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From a four factors perspective, rebounding was clearly the dominant strength of this year’s MSU basketball team.  The team ranked 6th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 11th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.  In none of the other six offensive/defensive four factor components did MSU rank higher than 50th nationally.

It seems clear that, given the fact MSU ranked in the top 20 nationally in adjusted efficiency on both sides of the ball, the combined level of rebounding the team sustained over the course of the season must have been among the nation’s best.  But just exactly how good was it?

Here’s a list of the top ten BCS conference teams in the country in rebounding percentage margin (offensive rebounding percentage minus defensive rebounding percentage; figures include all games):

Michigan St. 13.4
Pittsburgh 12.3
Washington 10.8
Kansas St. 10.2
Connecticut 9.8
West Virginia 9.2
Kansas 7.8
North Carolina 7.2
Tennessee 6.8
Louisiana St. 6.8

Only nine other major conference teams in the country had a margin equal to even half of MSU’s.  (And MSU’s margin of 13.4% still ranks #1, even if you include all Division 1 teams in the rankings.)

One thing that jumped out at me in looking at the rebounding data is that offensive and defensive rebounding percentages are not as highly correlated as I might have thought:

  • Of the top 25 teams in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, only 5 also ranked in the top 25 in offensive rebounding percentage.
  • Looking at just the top 10 defensive rebounding teams , only one team ranked higher than 150th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (Albany).
  • Looking at the top 10 offensive rebounding teams, only three teams ranked higher than 100th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (MSU, Pittsburgh, Washington).
  • The statistical correlation between team offensive and rebounding percentages is a relatively modest 12.1%.

It would appear that, for the majority of college basketball teams, excellence on the boards is a skill that can only be maximized on one end of the court or the other.  To some extent, that may be a function of strategy: teams with conservative approaches to the game secure defensive rebounds before they send players down court and eschew crashing the offensive glass so they can get back on defense.  It may also have something to do with personnel: defensive rebounding is more about size and position, while offensive rebounding is more about quickness and aggressiveness.

As a visual aid, here’s where MSU falls in a scatterplot of rebounding percentages for all 344 Division 1 basketball teams this season:

rebound-scatter

Because of the emphasis Tom Izzo has placed on rebounding during his tenure as head coach, I’d come to assume that top-notch offensive and defensive rebounding generally went hand in hand.  Last season, I was puzzled as to why MSU only ranked 104th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage when they ranked 8th in offensive rebounding percentage.

This season, the team put it all back together in terms of crashing the boards with abandon on both ends of the floor.  And our appreciation for that statistical combination should be even more heightened than perhaps it has been.

I’ve decided not to post any commentary of a forward-looking nature until we get over to the new site. For now, let’s revel in the season that has been.

One of the things that made this season so special was the number of guys who stepped up at various times during the season to get the team to 31 wins, despite multiple injuries disrupting the regular lineup during the season.  For the season, nine different players led the team in scoring at least once, seven different players led the team in rebounding at least once, and five different players led the team in assists at least once (including ties in all three cases).

To look back at some of those contributions, I’ve put together a list of the top ten individual performances over the course of the season.  I’ve split the list into five regular season performances and five postseason performances.

Regular Season Performances

5. Raymar Morgan vs. Oklahoma State
29 points on 9-11 FG shooting and 11-13 FT shooting, 5 rebounds
Few MSU fans got to see this game, after MSU dropped the opener in the Old Spice Classic, but Morgan put up some huge numbers against a team that would eventually make the NCAA Tournament.

4. Delvon Roe at Michigan
14 points on 5-7 FG shooting, 10 rebounds
From the game recap: “Delvon Roe finally put together the kind of game we’ve been hoping for against a smaller lineup: 14 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes.  He took advantage of the mismatch against Zach Novak and the other guards that were matched up with him inside–and made 4 of 6 free throws to boot.”

3. Kalin Lucas at Illinois
18 points on 7-14 FG shooting, 4 assists, 1 turnovers
You could put Lucas on this list as many times as you wanted, but we’ll go with his extremely efficient performance in MSU’s best win of the Big Ten season.  That performance included a layup Lucas created out of nothing to put MSU ahead 60-58 with 5 minutes go after Illinois had rallied from a 7-point second-half deficit.

2. Durrell Summers at Ohio State
26 points on 6-9 three-point shooting, 4 rebounds
From the game recap: “The tale of the first half was Durrell Summers single-handedly keeping the team afloat, scoring 16 of the team’s 26 points as the rest of the team struggled with turnovers and 3-point shooting against the Ohio State 3-2 zone.”

1. Goran Suton vs. Wisconsin
16 points on 6-6 FT shooting, 10 rebounds, 2 assists
From the game recap: “Suton was a warrior.  After not starting the game (apparently to reward Tom Herzog–he of the graceful reverse layup–for his hard work in practice), Suton posted 16 points and 10 rebounds–most of them in the second half.  He pulled down a couple huge offensive rebounds, as did Raymar Morgan (5 rebounds in 17 minutes), during the comeback from 12 down.  Give Suton credit for keeping his composure after the airballed 3-pointer (his third 3-point miss of the game) and leading the team to victory.”

Honorable Mention: Travis Walton’s back-to-back 16-point performances at the Old Spice Classic.  Marquise Gray’s back-to-back 12-point performances in the same setting.  Suton’s 18-point performance against Texas in just his second game back from the knee injury.  Morgan’s 22-point/13-rebound performance against Northwestern to help MSU open the conference season with two road wins.  Chris Allen’s 17-point performance (on 4-7 three-point shooting) in the same game, against the 1-3-1 zone.  Lucas’ 21-point performance against Purdue in the regular season finale.  And just for Mrs. SW: Austin Thornton’s 9-point performance (on 3-3 three-point shooting) in the opener against Idaho.

Postseason Performances

5. Goran Suton vs. North Carolina
17 points on 3-4 three-point shooting, 11 rebounds, 2 blocks
While the outcome of the game was a disappointment, let’s not forget Suton went toe to toe with one of the most celebrated post players in the history of college basketball and matched him almost play for play.

4. Kalin Lucas vs. Kansas
18 points on 7-7 FT shooting, 7 assists, 4 steals
From the game recap: “Kalin Lucas could not be any more clutch.”  I think this play will forever pop into my head whenever I hear the phrase “and one.”

3. Raymar Morgan vs. UConn
18 points on 7-13 FG shooting, 9 rebounds, 5 steals
From the game recap: “Raymar Morgan played the best game of his career . . . 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.”

2. Goran Suton vs. Louisville
19 points on 3-5 three-point shooting, 10 rebounds, 4 assists
From the game recap: “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.”

1. Travis Walton vs. USC
18 points on 8-13 FG shooting, 2 assists, 2 steals
From the game recap: “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.”

Honorable Mention: Chris Allen’s 17-point performance against Minnesota in the conference tournament.  Korie Lucious’ 16-point performance to try to mount a comeback against Ohio State in the conference tournament.  Draymond Green’s 16-point performance against Robert Morris.  Suton’s 20-point/9-rebound performance against Kansas.  Lucas’ 21-point/5-assist performance against UConn.

Who would have thought that Travis Walton, of all players, would end up making having arguably the key offensive performance of the entire season?  And we’re not even talking about his defense.  The games in which he locked down A.J. Abrams, Manny Harris, and A.J. Price could have easily been included on the lists above.

Coffee Talk: What do all of you think?  Which performance merits top billing?  What great individual performances did I miss?

Post-Tournament Links

Updates:

At least one reader (Mark in DC) thinks recovering from a broken bone in your foot/ankle can potentially be as complicated as an ACL injury.  Anyone else have information on this topic?

Amidst all the excitement of MSU’s tournament run, I haven’t been posting updates on our NCAA Tournament contest.  Here are the final standings, courtesy of the incomparable SpartanDan:

1. Seer 151
2. DP99 137
3. Alex 122
4. Mark in Chicago 113
5. Chris 112 (tiebreaker: 74 possessions)
6. rook34 112 (68)
7. SpartanDan 110
8. gbbound 107
9. Jackson22 106
10. TMadison25 104
11. dougieb 103
12. spartanproducer 102
13. Tommy 99 (70)
14. Ground Zero East Lansing 99 (68)
15. kj 92
16. EB 91
17. wife of a spartan 89
18. Mark in DC 88
19. Sparty in Badgerland 87
20. Kurt 86
21. Otto 82
22. msufan23 78

Best possible score: MSU (14), Siena (9), USC (10), Dayton (11), Arizona (24), Cleveland St. (13), Missouri (9), Purdue (10), Texas A&M (9), Maryland (10), Villanova (13), Wisconsin (12), UNC (15), Michigan (10), WKU (12) plus any one of Xavier, Oklahoma State, Gonzaga, or LSU (8 each) for a total of 189.

Seer already won a DVD, so we’ll award this one to DP99.  Congratulations to both of you.  DP, send me your mailing address so I can send the DVD to you.

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.

The Turnovers Strike Back

76 possessions

21 turnovers

Turnover percentage: 27.6%

I don’t think this North Carolina team was going to be beaten under any circumstances tonight, but I sure would have liked to see the MSU team that played with such poise and precision in the two previous game give the Tar Heels a run for their money.

A disappointing finale to an otherwise superlative season.

More tomorrow.

(I must say, it’s really fun typing in blog post titles that include the words “National Championship Game.”) The time for analysis and prognostication is over, my friends.  Now, it’s all about believing.  And what better way to express a dose of irrational optimism than with the opening theme to our favorite late-80’s sitcom?

No matter what the odds are this time, nothing’s going to stand in my our way.

GO GREEN!