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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?

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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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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 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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Sunday is Senior Day.  Here’s your discussion question: What the first word that pops into your head when you hear the name of each of four seniors?

My (alliterative) answers are below.

Goran Suton

Improvement.

Suton’s key tempo-free numbers for the four years he was an active player:

Stat 2005-06 2006-07 2007-08 2008-09
OffRtg 95.0 98.2 113.8 119.2
eFG% 47.0 50.9 55.4 56.6
TO% 25.2 26.1 20.4 19.6
OffReb% 10.0 11.6 13.6 13.8
DefReb% 13.4 19.7 22.3 21.0

While most four-year players show improved efficiency over their careers, you’re not going to find too many that have followed that consistent an upward path of performance.  Suton came in as an unheralded big man from a local high school; he departs as the near-perfect Tom Izzo post player.  I once called him “indispensable.” This year’s nonconference results (unfortunately) proved me right.

I’m going to move on before I start tearing up.

Travis Walton

Izzoesque.

Walton has generated his share of angst from MSU fans on the offensive side of the court.  His offensive rating has never gotten above the 95-105 range.  Nevertheless, he’s been a Tom Izzo kind of a player from the get go.

And, as a senior, there are stats-based reasons to celebrate his contributions to the team: He’s turned the best perimeter scorers in the Big Ten into downright mediocre performers, and he’s reduced his turnover percentage from 30%+ in previous years to 20.9% this year–while at the same time picking up the slack creating scoring opportunities for his teammates as Kalin Lucas has focused more on individual scoring in conference play.

On a team that reflects Tom Izzo’s personality, Travis Walton has been Izzo’s on-the-court assistant.

Marquise Gray

Inconsistency.

On paper, Gray is the greatest disappointment of the Izzo era.  To some extent, that’s based on what was no doubt overly enthusiastic evaluations of Gray’s abilities by the recruiting gurus.  Injuries (another “I” word) have also been a factor.  And, quite frankly, even when healthy Gray just hasn’t had the capacity to put it all together for more than a game or two at a time.

Nevertheless, Gray has had moments of brilliance.  He’s been an all-conference-level defensive rebounder throughout his career (20%+ DefReb% the last three years).  And, to his credit, I have yet to see him pouting on the bench this year, even as his playing time has been decreased to a handful of minutes per game.  He’s held his head high, and I applaud him for it.

Idong Ibok

Illinois.

I’m 95% confident that Ibok has played the fewest minutes of any four-year scholarship player during the Tom Izzo era.  But I’m also going to say he fully earned his five years of scholarship funding in the five minutes he played against Illinois last Sunday.

Bonus stat: 3.1 blocks/40 minutes played for his career.

Your Turn: Let’s hear what the rest of you have to say about these four Spartans.  Bonus points for using words that start with the same letter for all four players.

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Your blogger's dream come true

Goran Suton is on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated:

sicover_030909_collegebasketball

Sadly, Mrs. SW says I can’t frame a copy of the magazine and put it up over the fireplace.

P.S. Presumably, this can’t jinx us, as the top eight teams in the country all have a player on the cover.  Either that or you should pick #9 Kansas to win the whole thing in your NCAA Tournament office pool.

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