming basketball season have the 11 teams grouped as follows:

  • The Contenders: Michigan State and Purdue
  • Can’t Rule Them Out: Wisconsin
  • Young But Very Talented: Minnesota and Ohio State
  • Leaning Toward NIT: Illinois, Michigan, and Penn State
  • Hard to Take Seriously: Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern

Predicting a precise order of finish, then, merely becomes an exercise in sorting the 2-3 teams in each group.  And I’ m not sure my guesses are better than anyone else’s.  This’ll be a more interesting exercise once we have some data on nonconference performance.

Similarly, just about every preseason all-conference teams I’ve seen includes 5 of these 8 players: Manny Harris, Robbie Hummel, Marcus Landry, Kalin Lucas, E’Twaun Moore, Raymar Morgan, B.J. Mullens.  All solid picks.  I have a hard time eliminating three names from that list.

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.

Hummel was so darn efficient last year: .447 3-point %, 10.5% OReb %.  He could have a very good season this year and not match those numbers.  So the percentage of his team’s possessions he uses would really have to go up dramatically, which seems unlikely given Purdue’s balance on offense, to improve significantly on the 11.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game he posted last year.

As for Morgan, we all hope he’ll be a more consistent outside shooter, which should boost his scoring production from the 14.0 points/game he scored last season.  But he may also lose some scoring opportunities to Delvon Roe and Durrell Summers.

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.

Caveat: No one know exactly how good B.J. Mullens will be.  If he’s really in the same class as Greg Oden, he could put up huge numbers for an Ohio State team that doesn’t return a double-digit scorer, playing against conference oppnents who generally lack the sort of big men it will take to defend him.

So there you go: a bold prediction.  If I’m right, that should be a very good thing for MSU, indicating the up-tempo thing worked.  If I’m wrong, let’s hope that means Raymar Morgan became the big-time 18-points-per-game scorer we’ve seen glimpses of.

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We’re now just 10 days out from the MSU basketball team’s first real game.  At this point, I feel like a good sports blogger would offer up a nice, comprehensive team preview.  But I also feel like I’ve said just about everything I can think of about this roster of players over the last seven months.  In particular, this post and this one still seem pretty accurate.

What I’m going to try to do over the next week and a half is put together 3-4 posts with a few random thoughts/predictions about the upcoming season that I haven’t hit on thus far.  Let’s start with what I think may be the big-picture key to MSU’s season: three-point shooting.

Going into this season, I have very few worries about defense and rebounding.  With 14 players competing for playing time, Tom Izzo will have everyone extremely motivated to play hard every minute of every game.  And that depth will mean the team can play the aggressive style of man-to-man defense Izzo prefers.  There’ll be no need for gimmicky zone defenses.

On offense, we know this team will score buckets of points whenever the opportunity to push the ball in transition arises.  Kalin Lucas is exactly the point guard this team has been looking for since Mateen Cleaves graduated, and Korie Lucious is already showing a great ability to distribute the ball on the fast break.

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.

We know Chris Allen will step into Neitzel’s designated sharpshooter role and put up good numbers (36.0% on 3.1 3-point shots/game last season in a fairly limited role).  But, beyond that, our perimeter shooters are not necessarily of the pure-shooter variety.  Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers have shown the ability to hit the three in spurts (36.4% on 1.5 shots/game for Lucas; 50.0% for Summers, but on just 22 shots).  Raymar Morgan and Goran Suton can hit the three, but have never done it consistently.  Korie Lucious should hopefully provide a solid shooting option off the bench for 10-15 minutes/game.  Isaiah Dahlman’s 3-point shot looks improved, but it’s unclear how much he’ll be on the floor.

As much as what we see in preseason scrimmages and exhibition games generally doesn’t carry much meaning, I am encouraged by MSU’s 3-point shooting percentages thus far.  Between the Green-White game and the game against Northern, Spartan shooters have made 23 of 44 three-point attempts, for a very healthy percentage of 44.0%.  Lucas has shot 4-9; Summers has shot 4-6.  (One note: I found myself getting confused by the two 3-point lines on the floor last night, being used to the closer one being the college line when a team plays in an NBA arena.  The players may still be adjusting to this, too, as MSU made at least 2-3 two-pointers that would have been three-pointers with the old line.)

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.

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