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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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The Spartans battle past the Trojans 74-69 in a 69-possession game.  StatSheet box score.

It’s a cliche’ to say that a player “willed” his team to victory.  But, if ever that cliche’ was true, it was today.  Here’s a breakdown of the 74 points MSU scored today:

  • 24 points on free throws.
  • 18 points on 3-pointers.
  • 16 points on Travis Walton 2-pointers.
  • 16 points on 2-pointers scored by the other 10 Spartans who played in the game.

It looked to me like Tom Izzo had gone out of his way to tell Walton that he needed to shoot every open jumper he got–and shoot them with confidence.  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.

Beyond Walton’s career day, this win was a team performance.  Seven players played between 17 and 26 minutes–with Kalin Lucas going 35 minutes.  Those eight guys all contributed in different ways:

  • Lucas wasn’t able to drive the lane consistently against the taller USC defenders, but he played a very efficient game running the offense: 10 points on 6 FGA, 7 assists, 1 turnover.
  • On top of his 18 points, Walton contributed 2 key assists and stole the ball twice.
  • Durrell Summers was a huge spark in the first half.  For the game, he scored 11 points on 3-4 three-point shooting and pulled down 8 rebounds–4 of them on offense.
  • Chris Allen had 8 points on 2-5 three-point shooting and pitched in 3 assists.
  • It seems like Draymond Green becomes a more important player to this team every single game.  He played 22 minutes tonight, putting up 7 points and 9 rebounds (8 of them defensive).  More importantly, he played solid defense on Taj Gibson, eventually instigating Gibson’s 5th foul on a picture-perfect box out.
  • Delvon Roe scored 10 points on 5 FGA and 7 FTA.  During the stretch Suton was out of the game, he and Green both found ways to get open inside for dunks and/or free throw opportunities.
  • Goran Suton struggled with his outside shot, converting only 1 of 10 FG attempts.  But he contributed everywhere else: 10 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, a block, and fantastic defense against Gibson.
  • Raymar Morgan had a tough day.  He failed to make a field goal, scoring 3 points at the free throw line.  But he played hard throughout the game, helping to neutralize USC’s athletes some on defense.

In total, MSU recorded 20 assists on 22 made field goals.  Against one of the very few teams in the nation that’s more athletic than they are, the MSU players relied on execution and passing to win the game.  They turned the ball over a few too many times (TO% of 23.2%), but that was largely a function of playing aggressively against an athletic and long USC defense.

Defensively, the key was obviously making Taj Gibson a nonfactor.  Gibson’s stat line: 3 points, zero FGs, zero rebounds, 5 blocked shots, 3 turnovers, 5 fouls.  Gibson’s obviously a fantastic interior player, but MSU’s team of big men was too much for him.  Suton played him perfectly early, moving his feet on defense to prevent Gibson from getting good position.  On the other end of the court, the MSU players kept attacking the basket–despite Gibson’s 5 blocks–eventually forcing him to pick up his 3rd foul four minutes into the second half.

DeMar DeRozan, Daniel Hackett, and Dwight Lewis played well–scoring 50 points on 41 FG attempts by wearing down the MSU guards and forcing fouls in the lane.  But once MSU built a small lead late in the game, they couldn’t respond.  For the game, those three players combined to make just 1 of 9 three-point attempts.

The Trojans were every bit as athletic and physical as their statistical profile indicated; this was not your father’s #10 seed.  But, in the end, MSU was just a bit tougher due to their depth.  We won the rebounding battle and ended up forcing them to foul us 3 more times than we fouled them, leading to a 5-shot advantage from the line:

The early 3-point makes by Summers and Allen–along with Walton’s jumpshooting spree–were huge, as they forced the USC defenders to guard us aggressively on the perimeter, which eventually led to a few easy looks and a bunch of USC fouls on the inside.

Neither of our first two wins were big-time blowouts, but I feel like we’ve played about as well as we could have hoped to in both games.  Izzo now has another four full days of practice with the full roster healthy to get the team ready to take its best shot at getting to Ford Field.

Up next: A return to Indianapolis and a rematch with the Jawyhawks.  Friday night.  Approximate game time is 9:37.

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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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Wednesday Night Links

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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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The Spartans stick it to the Badgers 60-51 in a 59-possessions game.  StatSheet box score.

Let’s start with what still worries me after this game: Three-point shooting.  MSU made just 2 of 9 attempts from beyond the arc, with both makes coming in the final minutes of the game.  That’s our fourth straight game with 3 or fewer 3-point makes.  That’s not sustainable.  Ultimately, we have to have a couple 3-point shooting threats to keep defenses honest.  Otherwise, you have to execute with near perfection to create good looks near the basket.

The good news?  We did execute with near perfection for the final 12 minutes of today’s game.  Here are some of the stats from the second half:

  • 12-19 two-point shooting vs. 2-8 for Wisconsin.
  • An 18-10 advantage on the boards.
  • An 8-4 advantage in turnovers.

Combined with the (much less stellar) first half stats, you get this:

I thought MSU’s defense was very good for all 40 minutes.  There were a few lapses that lead to open 3-point looks for the Badgers, but for the most part MSU stayed in front of the Badgers and forced them to try to create shots one on one late in the shot clock.  Take away the 10 or so points we gave Wisconsin on bad turnovers and free throws off MSU fouls on the offensive end, and the Badgers’ offensive stats would look even more anemic.

Despite only scoring 2 points, Travis Walton made huge contributions on both ends of the court–particularly in the final 12 minutes.  He made 4 steals, leading the defensive pressure that flustered Wisconsin and helped turn the momentum to our advantage in the second half.  And he had 6 assists against zero turnovers.  That play Izzo ran three straight trips down the court with Walton sprinting through screens like Drew Neitzel was bizarre to watch, but it worked, as Walton made superb entry passes to Goran Suton to create easy baskets.

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.

Kalin Lucas added another Player-of-the-Year performance to his resume’, scoring 17 points on 8-14 FG shooting.  (It seemed like Izzo sat him for a couple long stretches, but the box score says he played 34 minutes.)  In a defensive struggle, Lucas was one of only two players on either team (Delvon Roe was the other) to make more than half of his FG attempts.

Finally, let’s talk about Chris Allen.  All game, my brother-in-law and I wanted Allen to just shoot the ball when he first caught the ball behind the 3-point line.  Instead, he’d put in on the floor and allow the defense to adjust.  When he did finally shoot a 3-pointer directly off the pass, he nailed it.  Maybe this game can be the start of Allen’s resurgence: 8 points on 7 FG attempts and 4 assists in 23 minutes.  Hard to believe he only turned it over once, though, as he looked shaky with the ball on numerous occasions.

This was an enormous win.  When Marcus Landry hit the 3-pointer to put Wisconsin up 12, I thought we were done.  A loss would have been a huge psychological blow.  But I underestimated this team’s resilience.  All season, they’ve shown the uncanny ability to score points in the clutch.  Of our five losses, 3 were blowouts and 2 were the result of giving up too many points late (many of them of the fluky kind)–not a result of scoring too few points.

This game doesn’t make up for the Big Ten Tournament loss last year–but it helps.  And, just maybe, this win will be the difference in winning a Big Ten championship (or winning it outright).

Next up: A home game against Iowa Wednesday night (8:30, BTN).

P.S. Blake and GBBound tied for the DVD, both picking Lucas to score 17 points.  Given my current state of exuberance, I can’t stand the thought of denying the prize to either of them.  So they both win.  I’ll have to come up with another prize for one of the postseason contests.  Send me your mailing addresses, sirs.

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The Spartans battle past the Wolverines 54-42 in a 55-possession game.  StatSheet box score.

This is not the bar graph we were expecting:

They turned the ball over more than we did.  And we barely outrebounded them.

In the end, it came down to creating scoring opportunities.  We converted 2 more field goals and 9 more free throws against their zone defenses than they did against our man-to-man defense.

Travis Walton defended Manny Harris as well as any human alive possibly could have.  He stuck to him like glue when Harris tried to run off screens in the first half.  Eventually Harris resorted to trying to take Walton one on one.  But, outside of one pull-up 3-pointer, he was unsuccessful.  Without any consistent Wolverine shooting threats, the MSU defenders were free to sag off their men and cut Harris off from getting into the lane.  Harris finished 2-10 from the field, with 4 turnovers.

DeShawn Sims was the only Wolverine to score in double digits, posting 18 points on 9-14 shooting.  Some of those scores came off excellent post moves.  Some of them were a function of the MSU defense being focused on staying extended out on the 4 perimeter players Michigan had on the floor at any given time.

Subtract the contributions of the two UM big men (Sims and Zach Gibson) and the Wolverines shot just 5-28 from the field.  21 of those shots came from 3-point range.  The MSU defense gave the Michigan guards no breathing room whatsoever to operate in.

On the other end of the court, 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.

Other thoughts:

  • How about the Kalin Lucas 3-pointer to stretch the lead back to 7?  Remarkable confidence shooting the ball off the screen, given that Lucas was 0-2 and the team was 2-13 on 3-pointers up to that point.
  • I love Austin Thornton as much as anyone, but I don’t think inserting him into the game against the 1-3-1 with 28 minutes already gone by in the game was a great move.  The offense had a couple rough possessions with Thornton in the game, when the opportunity was there to extend the lead back to double digits.
  • Marquise Gray may be out of a job.  He played just 2 minutes, getting yanked after a defensive lapse that allowed DeShawn Sims to dunk the ball.  Meanwhile, Draymond Green got 17 minutes down the stretch and scored what was perhaps the back-breaking basket off a set play against the 1-3-1 with two and a half minutes left.  Green had 3 assists, too, helping to attack the interior of the UM defense.

This was a much uglier win that we might have hoped for, but it’s a win nonetheless.  I’m disappointed we didn’t have a more efficient way to attack the 1-3-1.  At least we’re done playing teams that employ it (until the conference tournament, at least).

At 10-2, we can sit back, watch our competitors play a couple games, get healthy, and prepare for the game in West Lafayette next Tuesday (7:00, ESPN).

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