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Thursday Night Links

What to do with Mr. Ibok

For a fifth-year scholarship player, Idong Ibok has logged very few minutes this year.  158 minutes, to be exact.  But he’s played an effective role in those minutes, serving as a designated defender against opponents with true centers of the seven-foot (or near-seven-foot) variety.  His last seven outings of 5 minutes or more have come against this group of four players: Cole Aldrich (twice), Ralph Sampson (thrice), Mike Tisdale, and JuJuan Johnson.

Upon casual analysis, then, one might expect Mr. Ibok to log 10-15 minutes or so against the 7’3″ Hasmeen Thabeet on Saturday.  I wonder, though, whether that would be playing right into UConn’s hands.  Consider:

  • Thabeet is, by most accounts, not a terribly polished post player.  The most important thing, then, is to keep him away from the basket so he’s not in position for easy baskets off passes or rebounds.  Goran Suton, Delvon Roe, or even Draymond Green might be better suited to that task.  Ibok tends to be most effective against players who are going to post up and try to shoot over their defenders.
  • On the other end of the court, Thabeet would be able to rotate off Ibok to block the shots of MSU players driving the lane with little danger of Ibok scoring off a pass.  If Thabeet is forced to guard Suton, that clearly creates an advantage for MSU (but may require going with a small lineup).  And, while neiter Delvon Roe and Draymond Green have shown great outside shooting ability to date, they are both quite capable of converting shots 5-8 feet from the basket and/or making good passes when the defense is scrambling to rotate.

What do you guys think?  Do we throw our seven-footer at theirs?  Or concede the height differential and focus on creating a mismatch of our own?

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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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The Spartans vanquish the Illini 74-66 in a 71-possession game.  StatSheet box score.

I don’t know what it is about this team, but I just can’t get as tense as I’m used to getting late in close games.  Even when Illinois pulled back even seven minutes to go, I had a strange sense of calm about the whole thing.  And, sure enough, MSU outscored the Illini 16-8 down the stretch, sparked by a Kalin Lucas layup created out of nothing to regain the lead at 60-58.  This team simply knows how to win close games (absent the opponent knocking down HORSE-quality jumpshots,of course).

But I get ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning–or at least at the 9-3 lead MSU had when the feed of the game finally hit our TVs.  Tom Izzo had this team as well prepared as it possibly could have been.  Our Spartans came out using Illinois’ defensive pressure against them by scoring easy baskets off backdoor cuts.  And they pushed the tempo to prevent Illinois from even setting up its lockdown halfcourt defense.  Plus they were remarkably good at getting the ball into the post.  Delvon Roe, Goran Suton, and Raymar Morgan combined to score 32 points on 23 FG attempts.

All those things meant that the players didn’t find itself passing the ball purposelessly around the perimeter, which is the situation that tends to cause our turnover issues.  As a result, MSU turned the ball over just 11 times, for a sterling turnover percentage of 15.5%:

That, combined with the expected edge on the glass, led to MSU taking 10 more shots from the field than Illinois did.  That’s an advantage we needed, as our poor perimeter shooting continued to be an obstacle (2-8 three-point shooting and very few long 2-point makes).

On the other end of the floor, Illinois made some great plays offensively to stay in the game and eventually tie it back up.  Their two Mikes (Davis and Tisdale) were almost impossible to guard, combining to score 28 points on 17 FG attempts.  (When was the last time Goran Suton was in foul trouble?)  And Chester Frazier played a great all-around game: 10 points, 3 assists, 8 rebounds.  In the end, though, they didn’t have a playmaker to match Kalin Lucas.  From the point that Jeff Jordan’s layup tied the game with 7:19 to go, Illinois didn’t convert a single field goal until Frazier hit a 3-pointer with 33 seconds to go.

As good as Lucas was (18 points, 4 assists, 1 turnover), I’m going to say Travis Walton was the player of the game: 8 points on 4-5 FG shooting, 5 assists, zero turnovers, 3 steals.  That’s a flawless Travis Walton game.  He single-handedly created several fast break baskets–the steal followed by the pass downcourt while falling out of bounds being the highlight.  And he helped force Demitri McCamey into another subpar performance: 3-9 FG shooting, 3 assists, 5 turnovers.  Last, but not least, he knocked down a clutch jumper as the shot clock was winding down to push MSU’s lead to 5 with 1:09 to go and force Illinois into desperation mode.

Idong Ibok’s performance, meanwhile, was exactly what they had in mind when the invented the Unsung Hero award.  With Suton had to go to the bench with the game tied, Ibok came in to guard Tisdale.  Tisdale had scored 7 points over the previous 5 minutes, as Illinois was consciously trying to get him the ball on nearly every possession.  Ibok blocked the next shot he took, and Tisdale didn’t score again.  The 5 minutes Ibok played tonight were perhaps the most important minutes he has played (or will play) as a Spartan, and he came up huge.

This was clearly our best performance of the conference season and, arguably, the entire year.  Raymar Morgan appears to be very close to being back at full strength: 14 points and 6 rebounds in 22 minutes.  This team may finally have all its pieces in place–and just in the nick of time.

Soak this one in, my friends.  Our seven years of famine have ended.  A banner with the following words on it will be unfurled from the Breslin Center’s rafters later this year:

BIG TEN
CHAMPIONS
2009

Now to make sure that (1) a parenthetical “outright” can be included in the phrase above and (2) a win against every team in the league is included in the official record.

Next up: A trip to Bloomington Tuesday night (7:00, ESPN) to take care of #1.

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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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The Spartans triumph over the Longhorns 67-63 in a 66-possession game.  Official box score.

Some stats:

  • MSU shot 8-17 from the free throw line.
  • Chris Allen didn’t score a single point.
  • Raymar Morgan took three shots from the field and turned the ball over 6 times.
  • Kalin Lucas and Travis Walton shot a combined 7-21 from the field.
  • Texas pulled down 15 offensive rebounds in 39 opportunities (38.5%).
  • Texas’ starting forward made 4 of 7 three-point attempts.

What are the odds MSU wins a game that contained those statistical components?

Pretty darn good, apparently.

It’s easy to throw around cliche’s when it comes to the outcomes of sporting events.  But this one deserves some.  Our Spartans played with moxie, composure, and, yes, toughness today.  The graph below sums things up: They simply found more ways to make shots than Texas did.

MSU hit 25 of 46 FG attempts inside the arc (54.3%) while Texas made just 17 of 41 two-point attempts (43.8%).  That was enough to overcome disadvantages on the boards and at the free throw line.  (Regarding rebounding: Texas was the clearly the better team on the boards, but the 2-3 air balls that dropped in a Longhorn player’s hands were frustrating.)  Eight of the Longhorns’ 17 two-point makes were by back-up forward Gary Johnson; the rest of the team couldn’t find good scoring opportunities near the basket against the MSU defense.

They key to MSU’s shooting proficiency: Mr. Goran Suton, who made 7 of 8 shots from the field, including a couple absolutely beautiful old-man trick shots.  I think even I (who has composed an ode to the man) underestimated how much we missed him.  The fact that he was somehow physically able to play 26 minutes today was a (if not the) difference maker today.

The key to Texas’ shooting woes: Mr. Travis Walton.  There isn’t a Spartan fan alive that hasn’t grumbled about Walton’s offensive deficiencies over the last 13 months.  But tonight he showed why Tom Izzo loves him so much.  Walton took a senior All-American candidate who came into the game averaging 21.0 points per game and took him completely out of his game.  A.J. Abrams finished the game with 8 points on 10 FG attempts, without a single made 3-pointer.  By the end, Abrams was so frustrated he was throwing up off-balance fade-away shots from the corner and missing the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity.  For long stretches, you hardly noticed Abrams was on the court–despite the fact he played the full 40 minutes.

To complete the trio of senior Spartans who came up big somewhat unexpectedly tonight, Idong Ibok played a season-high 17 minutes.  His stat line wasn’t eye-popping: 2 points, 3 rebounds, and a block.  But he gave the team some tough minutes inside, helping to contain the immense force (and less-than-classy competitor) that is Dexter Pittman and contributing to MSU’s top-notch field goal defense.  Izzo went big today; by my calculations, Morgan only played at the 4 spot for 4 minutes.  Draymond Green chipped in 10 minutes, too, pulling down 4 rebounds and, more surprisingly, picking up 3 assists.

On to the underclassman player of the game: Durrell Summers.  The clutch three-point shooting was, of course, what he’ll be remembered for in this game.  But the final play he made was pretty important, too: skying as high as he could possibly leap to corral the defensive rebound that sealed the game.  On a night when Chris Allen couldn’t convert any of what were some pretty good early scoring opportunities, Summers stepped up big.  One of this team’s strengths was supposed to be–and perhaps now is again–the ability to get points from a variety of players on any given night.

Our chief scoring option, Raymar Morgan, struggled to score, as I had foreseen (chalk me up for one accurate prediction so far this season).  Damion James (15 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals) was too much for Morgan, holding him to just 8 points.  But I give Morgan tremendous credit.  He continued to play aggressively on offense and didn’t pout.  He stayed on the court for a team-high 33 minutes and used the fact that the Texas defense was keying on him to create scoring opportunities for his teammates.  He finished the game tied with Kalin Lucas with four assists, one of which came on the game-winning 3-pointer.  (On the other end of the court, it’s curious that Texas didn’t go to James more–as one Longhorn observer would have preferred–given Morgan’s propensity to pick up cheap fouls.)

Kalin Lucas’ performance was about what we might have expected: poor shooting (5-13 from the field, 1-3 from the line) and proficient ball-handling (4-1 assist-turnover ratio).  But he never wavered in pushing the ball up the floor and took advantage of the Longhorn transition defense on a couple occasions.  And he stuck with Abrams quite well when Walton was out of the game.

There are a lot of key moments in a game like this one.  Of particular encouragement, given our past struggles in this area, were the two baskets MSU converted off in-bounds plays.  Early on, Texas was overplaying defensively when MSU in-bounded the ball off dead-ball situations, and MSU had to resort to dangerous long passes into backcourt.  They adjusted, though, and used Texas’ defensive aggressiveness against them by breaking a player back toward the basket two times for lay-ups.

That was the theme tonight, I guess: MSU’s ability to counterpunch.  It seemed like we were down by a basket the entire game and, when Suton turned the ball over down 5 with just over 5 minutes to go, I wasn’t sure we had enough counterpunches left.  But Suton stole the ball on Texas’ next possession and Lucas and Summers proceeded to score 6 points on MSU’s next 3 possessions to grab a one-point lead and give MSU life in the final 3 minutes.

It’s easy to get excessively excited about a single win (after all, our win against Texas last season preceded a disappointing showing in conference play) but this one is as big as any single nonconference win can be.  It gives the team a huge jolt of confidence and momentum going into the Big Ten season, it keeps our chances of getting a #2 or #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament alive, and it helps restore our reputation as a team that can deliver a gutsy defensive performance in a big game.

Merry Christmas, everyone, five days early.  Next up: A game against the Oakland Grizzlies at the Palace on Saturday night (5:00, Fox Sports Detroit).

P.S. Free throw shooting would still seem to be our Achilles heel.  But Delvon Roe’s 0-for-6 performance was almost solely responsible for the team’s dismal shooting line from the stripe tonight.  Hard to say what the issue is.  He’s shooting the ball confidently–almost too confidently.  Every miss was off the back of the rim.  How about he just moves back a foot before shooting the ball?

P.P.S. Great day for the Big Ten, as Purdue dominated Davidson and Minnesota knocked off Louisville.

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The Big Ten Geeks have part 1 of their interview with John Gasaway up.  Assists are adverbial!

Tom Izzo says the team is looking “tougher” than he expected through the first three practices!  Kalin Lucas is practicing at both the point and 2-guard.  Delvon Roe is participating in full contact drills, but is being held out of practice on a selective basis.

More from practice: Idong Ibok says he worked on improving his hands over the offseason.  Practiced by catching golf balls!  (I feel compelled to include an exclamation point for every link.)

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I hadn’t been to Midnight Madness for a few years and I was impressed with the program last night.  They did a great job with the 70s theme (women’s players in 1970s outfits, men’s players in short shorts, VW bus for Izzo’s arrival, funny video about Izzo taking a trip across America to the 1979 Final Four in Salt Lake City).  Greg Kelser was the MC; that man is class exemplified.  We sat right above one end of the marching band; fun to hear the full band close up.

The fan turnout for the event was great.  The entire arena was basically filled, except for the bleachers at the top of the second deck.

As far as the basketball went, here are my highly subjective observations:

  • Durrell Summers can DUNK the ball.  He had a variety of moves, all flawlessly executed.  I was impressed by the whole team in the dunk contest, actually.  Lucas and Lucious both performed toss-it-to-yourself dunks, and even walk-on guard Mike Kebler can dunk convincingly.
  • Korie Lucious looked very quick, and very smooth.  I don’t see how he doesn’t get significant PT this year.  His outside shot wasn’t quite as smooth as I thought it would be, though.
  • Chris Allen looked like a playmaker, not just a shooter.
  • Idong Ibok looked remarkably confident in the low-post, scoring on 3-4 different moves.
  • Isaiah Dahlman’s outside shot looked improved, knocking down a couple nice looking 3-pointers, but then he air-balled his last attempt.
  • Draymond Green is a rebounder.  Reminiscent of a (much) slimmer Charles Barkley.
  • Delvon Roe looks healthy, but rusty.  He doesn’t have the explosiveness to finish moves yet.  It’s a great sign he’s healthy enough to be able to scrimmage at this point, though.
  • The teams for the scrimmage were roughly split between veterans (Lucas/Walton/Morgan/Gray/Suton) and younger guys (Lucious, Allen, Summers, Roe, Ibok).  The younger guys (Green team) won 37-28 with a 20-minute running clock.  The veteran guys all looked fine–just not as comfortable in an open-court, free flowing game.

I took a bunch of photos, which I have posted at Flickr.  Start with the last photo (on the second page) to get things in chronological order.  Unfortunately, my camera is producing somewhat grainy images at the moment.  You can access the photo gallery on the official MSU site here.

The LSJ reports the following regarding recruits at the event:

Numerous high-profile recruits were at Breslin Center to witness Midnight Madness. High school juniors Trey Zeigler of Mount Pleasant and Russell Byrd of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Blackhawk Christian joined sophomore recruit Paul Honigford of Garaway (Ohio) in attendance. Current Spartan commit Derrick Nix of Detroit Pershing was also on hand.

Also, I just listened to Izzo’s Media Day interview on the Huge Show last night.  The big piece of new information was that Izzo plans to post up more this year: Roe, Morgan, Gray, and even Summers will all post up.  That’s a good sign that he’s planning to open the offense a little bit to take advantage of MSU’s size/athleticism.  He also said he thinks they could play 10-11 guys and will pressure the ball “up and down” the court.

Finally, the Detroit News reports that 1,000 tickets to today’s football game are dedicated to athletic recruits and their families.  One more reason to beat the Buckeyes today.

Let’s hear it!

On the banks of the Red Cedar . . .

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