Monday, January 25, 2010

Diagnosing the Spartans

After Michigan State had to come back from a 13-point deficit to beat Minnesota, 65 to 64 on Saturday, it looked as though Sparty had been seriously exposed down low. Looks can be deceiving.

There is no question that Minnesota did much better in the paint. Delvon Roe, Derrick Nix, Draymond Green and Garrick Sherman combined to give Michigan State 5 points. Meanwhile, Minnesota managed to shoot 48 percent inside the three-point arc, got killer performances out of Damian Johnson and Ralph Sampson III, and recorded 7 blocked shots on the day. Even so, I don’t think the Spartans' game in the paint is the weak point opposing teams should be aiming their silver bullet at.

Raymar Morgan played with foul trouble the whole game, but still got 17 points, and did some nice things including an impressive post move and a couple blocked shots of his own. Draymond Green had a quiet day offensively, but he was a very uncharacteristic 2 for 9 from the field. Delvon Roe didn’t do much, but his play has been a bright spot for the Spartans the past few weeks. And Garrick Sherman and Derrick Nix are both in a good place considering it’s their freshman season. As for rebounding, the Spartans still out rebounded the Gophers 32 to 29, because out rebounding teams is what they do.

On the season, State’s frontcourt has been pretty good. In the loss to Florida, the Spartan bigs shot over 50 percent from the paint. In the loss to UNC, the play of Michigan State’s forwards was actually the bright spot. Roe, Green and Morgan all played above expectations against the (at the time) vaunted frontcourt of UNC. And even in the Texas game, Derrick Nix, of all people, played valuable minutes, forced a turnover and contributed some points going against guys like Dexter Pittman and Damian James.

As the two freshman centers continue to grow, and Delvon Roe continues to improve with some healthy legs this season, I think MSU will be just fine in the frontcourt. If Delvon Roe can really start to cut loose, and Raymar can summon more performances like the one he had Saturday, they’ll be more than fine.

Michigan State’s backcourt, led by point guard Kalin Lucas, was supposed to be their strongpoint coming into this season. But, if you look at their three losses, it was the guard play that let them down. Against Florida, State turned it over 22 times. Fourteen of those turnovers were on the guards. The Texas game is a worse tale: 22 turnovers, 17 by the guards, 6 by Kalin Lucas. In the loss to North Carolina, they limited turnovers, but shot the ball close to an abysmal 30 percent in the first half. State shot 2 for 20 from behind the arc that night. Chris Allen, the team’s sharpshooter, shot a combined 32 percent in those three games.

Which is why the win on Saturday should be taken as an encouraging sign. This was a game the Spartans easily could have, and maybe should have, lost. They didn’t because of their guards. At the start of the second half, when MSU was struggling to get any offense going, it was the three point shooting of Chris Allen that kept them in the game. He finished with 12 points, all of them threes. Kalin Lucas scored 22, and when Raymar Morgan was riding pine in foul trouble for long stretches, was the only other consistent spark. Durrell Summers added 9 points off the bench and along with Chris Allen, actually played some pretty good defense throughout. This road game was big for State’s guards.

In the end, it wasn’t a very good outing for the big men of Michigan State. But, coming into the game, I don’t think they were the ones with the most to prove.

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