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The end of the beginning

Barring future developments of an unforeseen nature, this is the final post of the Spartans Weblog.  Commenting will be shut down in a few days; the site will remain up for archival purposes as long as Mrs. SW lets me continue to pay the server costs (or I figure out how to upload the contents back to the free WordPress service).

I won’t repeat everything I said when I first announced the transition to the new site, except to say how much I’ve appreciated everyone’s kind words about my work here.  (Announcing the end of this blog has been the best thing I’ve ever done for my ego.)  You, my friends, are the primary reason that my blogging career is not ceasing entirely.

The conversation will continue–with more voices and a more interactive blogging setup–at the following address:

WWW.THEONLYCOLORS.COM

See you on the other side.

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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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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?

Prediction #1:

(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?

Prediction #2:

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?)

Prediction#3:

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%

And:

bigten-banner
(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).

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Wednesday Night Links

Site New of the I’m-Taking-a-Break Variety

The blogging pace around here has been pretty fast and furious of late, and I’m afraid I’m a little burnt out.  Additionally, I have a couple very busy days coming up at work, followed by a long weekend out of town.  Conveniently, MSU doesn’t have a game this weekend.

Long story, short: New content will be slim to none until next Monday night, when I should be back to do a preview of the Purdue game.  I’ll try to put up a couple Coffee Talk/open thread posts in the meantime.

To Help Make it Up to You, Here’s a Big Dump of Obscure Data

I know you’ve all been yearning for another dose or PORPAG.  So I’ve calculated the stat for major Big Ten contributors using conference-only data.  Technical notes:

  • As a refresher, this stat is an attempt to measure the marginal points per game a player contributes to his team on offense above what a “replacement-level” player would provide.
  • Major caveats: (1) Basketball is a team, not an individual, sport and (2) this stat tells you nothing whatsoever about defense.
  • I’ve set the pace factor at 62.5 (the average number of possessions in Big Ten games to date).  I’ve left replacement level at an offensive rating of 88.0.
  • The table below includes all the players that showed up in the StatSheet leaderboards for all three stats.  That’s basically every player who’s played at least 40.0% of his team’s minutes in conference play, with a few exceptions.

The data:

Player Yr Pos School Off Rtg Poss% Min% PORPAG
Kalin Lucas So G Michigan State 114.7 27.5 83.1 3.82
Matt Gatens Fr G Iowa 126.1 17.9 87.0 3.71
Evan Turner So G-F Ohio State 109.4 28.3 95.1 3.59
Craig Moore Sr G Northwestern 115.3 22.3 93.5 3.54
Talor Battle So G Penn State 107.3 28.3 94.1 3.21
Jon Diebler So G Ohio State 120.9 16.0 93.7 3.08
Jason Bohannon Jr G Wisconsin 125.3 16.1 80.9 3.03
JaJuan Johnson So F Purdue 112.6 25.1 74.9 2.88
Marcus Landry Sr F Wisconsin 112.2 23.8 78.4 2.82
William Buford Fr G Ohio State 113.0 20.9 86.1 2.80
Goran Suton Sr C Michigan State 120.3 18.4 69.8 2.59
Joe Krabbenhoft Sr G-F Wisconsin 119.2 17.0 77.3 2.57
Jamelle Cornley Sr F Penn State 107.1 23.3 90.9 2.53
Lawrence Westbrook Jr G Minnesota 112.4 24.6 63.1 2.36
Demetri McCamey So G Illinois 106.1 24.8 77.3 2.17
DeShawn Sims Jr F Michigan 107.1 23.6 74.2 2.09
Matt Roth Fr G Indiana 130.4 14.9 52.1 2.06
Kevin Coble Jr F Northwestern 101.2 26.9 85.8 1.90
Stanley Pringle Sr G Penn State 103.5 24.0 81.6 1.89
Durrell Summers So G Michigan State 110.1 22.1 58.5 1.79
Trent Meacham Sr G Illinois 112.1 15.5 72.6 1.69
Mike Tisdale So C Illinois 108.4 21.8 57.8 1.60
Jeremie Simmons Jr G Ohio State 109.0 19.9 61.1 1.60
B.J. Mullens Fr C Ohio State 105.2 24.5 54.8 1.44
Raymar Morgan Jr F Michigan State 114.5 19.9 42.5 1.40
Devan Dumes Jr G Indiana 102.1 26.5 59.8 1.40
Michael Thompson So G Northwestern 101.0 19.8 85.3 1.37
Jeff Peterson So G Iowa 96.8 26.0 90.8 1.29
Zack Novak Fr G Michigan 108.9 13.1 73.2 1.25
Delvon Roe Fr F Michigan State 111.1 19.0 43.8 1.20
Mike Davis So F Illinois 101.5 19.4 70.8 1.16
Ralph Sampson III Fr F-C Minnesota 107.3 15.3 56.3 1.04
Chris Allen So G Michigan State 101.1 26.2 46.9 1.01
E’Twaun Moore So G Purdue 95.7 23.2 84.9 0.95
Chris Kramer Jr G Purdue 107.2 12.9 59.0 0.91
Manny Harris So G Michigan 93.4 31.9 80.6 0.87
Jon Leuer So F Wisconsin 97.1 25.8 56.9 0.84
Damian Johnson Jr F Minnesota 98.9 17.9 68.5 0.84
Lewis Jackson Fr G Purdue 97.3 20.1 58.5 0.68
Kelvin Grady So G Michigan 100.2 14.4 53.2 0.59
Travis Walton Sr G Michigan State 97.5 12.5 70.8 0.52
Danny Morrissey Sr G Penn State 100.0 15.0 45.5 0.51
Al Nolen So G Minnesota 93.1 21.7 64.1 0.45
Jarryd Cole So F Iowa 99.6 14.1 43.8 0.45
Nick Williams Fr G Indiana 92.7 22.0 68.8 0.45
Jeremy Nash Jr G Northwestern 97.5 12.3 59.5 0.44
Trevon Hughes Jr G Wisconsin 91.4 23.8 84.0 0.42
Keaton Grant Jr G Purdue 92.7 17.4 73.7 0.38
Chester Frazier Sr G Illinois 93.8 11.9 82.5 0.36
Tom Pritchard Fr F Indiana 91.1 20.5 72.6 0.29
Verdell Jones III Fr G Indiana 90.2 25.0 79.3 0.27
Devan Bawinkel Jr G Iowa 94.0 13.0 45.2 0.22
Marcus Green Sr F Purdue 91.6 16.6 44.1 0.16
Calvin Brock Sr G Illinois 90.4 24.4 42.5 0.16
Laval Lucas-Perry Fr G Michigan 89.9 21.0 60.4 0.15
Stu Douglass Fr G Michigan 90.3 17.8 47.0 0.12
Jermain Davis Jr G Iowa 88.9 16.1 52.8 0.05
Blake Hoffarber So G Minnesota 87.4 14.7 53.0 (0.03)
Jeff Brooks So F Penn State 85.7 12.4 48.0 (0.08)
Jake Kelly So G Iowa 84.2 22.8 77.1 (0.41)
Dallas Lauderdale So F Ohio State 72.7 11.5 53.0 (0.58)

Notes:

  • Kalin Lucas is your leader.  His FG shooting (43.3%/35.7%) and assist (3.5/game) numbers aren’t all that impressive.  Free throw shooting (59-68 in 12 games) appears to be the key factor–and the fact he’s taken on an even larger role in the offense with Raymar Morgan’s illness.
  • Talor Battle has faded; he’s made just 1 of 15 three-point attempts in the two games he’s played since scorching us from all over the court.
  • MSU is the only team with six players posting 1.0 point or more of PORPAG.  Ohio State has five.  Not coincidentally, those two teams are #1 and #2 in in-conference offensive efficiency.
  • JaJuan Johnson is your highest ranked big man.  Phenomenal numbers considering his non-Hummel teammates are all below 1.0.  (Hummel’s somewhere above 1.0, even in limited minutes, but I couldn’t extract all the numbers I needed from StatSheet for some odd reason).
  • A lot of 3-point shooters in the top ten.  Not sure if there’s an additional adjustment to be made using usage rate (%Poss).  Taking out the guys with usage rates below 20%, you get a top five of Lucas, Turner, Moore, Battle, and Johnson.  Not a bad all-conference team (recognizing, again, that these numbers tell us nothing about defense).
  • The fact that Manny Harris is lodged between Chris Kramer and Jon Leuer highlights the fact that you can’t neatly separate out individual performance from team performance in basketball.

Bonus Item Only for People Who Go by the Name “SpartanDan”

SpartanDan, could you drop me an e-mail (spartansweblog@gmail.com), or check the e-mail address you use to comment?  I have a question for you.

As for the rest of you, enjoy your weekends and rest up for the stretch drive to Tom Izzo’s fifth Big Ten title.

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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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Site News: 1:45 A.M. Edition

I finally got around to upgrading my WordPress software to the latest version.  Given my very limited technical knowledge, I’m quite pleased that I was able to make it work in the period of an hour and a half.  But I did manage to lose all the comments that were posted today.  I think there were about a half dozen of them.  My bad.

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MSU-Kansas Thoughts

To pay my blogging penance, I watched the full game on videotape this afternoon.  Here’s the rest of the game recap:

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the current nine-game winning streak is how everyone in the playing rotation seems to be finding their respective roles.  Eleven players played significant minutes yesterday, and all of them contributed positively in at least a small way.

  1. Kalin Lucas: 22 points on 11 FG attempts.  Lucas remains sizzling hot: 3-4 on three-pointers.  Discussion question: Why do Lucas’ assists go down so dramatically (just one yesterday) when his scoring goes up?
  2. Travis Walton: Found his shooting stroke again, scoring 11 points on 5-8 shooting.  Could be even more of a force on defense if he’d stop using his hands so much and picking up ticky-tack fouls when he’s in good defensive position.  Helped force Sherron Collins into making 8 turnovers (six in Kansas’ 18-point first half).
  3. Raymar Morgan: A workmanlike 13 points and 8 rebounds.  More so than any other MSU player, Morgan has found the sweetspot of his role in the offense.
  4. Delvon Roe: 5 points and 5 rebounds in 17 minutes.  How about that catch on the fast break under the basket late in the second half?
  5. Goran Suton: Despite issues caused by sushi and/or calamari, contributed 6 points and 7 rebounds in 22 minutes.  Isn’t it nice to have a big guy who can consistently knock down the perimeter shot again?
  6. Chris Allen: He’s struggling with his shot right now, as he missed his first four 3-point attempts.  But he bounced back to hit his final attempt, which effectively ended the game.  Allen didn’t force things much, playing within the offense and leading the team with 3 assists.  Noticed a couple defensive lapses that led to open 3-point looks for Kansas, though.  (One advantage of watching a game on tape: the rewind button.)
  7. Idong Ibok: Played 14 minutes of solid defense, flustering Cole Aldrich in the first half and taking the Jayhawks out of their comfort zone.  Two blocked shots.  And his ball-handing was solid; he finished with two assists.
  8. Durrell Summers: 4 points and 3 rebounds in 13 minutes.  Nice finish on an alley-oop from Allen.
  9. Korie Lucious: 5 points and 2 assists in 11 minutes.  Committed two turnovers, but one was in the last minute with the shot clock running down.  Is it a coincidence that Walton’s offensive touch returned with Lucious getting the bulk of the back-up point guard minutes?  Giving Lucious 10-12 minutes puts a squeeze on minutes for perimeter players, with Morgan playing more at the 3 than at the 4 now, but I think it’s the way to go.
  10. Marquise Gray: 4 rebounds in 9 minutes.  He’s disappeared on offense, but he should get 10 to 15 minutes if continues to rebound and play decent defense.
  11. Draymond Green: 3 points and 2 rebounds in 7 minutes.  Nice jumpshot with the shot clock running down in the second half.

It’s nice to come out on top in an Ed Hightower special, with a total of 55 fouls called.  MSU shot 26 for 35 from the free throw line (74.3%), while Kansas shot just 17 of 28 (60.7%).

Kansas couldn’t find any scoring outside of Aldrich (14) and Collins (25).  The rest of the Jayhawks combined for just 23 points.  MSU played solid, straight-up man-to-man defense.  And they limited Kansas’ second-chance points, holding a very good offensive rebounding team to just 7 offensive rebounds in 36 opportunities (DefReb%=80.3%).

With three road games in our first four Big Ten games, this win provided a good chance to win a game on our home court, feeding off the energy of the crowd.  And it was a great showcase game for the program on national TV against one of the all-time elite basketball programs in the country.

Next up: At Penn State Wednesday night.  Eat your dinner early.  It’s a 6:30 tip-off on BTN.

Purdue-Wisconsin Thoughts

The two teams who finished in the top two spots in last year’s Big Ten standings clashed in West Lafayette this afternoon.  The Boilermakers earned a 65-52 win in a 55-possession game, beating Wisconsin in all four statistical aspects of the game:

From a short-term perspective, this leaves MSU as the only Big Ten team undefeated in conference play.  So that’s a good thing.  From a longer-term perspective, though, there are reasons to think both Purdue and Wisconsin are still in positions to be serious threats in the conference title race.

With Robbie Hummel and Chris Kramer back on the court, Purdue looked every bit the team that was picked as the preseason conference favorite.  They played their brand of lock-down defense and unselfish offense for 40 minutes.  And Jujuan Johnson gave them the inside presence they need, scoring 20 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.  Purdue has dug itself an early hole in the conference race, but if they remain at full health, this game proves they have the ability to dig themselves out of it.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, continued to have problems scoring points against quality teams.  The best statistical indicator of the Badgers’ struggle to create good offensive situations is that they shot only 6 free throws.  Early in the game, Wisconsin regularly tried to run its swing offense, but Purdue was too disciplined to get beat by it.  With the shot clock running down, this Wisconsin team doesn’t have the same kind of playmaker past squads have had to manufacture a good shot.  The two potential go-to guys, Trevon Hughes and Marcus Landry, combined to shoot just 6 of 26 from the field today.

Nevertheless, there aren’t that many elite defensive teams in the Big Ten this year: Purdue, Illinois, and (maybe) MSU.  Wisconsin will win nearly all their games against teams with less disciplined defenses and will be a factor at some point in the conference race.

Sunday Night Links

Site News

I need to go on vacation more often:

That’s an all-time high in page views for the Spartans Weblog over the past seven days–already surpassing the final week of last season’s NCAA Tournament run.  Thanks to everyone for staying tuned this week, despite the fact that I only ended up seeing about one-third of the past three MSU games live and relied more on you guys than you could rely on me.  The good news is I now have no excuse not to be fully rested for a great stretch drive of blogging and, knock on wood, Big Ten title-level basketball from our Spartans.

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