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Tom Izzo: A Numerical Summary

14 seasons as head coach

14 .500-or-better Big Ten regular season finishes

12 NCAA Tournament appearances

12 first-team all-Big Ten player selections

10 20-win seasons

8 Sweet Sixteens

6 Elite Eights

5 Final Fours

5 Big Ten regular season championships

5 former assistants currently coaching Division 1 teams

4 Big Ten player-of-the-year selections

3 30-win seasons

2 Big Ten Tournament championships

2 national championship game appearances

1 national championship

.738 NCAA Tournament winning percentage (31-11)

.711 all-time winning percentage (336-137)

.690 Big Ten regular season winning percentage (160-72)

Zero 4-year players without a Final Four appearance

Nothing but class

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A couple months ago, KenPom added something called “defensive fingerprint” on each team page.  Mr. Pomeroy’s explanation:

Defensive Fingerprint attempts to objectively identify the style of a team’s defense. Inputs into the system are the departure from the D-1 norm of the following defensive characteristics…

– assist percentage (triple weight, higher means a more likely zone team)
– 3-point attempt percentage (triple weight, higher means a more likely zone team)
– free throw attempt percentage (double weight, higher means a more likely man team)
– turnover percentage (single weight, higher means a more likely man team)
– defensive rebounding percentage (variable weight depending on offensive rebounding percentage, higher means a more likely man team)

All those factors go into a super-secret formula that calculates whether, based on its stats, a given team is likely a zone team or a man-to-man team.

What’s interesting is that, despite the fact that MSU played man-to-man defense for all but a handful of possessions this past season, the formula spits out an “inconclusive” on our team page.  To investigate this phenomenon, I’ve put together a table showing MSU’s rankings for the five stats used in the formula.  The first set of numbers are the full season; these are the numbers that KenPom is using.

All Games/National Rank
MSU Value MSU Rank Indicates
Assist % 52.4 131 Neutral
3PA/FGA 35.8 271 Zone
FTA/FGA 36.5 178 Neutral
TO% 19.9 190 Neutral
Opp OReb% 27.3 11 Man-to-Man

You can see why the formula can’t identify us as a man-to-man team.  Our opponents shot a lot of 3-pointers, which makes us look like a zone defense.  But we ranked 11th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, which implies that we play man-to-man defense.  For the remaining three factors, we’re very near the national averages, so the formula has nothing to go on.

One reading of these numbers is that Tom Izzo’s defensive scheme got the best of both worlds this season:

  • By placing in emphasis on preventing dribble penetration by hedging off shooters, the team forced a lot of perimeter shots from its opponents (the primary benefit of a zone defense).
  • But the fact the team was fundamentally playing man-to-man defense, particularly on the interior, meant the team didn’t sacrifice anything in terms of defensive rebounding (generally the main weakness of a zone defense).

Before declaring victory in the age-old quest to find the perfect defensive scheme, though, I think we meed to get a little more definition on those three middle-of-the-road formula factors.  To do so, I pulled the same numbers for conference games only (with ranks within the Big Ten).

Conference Games/Rank
MSU Value MSU Rank Indicates
Assist % 54.2 2 Man-to-Man
3PA/FGA 32.4 9 Zone
FTA/FGA 34.7 7 Man-to-Man
TO% 20.7 8 Zone
Opp OReb% 24.7 1 Man-to-Man

For assist percentage and free throw rate, we look more like a man-to-man team.  For turnovers, we look more like a zone team.

I’m not sure the low assist percentage is necessarily a major asset or weakness.  But the other two numbers are unfavorable.  Playing physical man-to-man defense resulted in a relatively higher number of fouls that created additional free throw opportunities for our opponents.  At the same time, the fact that our perimeter defenders were more focused on preventing penetration than with disrupting our opponents’ offensive rhythm meant we didn’t create a lot of turnovers.

Overall, then, we had one strength (defensive rebounding) and one weakness (fouling quite a bit) generally associated with man-to-man defense and one strength (forcing perimeter shots) and one weakness (not creating turnovers) generally associated with zone defense.

On net, the way this team played defense obviously worked pretty well, as they finished the season ranked 10th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency.  Most of the numbers above are pretty consistent with the team’s numbers over the past several seasons, indicating that Tom Izzo’s approach to defense hasn’t changed much in recent years.  The biggest change from 2007-08 to 2008-09 was an increase in defensive rebounding percentage of roughly 4 percentage points.  As one might expect with a Tom Izzo-coached team, the key to success was rebounding.

P.S. You can probably sense I’m stalling for time by throwing a lot of numbers at you.  There’s been a bit of a delay in getting the new site launched.  It should be ready to go late this week or first thing next week.

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I [heart] Tom Izzo

Don’t mess with the Big Ten:

If you’re a great defensive team, you aren’t going to score as many points just because you don’t have as many possessions, because it’s going to take– if you’re a great defensive team and a great offensive team, you still only get so many shots, you’re only going to score so many points. It’s going to take people 30 seconds, because you’re not going to give up the layup on the fast break, we’re going to make them earn it. If it takes them 30 seconds to score instead of 10, that’s 20 less seconds we get the ball back.

“So you can’t get deceived on what great offense and great defense is. At times have we’ve been – favorite word – dysfunctional, whatever words you guys want to use. Yeah, I’m the one that said it. I said our offense isn’t as smooth because guys aren’t maybe together on it. We’re not practicing with the same guys. We’re playing 100%. But this little bit of national perspective and everything on the Big Ten, let me see now, it’s been 11 years. We’ve been to five. There’s been four or five other teams. In 11 years, there’s been pretty good representation in the greatest game of all, the greatest weekend of all, that’s the Final Four.

Michigan State’s Tom Izzo defends Big Ten’s style of play

HT on the video clip: UMHoops.

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An impressive list

SpartanDan did the follow-up work.  Coaches who have made the Final Four with (at least) three different completely distinct rosters of active players:

– John Wooden (UCLA ‘62, ‘67, ‘71, ‘75)
– Dean Smith (UNC ‘67, ‘72, ‘77, ‘81, ‘91, ‘95)
– Mike Krzyzewski* (Duke ‘86, ‘90, ‘94, ‘99, ‘04)
– Denny Crum (Louisville ‘72, ‘80, ‘86)
– Adolph Rupp (Kentucky ‘42, ‘48, ‘58, ‘66)
– Roy Williams* (Kansas ‘91, ‘02, UNC ‘05, ‘09)
– Bob Knight (Indiana ‘73, ‘81, ‘87, ‘92)
– Lute Olson (Iowa ‘80, Arizona ‘88, ‘94, ‘01)
– Rick Pitino* (Providence ‘87, Kentucky ‘93, ‘97, Louisville ‘05)
– Jack Gardner (Kansas St. ‘48, Utah ‘61, ‘66)
– Jerry Tarkanian (UNLV ‘77, ‘87, ‘91)
– Forddy Anderson (Bradley ‘50, ‘54, MSU ‘57)
– Jim Boeheim* (Syracuse ‘87, ‘96, ‘03)
– Eddie Sutton (Arkansas ‘78, Oklahoma St. ‘95, ‘04)
– Jim Calhoun* (UConn ‘99, ‘04, ‘09)
– Tom Izzo* (MSU ‘99, ‘05, ‘09)

*Active

That’s a who’s who of college basketball coaches.  Just 16 of them.  Ever. And we’ve got one.

Let us perish the thought that he will ever depart the shadows of our ivy covered halls.

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OK, it’s already “later tonight” and the all-Big Ten selections have been released.

Your Spartan awardees:

  • Kalin Lucas was selected as the conference Player of the Year–and a first-team all-conference pick–by both the coaches and the media.  Chalk up another rock-solid preseason prediction for the all-knowing, all-seeing Spartans Weblog.  (You’ll recall that Lucas didn’t even make the preseason all-conference team.)
  • Tom Izzo was named Coach of the Year by the coaches; Ed DeChellis was picked by the media.  (If he had to pick only one, I’d think Izzo will value being selected by the coaches more than he would be by the media.)
  • Travis Walton was named Defensive Player of the Year by both the coaches and the media.
  • Goran Suton was named to the all-conference second team by both the coaches and the media.  (I was ready to throw a full-size blogger hissy fit if this didn’t happen.)
  • Raymar Morgan was granted honorable mention status by both sets of voters; Walton received that status in the media voting only.
  • Delvon Roe was named to the All-Freshman Team.

That’s a very nice haul of awards–appropriate for a team that finished in first place by 4 games.

I have to say, I have almost no gripes with any of the selections made by either the coaches or the media.  I had jotted down a rough draft of the three all-conference teams in a meeting earlier today–and the names match almost exactly what I had.

The first team (Harris/Lucas/Turner/Battle/J. Johnson) seemed pretty clear to most observers, I think.  Manny Harris and Talor Battle both struggled some in conference play (Harris more than Battle), but both were very, very good in nonconference play and both made some huge plays to get their teams into NCAA Tournament position down the stretch.

You can argue what order to put the 10 guys who made the 2nd/3rd teams in (reflecting the league’s parity this season), but the list is a solid one (click through to see it).  The only name that jumps out at me as out of place is E’Twaun Moore.  For a guy who’s only real role is to score, a shooting line of .487/.333/.778 doesn’t impress.  But I don’t necessarily have a better pick.  (Surprisingly, this turned out to be a better year for post players than for perimeter guys.)  Walton might deserve a spot, but the all-conference teams tends to focus on offense, with the defensive awards as a consolation.

On that note, you can’t argue with one iota of the All-Defensive Team (Frazier/Walton/D. Johnson/Kramer/J. Johnson).  Walton and Damian Johnson would both have made deserving Defensive Players of the Year.  And Gatens/Roe/Buford/Mullens/Jackson is a good looking All-Freshman Team.

In short: I’m glad I didn’t too much time compiling my picks, as it would have been an exercise in redundancy.

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Rankings Update

Question (that I do not know the answer to): Could we be placed in the Midwest region (final in Indy) as a #2 seed?  It seems like I remember similar situations occurring in past years, but the couple of bracket projections I looked at today (including Lunardi’s) show us elsewhere.

Izzo for Big Ten Coach of the Year?

The Detroit News’ Eric Lacy has a blog post up making the case for Tom Izzo as the conference’s coach of the year.  Key segment:

Player injuries and illness have forced Izzo to use 13 different starting lineups, as well as play three freshmen (Korie Lucious, Delvon Roe and Draymond Green) key minutes.

Izzo’s team is 23-5 (13-3 Big Ten) despite playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules and they are an NCAA-best 11-2 against the top 50 teams in the RPI.”

Beat the Indiana Hoosiers on Tuesday and the program earns its first outright conference championship since the 1998-99 season.

It’s an uncoventional nomination.  Generally, high-profile coaches of teams expected to compete for the conference title are only considered for conference coach of the year if they put together a truly dominant conference record.  In this case, though, the team in question has played nearly half its conference schedule (eight games) with its preseason all-conference player missing or severely limited and nevertheless put together a title-winning record while losing just one game on the road.  It’s hard to do that without some stellar coaching along the way.

The conference coach of the year race is a lot like the conference player year of the race: There are plenty of plausible candidates, with no clear front runner.  Really, you could make an argument for any of the guys whose teams have increased their number of conference wins from last year:

  • Bruce Weber (+6): From second division to title contender–except that their fundamental performance really hasn’t improved.
  • Bill Carmody (+6): Do you give him credit for how close they’ve come to a winning conference record or hold the late-game collapses against him?
  • John Beilein (+3): From 10-22 to 18-12 with basically the same talent.
  • Ed DeChellis (+2): Built an upper-division team around two undersized stars.
  • Tom Izzo (+1)

What do you guys think?

Indiana Game Preview

7:00 Tuesday.  Assembly Hall, Bloomington, Indiana.  ESPN.

There was certainly very little time for the players to celebrate clinching a share of the Big Ten title.  In fact, our Spartans didn’t even have time to come home–going straight from Champaign to Bloomington.  Thankfully, the extra day of rest/preparation is the only advantage Indiana brings into this game:

Category MSU Off Rk IU Def Rk
PPP 1.07 1t 1.11 11
TO% 21.6 7 19.2 8
eFG% 48.7 7t 56.3 11
FTR 38.5 1 38.8 11
OffReb% 42.8 1 28,8 4
Category IU Off Rk MSU Def Rk
PPP 0.93 11 0.94 2t
TO% 25.6 11 20.7 3t
eFG% 48.2 9 48.1 4
FTR 34.5 4 34.3 7
OffReb% 33.3 3 24.7 1

What I said about the numbers prior to the last meeting:

The rebounding numbers, I think, reflect this is a team that works hard and hustles in a league that doesn’t place much emphasis on offensive rebounding.  The 3-point shooting is more impressive, given that they don’t have any quality inside scoring options to draw defenders in; their 2-point shooting percentage of 43.1% is only slightly higher than their 3-point shooting percentage.

Offsetting those strengths are a multitude of weaknesses.  A high turnover percentage 24.4%) and opposing free-throw rate (39.9%) indicate they’re overmatched defensively.  And they’re allowing opponents to shoot the same 41.3% on 3-pointers.

Three-point shooting is, of course, the one great hope of underdogs facing long odds.  Earlier in conference play, IU looked like it was emerging as a serious 3-point shooting threat, hitting over 50.0% of their 3-point attempts in 4 consecutive games (culminating in their single conference win, against Iowa).  Since then, however, the Hoosiers have shot just 29.6% from 3-point range over 7 games.

Devan Dumes had been the main source of the torrid 3-point shooting numbers, making 18 of 29 long-distance shots in the 4-game stretch.  The next game was against us.  He did a bad, bad thing in that game, was suspended by Tom Crean for two games, and has hit a pedestrian 7 of 21 three-point attempts in the four games since.

Verdell Jones III has been Indiana’s leading scorer of late, scoring 59 points in the 4 games since these two teams met in East Lansing.  At 6’5″, Jones does the vast majority of his scoring from inside the 3-point arc.

On the other end of the court, this game might represent a chance for MSU to refind its own 3-point shooting stroke.  Seven of IU’s conference opponents have hit the 50.0% mark from beyond the arc.

Kenpom predicts a 71-59 MSU win in a 67-possession game.  The conventional thing to say here is that we can’t take anything for granted–and point out that the Hoosiers played Penn State to the wire on the road on Saturday–but I just really can’t see this MSU team losing this game under anything but the most bizarre circumstances.  Indiana has lost 18 of the last 19 basketball games it’s played.  If ever there was a time not to take a bad team too lightly, this is the time.  An outright conference title awaits.

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Here are the top finishers from the poll, with the rough percentage of ballots each person appeared on:

  1. Magic Johnson: 84%
  2. Tom Izzo: 80%
  3. Duffy Daugherty: 48%
  4. Biggie Munn: 28%
  5. Mateen Cleaves: 28%
  6. Kirk Gibson: 20%
  7. Ron Mason: 20%
  8. Bubba Smith: 20%
  9. John Hannah: 12%
  10. Jud Heathcote: 12%

This was a fun, and informative, exercise. And I’m pleasantly surprised about the large number of people we’ve identified who have represented Michigan State so well both on and off the field/court/rink over the years.

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