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Posts Tagged ‘louisville’

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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Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

–Kris Kristofferson

When the season began, MSU was ranked sixth and seventh in the two major polls.  With Friday night’s win, they’ve proved beyond a doubt that those rankings were justified.

If this team loses tomorrow, they will have no reason to hang their heads.  Rather, they will have a multitude of reasons to hold them high.

A win against the Cardinals, though, would take a stellar season and turn it into an elite one.  Only one other Michigan State team has won an outright Big Ten regular season championship and reached a Final Four in the same season (the 1999 team).

In short, this game is all upside.  So let is all hang out, boys.

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Sunday, 2:20.  Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis.  CBS.

First thing: Six Elite Eights in 11 years.  It’s good to be a Spartan.

Now to Louisville: This is a very, very good team.  They come into tomorrow’s game riding a 13-game winning streak, having won both the Big East regular season and conference tournament titles.  There’s a reason they were the top overall seed in the 65-team field.

Watching them dominate Arizona last night, they reminded me of USC in terms of their athleticism.  They’re not quite as long throughout the lineup, but their top two players (by minutes played) are both guards in forwards’ bodies: 6’6″ Terrence Williams and 6’9″ Earl Clark.  Those two players give Louisville great versatility, particularly on defense.  And, on offense, they play much more together as a team than USC did.  For the second time in three games, we go into this contest with a decided disadvantage in the athleticism department.

Louisville excels on defense, ranking second in the country in defensive efficiency.  As evidence of exactly how athletic they are, they rank in the top ten nationally in both steal% and block%.  Four players average at least 1.0 steal per game and three average at least 1.0 block per game–so it’s a team effort.  They press on almost every possession, and it’s an aggressive press that puts 4 defenders in the back court and looks to create turnovers by trapping.  Tom Izzo will need to have a precise gameplan for beating the press by breaking people deep for easy baskets.  As I’ve argued before, if you don’t create easy baskets off the press, there’s no incentive for the opponent not to press you.  We’re going to turn the ball over some against the press; we have to get enough high percentage baskets off it to offset that disadvantage.

Once the opponents gets the ball over halfcourt, the Cardinals fall into a 2-3 zone.  And they play it well.  They’re holding opponents to a 43.0% 2pt shooting% and a 30.4% 3pt shooting%.  Playing in the zone, they don’t foul much, either.  Their only defensive weakness is rebounding (typical of a zone team); they allow opponents to grab a decent 31.5% of their missed shots.  MSU will need to push that number up even further.  I dare say an OffReb% north of 40% may be a prerequisite for winning this game.

The third key (beyond breaking the press and crashing the boards) will be 3-point shooting.  Thankfully, Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, and Chris Allen have all looked pretty good shooting the long ball in recent games.  They’ll need to hit some shots in the soft spots of the 2-3 (on the wings, foul-line extended) to keep the zone honest and create some room for Goran Suton and Delvon Roe to operate on the interior.

On offense, Louisville is good, but not great.  They rank 25th in the nation in offensive efficiency.  They’ve been a touch inconsistent.  Looking at Big East and postseason play combined, they have 5 games in which they posted an offensive efficiency figure above 120 (including last night), but also have eight games in which they were under 100.

Louisville’s strength is creating good shots, and making them.  They shoot 51.4% on 2-pointers and 36.9% on 3-pointers.  As I asserted above, the stats say they play together well as a team, ranking 21st in the country in the percentage of their made field goals that are assisted.  Despite their overall athleticism, they don’t necessarily have a one-on-one playmaker who can consistently create offense for himself.

The Cardinals are middle of the road in terms of turning the ball over and grabbing offensive rebounds.  Their distinct weakness on offense is a lack of ability to get to the free throw line; they rank just 295st nationally in free throw rate.  And they generally don’t make a high percentage when they do get to the line (64.4%).

Louisville is led offensively by three players:

  • Junior Earl Clark averages 14.1 points per game, with a 49.1/31.0/65.2 shooting line (2pt/3pt/FT).  At 6’9″, he also leads the team in rebounds (8.8/game) and ranks second in assists (3.3/game).
  • Senior Terrence Williams ranks second on the team in scoring at 12.7 points/game.  He posts a shooting line of 46.9/38.4/57.5.  The 6’6″ forward leads the team in assists at 5.0/game and averages 8.6 rebounds/game to boot.
  • Freshman Samardo Samuels is Louisville’s main interior scoring option, averaging 12.1 points per game on 59.1% FG shooting.  Somewhat curiously for a 6’9″, 260-pound player, though, Samuels only averages 4.8 rebounds/game.

For the most part, the primary role of the other players in Louisville’s rotation is shooting 3-pointers.  Preston Knowles (42.6%), Jerry Smith (41.1%), Andre McGee (37.6%), and Edgar Sosa (30.6%) all average at least three 3-point attempts per game.

MSU will need to play stellar man-to-man defense in order to prevent Clark and Williams from creating good shooting looks with their size and athleticism, while at the same time avoiding giving up open three-point looks to Louisville’s shooters.  Defensive communication and rotation will need to be seamless.

We’re going to need Raymar Morgan in this game on both ends of the court.  He’s going to have to guard Clark or Williams on defense (Walton can only guard one of them).  And he’s perhaps our best candidate to get open breaking down the court against the full-court press.  The concern is that his jumpshot has completely disappeared again, which will be a problem against the Cardinal zone.  I watched him miss about four consecutive 15-footers during halftime warm-ups last night; he looked pretty dejected at that point.  He’s shown a lot more resilience this year than he did last year, though, so maybe he can shake that off by tomorrow afternoon.

Kenpom predicts a 69-65 Louisville win in a 69-possession game.  It’s going to take a near-perfect performance for us to pull this game out.  Hopefully, the jitters are gone after the Kansas game.  There’s nothing left to lose at this point–and everything to gain.  If MSU can come out playing poised and confidently (against the full-court press, in particular), we’ve got the tools to beat Louisville.  It’s just going to take 40 minutes of offensive execution and defensive intensity.  Louisville plays together as a team as well as anyone in the country; we’re going to need to match that, and then some.  Hopefully, we’re up to the task.  An all-expense-paid trip down I-96 to Ford Field would be the reward.

P.S. You can check out Card Chronicle for a Louisville-side perspective on this game.

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