Posts Tagged ‘final four’

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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(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.


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Monday night, 9:21.  Ford Field, Detroit.  CBS.

This has become a routine for me now: Overanalyzing the statistical profiles of #1 seeds we’re about to play and convincing myself we’re massive underdogs.  I’m going to try to keep this preview short, to avoid that danger (and because I need to get some sleep tonight).

The numbers:

Category MSU Off Nat Rk UNC Def Nat Rk
Adj Eff 115.4 18 90.0 16
TO% 20.5 184 20.2 174
eFG% 49.9 137 46.6 62
FTR 40.7 56 24.7 5
OffReb% 40.9 5 31.6 118
Category UNC Off Nat Rk MSU Def Nat Rk
Adj Eff 123.7 1 88.0 8
TO% 16.7 13 20.3 171
eFG% 52.9 43 47.2 81
FTR 39.1 98 35.6 158
OffReb% 39.2 17 27.4 11

Unlike our previous two opponents, the scary half of North Carolina’s profile is the offensive side.  This team takes care of the ball, shoots the ball very efficiently (51.1/38.4/75.8) and crashes the glass almost as well as we do.  And they do it all at a breakneck pace (adjusted tempo=73.8).

I’m not going to run down UNC’s playing rotation in detail (partly because the numbers are so imposing).  We know all about their two incomparable leaders: Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson.  And Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, and Bobby Frasor can all play a little bit, too.  When this team is playing to its potential, it’s more like watching an NBA team than a college team: Everybody can knock down perimeter shots and make plays going toward the basket.  They’re the one team in the tournament field that has the ability to turn the scoring switch on seemingly at will.

At the risk of sounding like Dan Patrick, you can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them.  My hunch is we’re going to have to play them straight up and hope that Kalin Lucas and Goran Suton are good enough at this point to go toe to toe with Lawson and Hansborough.  The rest of the defense can’t afford to sag off the other UNC players to help out on the two stars.  Once Ellington and Green get going, things really start to fall apart for the defense.  Assuming Walton doesn’t guard Lawson, he may be able to take one of those two guys out of the game on offense.

Playing them straight up should have the added advantage of keeping us in good rebounding position.  Our only potential defensive advantage on paper is rebounding.  If we can limit the Tar Heels to one shot per possession, that would go a long ways to giving us a shot at outscoring them.

And outscoring them is what we will need to do.  In UNC’s four losses this season (Boston College, Wake Forest, Maryland, Florida State), the Tar Heels still managed to stay above 1.00 points per possession.  (They didn’t have a single outing below that threshold all season.)  But they allowed their opponents to score an average of 1.10 points per possession in those games.

On paper, UNC doesn’t look like they’re well positioned to take advantage of our occasional turnover issues.  I’m not so sure, though.  Athletic, man-to-man teams are exactly the kind of opponent our turnover issues have cropped up against this season.  We’ll see if this team has turned the page for good on those issues.  If UNC comes out overplaying on the perimeter, we have to use the pressure against them to create points going toward the basket.

Beyond that, we’re going to need to crash the glass with abandon (it’s our single trump card on both ends of the court) and knock down whatever good 3-point looks we get.  All four of the teams that have beaten UNC this year shot at least 37.5% from 3-point range in doing so.

North Carolina’s only outstanding statistical factor on defense is free throw rate.  With their across-the-board athleticism, the Tar Heels don’t end up in positions requiring them to foul with much frequency.  If, however, we can somehow get Hanbrough to pick up a couple early fouls, that’d be helpful.  He ended up with 4 fouls in 3 of their 4 losses.  Raymar Morgan’s newfound offensive confidence could be an asset in that department, since Hansbrough doesn’t block a lot of shots.

In terms of pace, MSU is talking a lot about beating UNC at its own game by pushing the ball on offense.  In reality, I think they’re going to have to walk a very fine line.  They certainly need to take whatever fast break opportunities are there for high-percentage shots.  But they can’t make bad decisions with the ball that will allow Lawson to work his magic going the other way.  There’s a temptation to say an up-tempo game favors us because of our depth (10-player rotation vs. 7-player rotation, but you’re playing with fire if you push that line of thinking past a certain point.  Lucas, Walton, and Lucious have to make smart decisions with the ball for 40 minutes.

In short, the players need to do everything they didn’t do the last time these two teams met in this location.  In the recap of that game, I concluded with the following:

The game was obviously a major disappointment, both in terms of on-court performance and the crowd environment.  We can only hope the team has now hit rock bottom; there’s no place to go but up.

This team has climbed a long, long way up since that game–farther up than any of us could have hoped.  The only question that remains: Can they ascend all the way to the peak of the college basketball mountain?

My guess is there aren’t going to be any shortcuts to get to that peak.  As brilliant as Tom Izzo has been in the last two games, I just don’t see a strategic advantage in this game.  We’re simply going to have to outplay them–and even that may not be enough.

There you go, I think I just convinced myself we’re massive underdogs.  So we’ll end there, and hope that the team proves me wrong one more time.

P.S. Kenpom predicts an 80-77 UNC win in a 74-possession game.  For what it’s worth, that’s a considerably tighter predicted margin than the 7.5-point spread the guys in Vegas have posted.

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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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NCAA Final Four: Michigan State Spartans v Connecticut Huskies

I guess we can run a little, eh, Digger?

Raymar Morgan: 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists.  Who’s the bozo that called him a “role player”?

Game recap after I get some sleep.

For now, more of The Dunk:

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It’s been a long and winding road, but we’ve arrived at our destination–at least geographically speaking.  Two more enormous steps remain if we are to reach the ultimate basketball destination.

The Spartans Weblog clan will be hitting the road shortly to make the trek down I-96 to Ford Field.  Here’s your open thread to converse before, during, and after the game.  By the time I get back, I doubt I’ll be physically able to compose the game recap, so that’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Three other things:

  1. Here are some stupendous graphs to gaze upon while you wait for tip-off.  And here’s a good list of X’s-and-O’s things to look for.
  2. Where’s everybody watching the game?
  3. Let’s . . .


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The scariest piece of UConn’s statistical profile is the number of shots they block.  The Huskies swatted away roughly one out of every six (17.2%) shots their opponents attempted from two-point range this season.

MSU, meanwhile, improved somewhat this season in avoiding getting their shots blocked, reducing their offensive block% from 9.8% to 8.4%.  But it’s still something of a team weakness.  Raymar Morgan, in particular, always seems to struggle getting his shot off close to the rim against taller defenders.

(Related: At this point, I really view Morgan as a role player.  He’s there to match-up with Stanley Robinson for at leat 15-20 minutes and hopefully grab some rebounds.  But any scoring he provides will be gravy.)

The table below shows our offensive block% (i.e., number of shots blocked divided by 2-point FG attempts) for each game this season, sorted from highest to lowest (worst to best).

at Purdue L 17.0
vs Maryland L 16.7
vs Robert Morris W 14.6
vs North Carolina L 14.3
vs Louisville W 13.9
vs Southern Cal W 13.2
vs Ohio State L 12.0
vs Oakland University W 11.9
at Minnesota W 10.9
at Iowa Hawkeyes W 9.3
vs Kansas W 9.1
at IPFW W 8.9
at Northwestern W 8.7
at Ohio State W 8.3
vs Minnesota W 6.7
vs Texas W 6.5
at Penn State W 4.7
at Illinois W 3.8
at Michigan W 3.4
at Indiana W 3.1
vs Wichita State W 2.6
vs Oklahoma State W 2.0

The bad news: Five opponents blocked more than 14% of our 2-point attempts.  We lost 3 of those games.

The good news:

  • For two of those losses, we were missing Goran Suton, who ususally finds a way to get his shot off near the basket without getting it blocked.
  • Minnesota–which ranks first in the country in defensive block % at 19.0%–never managed to block more than 11% of our 2-point attempts in the three games we played against them.
  • We managed to beat both USC and Louisville, despite offensive block percentages above 13%.

What does this mean for tomorrow night?  I’m not quite sure.  The Minnesota thing is encouraging–except that their high block% is more a function of multiple guys than of a single dominant shot blocker like Thabeet.

Maybe Izzo will have a fabulous gameplan that gets Thabeet out of position and creates some easy looks near the basket.  Absent that outcome, knocking down 3-pointers and mid-range shots doesn’t look to be optional in this game,  given that UConn’s very unlikely to put us at the free throw line with any frequency.  (Shooting a combined 14-29 from 3-point range certainly helped our cause in the USC and Louisville games.)

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