Friday, February 6, 2009

Indiana Preview

The Spartans look to improve to 9-2 within the conference today by beating Indiana in the Breslin. Indiana is coming off their first Big Ten win after they beat Indiana on Wednesday night. It also marks the first time that Tom Crean returns to the Breslin since being the assistant coach from 1995-1999.

Indiana (6-15overall, 1-8 in conference)

Key Wins:

Key Losses:
vs. Northeastern 55-42
vs. Lipscomb 74-69

Why Indiana Could Win
1) Tom Crean - Having been an assistant under Izzo, Crean obviously knows the tendancies of Michigan State. The problem is that he doesn't have the players to stop the more talented Spartans. If the game is somehow close, this could be a factor.
2) Rebounding - Indiana ranks right behind Michigan State within the conference in rebounding margin at over +4 per game. While I don't expect them to outrebound us, if we shoot poorly and they can cutdown on our offensive rebounds, the Hoosiers could keep the game close.
3) Someone Could Go Talor Battle or Kevin Coble on Us - I can't see this happening as the Hoosiers don't have anyone as talented as these guys. Devan Dumes has potential as he leads the team in scoring at 14 points per game. He is a junior college transfer who was headed for Ohio State last year before he suddenly decided to attend IU. Tom Pritchard could also provide an inside presence down low, but he is really young. Pritchard was the high school teammate of Delvon Roe.

Why Michigan State Will Win:
1) MSU Has More Experience - Indiana only returned 19 total points and 185 minutes of experience this year. Freshman account for more than 70% of the teams total points. With this in mind, the Spartans will have no excuse for a loss to the Hoosiers.
2) Athleticism - Indiana lacks the quickness and athleticism that is needed to stop Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers. Look for them to try and slow us down. The Hoosiers will need to run an effective offense in order to beat us at home.
3) Turnovers - Indiana is tenth in the league in turnovers at -2.8 per game. The sad thing is that we are ninth at -1.8 per game. If either team has a significant advantage in this category, it could be the difference.

While I'm sure that Tom Crean is feeling somewhat excited about returning to the Breslin Center, I'm sure he would rather do it under different circumstances. He is coming into this game undermanned and faces a Spartan team that is trying to preserve their lead in the conference. His team is riding high, however, coming off their first conference win against Iowa. In the end, I don't think it will be enough for him.

Michigan State over Indiana 79-62.

Tomorrow: Indiana Post Game

Michigan State Destroys Minnesota 76-47

Michigan State cruised to their eigth conference victory by beating Minnesota at home. The Spartans shot 51% from the field while holding the Gophers to 28%. Durrell Summers led the way with 21 points on 8-10 shooting.

Player of the Game: Durrell Summers 21 points, 8-10 shooting

What Went Well For the Spartans
1) Durrell Summers - He is having an excellent two weeks of basketball. Aside from the Penn State game, he has been on fire hitting shots from all over the court. When he plays like this, it is hard to imagine the Spartans losing.
2) Rebounding - The Spartans won the battle on the boards 42-26. Goran Suton and Delvon Roe each had 7.
3) Three Point Shooting - Durrell Summers set the tone early by hitting three threes in the first five minutes. The team finished 7-12 from behind the arc.
4) Playing With the Lead - This was one of the best Spartan games that I ever saw when we were playing with a huge lead and managed to preserve it. Izzo did a good job of mixing in role players with regular starters so that we could work on a few things. Everyone out there seemed to get involved.
5) Raymar Morgan In a Suit - Great move by Izzo. Take away the temptation of putting him in again.
6) Austin Thornton Did Not Get Significant Minutes - Another great decision by Izzo. Prior to the game, he told Joe Rexrode that he had working on getting Thornton into the line up so he could get more size out on the perimeter. That would have been a big mistake.

What Didn't Go So Well
1) Kalin Lucas - He struggled a little bit with his shot finishing 4-14 from the floor, but I thought he still did a good job leading the team. If we needed him to, I bet he could have still finished with 20.

Tomorrow - Indiana Preview.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Minnesota Preview #2

Michigan State looks to bounce back from a devastating loss against Penn State by taking on the Gophers at home.

Minnesota (12-0) Ranked #21 in both polls

Key Wins:
vs. Louisville 70-64
vs. Wisconsin 78-74
vs. Penn State 79-59
vs. Illinois 59-36

Key Losses:
vs. Michigan State 70-58
at Northwestern 74-65

Why Minnesota Could Win:
1. Surprisingly Good Defense - Coming into the Big Ten season, Minnesota was ranked 8th in the conference in scoring defense. That was even with a weak non-conference schedule. But since conference play has started, they are only giving up 61 points per game which is good enough for third in the Big Ten. They lead the league in blocks and steals and are second in FG defense. Look for Al Nolan to lead a high pressure defense to try and make the Spartans turn the ball over.
2. Lawrence Westbrook is Playing Well - Westbrook has had a great Big Ten season so far. He is averaging 15 points per game and is shooting over 44% from the 3-pt line within conference play. I expect him to play better than he did against us the first time.
3. Raymar Morgan Out - We will undoubtedly miss his defense in this game. I hope Izzo thinks twice about playing Thornton more as this would make us miss Raymar even more. In case you were wondering, Morgan finished with a unflattering double-double the last time these two teams played. He had 11 points on 4-11 shooting.
4. Michigan State's Insistence to Shoot Outside Shots - If we don't pound the ball down low and settle for jump shots, I think we are at the mercy of the basketball Gods to grant us a good shooting night. I would like to see us get some good posessions in the paint that do not come off of offensive rebounds.
5. Goran Suton's Right Knee - He hurt it on Monday, but he should play. If he doesn't, I do not think we will have a chance to win.

Why Michigan State Can Snap This 2-Game Home Losing Streak:
1. Poor Gopher 3-Point Shooting - With the last two opponents shooting the lights out of the Breslin, I take comfort in the fact that the Gophers are only shooting 33% from behind the arc. With our luck, however, Blake Hoffarber will probably get his third consecutive trip the ESPYs with another miracle shot against us. See the videos at the bottom of this post if you don't know what I'm talking about.
2. Rebounding - We dominated the last game with a margin of +22. That included a 23-11 edge in offense rebounds. Minnesota has improved since this game, but I don't see them outrebounding us at home.
3. Kalin Lucas - He had a phenomenal game in the first match up and with the recent loss, I expect him to play with a purpose. We will see if Al Nolen can stop him.

Unfortunately, I think this game will come down to how well the Spartans shoot the ball from the outside. I think we could win the game if we focus on getting the ball inside, but we haven't done that so far this season, so I don't know what would make Izzo do it now. Either way, I think our players will be ready to play despite Minnesota's harassing defense. The Spartans will escape a close one.

Michigan State over Minnesota 69-66.

Around the Big Ten
1) Ohio State Clips Purdue at Home - The Buckeyes beat Purdue in overtime behind great shooting. They shot 60% against the Boilermakers, which is incredible given Purdue's excellent defense. This game featured two of the worst plays ever to end regulation with the score tied. Evan Turner turned the ball over dribbling to the basket and Matt Painter elected not to call a timeout so that E'Twaun Moore could penetrate in the lane for some off-balanced shot. Luckily for us, it didn't go down.

Tomorrow: Minnesota Post Game #2. (Post will be up later in the evening due to real life)

Blake Hoffarber's Highlight Reels That Got Him to the ESPY's Two Years In a Row

Monday, February 2, 2009

MSU Basketball Notes

Michigan State Basketball Notes
1) Rankings - The Spartans slipped to number 13 in the AP and 14 in the ESPN/USA Today. Purdue is ranked one spot ahead of them in both polls which is appropriate. They are playing really good basketball right now.
2) Suton Hyperextends Right Knee - It happened early in practice yesterday forcing him to sit out. He says that it is fine and he will play against Minnesota. He had surgery on his left knee earlier in the year. The story can be found here.
3) Thornton to Get More Minutes - Joe Rexrode reports here that due to the absence of Raymar Morgan, Izzo is preparing Austin Thornton to play more. Why? I would just stick with the 8 guys that we currently have. Either go big with Gray or Ibok, or go small with Summers or Allen. I don't think that we need to throw a scrub into the mix. The offense is already inconsistent as it is.
4) 95% Chance Morgan Will Sit Out This Week - And my takes are correct 60% of the time, every time.
5) Isaiah Dahlman - Apparently he hurt his ankle in warmups and Izzo says that he will be out for "weeks". Insert panic statement and stat that says Spartans are X-0 in games in which Dahlman plays.
6) BTN's Tom Hamilton is the Anti-Karma - Brent Yarina of the BTN points out how coworker Tom Hamilton has been present during the last three huge Michigan State upsets on his blog here.

"Last night, I was watching ESPN and they were talking about the best point guards in the country and the mentioned Kalin Lucas, but I did not hear my name" Battle said. "It gave me something to work for. It keeps me going. It makes me want to go out and play well. People talk about him as one of the best point guards in the country and I wanted to show I belong in that category and that is what I did here today." -- Talor Battle after the Penn State victory.

To Quote Bob Richie, "It's not cocky... if you back it up."

"Almost every year, Michigan State enters the season with a great chance to win the Big Ten. Almost every year, MSU is very good. And every year, the Spartans fall short of the title."
--Michael Rosenburg, The Detroit Free Press.

That's Rediculous
1) Bud Selig Highest Paid Non-Yankee in Baseball in 2007 - Behind Jason Giambi, A-Rod, and Jeter. His income was 18.35 million.
2) Green Bay Students Rush the Court After Win Against Butler - Seems to be a bit much.
3) Porn Clip Shown During Superbowl in Arizona - Story can be found here. Porn enthusiests everywhere were upset because it only affected standard broadcast televisions and not those in HD.
4) Richard Dean Anderson on Saturday Night Live - What the hell happened to this guy? I didn't even think it was him at first. Hey RDA, Kirstie Alley thinks you have let yourself go. Check him out in the clip below about 33 seconds in.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Penn State Wins at Michigan State for the First Time Ever 72-68

Once again, the Spartans were beaten on their home court thanks to excellent three-point shooting. Talor Battle played like a first team all-conference point guard leading the Nittany Lions with 29 points. He finished 11-19 from the field including 6-12 from behind the arc. Kalin Lucas paced the Spartans with 23 points, but he did not shoot the ball well finishing 7-21.

Player of the Game - Talor Battle 29 points on 11-19 shooting, including 6-12 3-pt.

Why Penn State Won:
1) Talor Battle Was Unstoppable - As noted above, Battle played like a first team all-conference point guard against the Spartans. He was lights out from all over the floor. His lull you to sleep and pull up three to end the first half was amazing, especially since it was from 30 ft out. Without him going off for 29, the Spartans would have won this game handily. Battle provided inspiration for his team and his teammates stepped their games up big time.
2) Poor Michigan State Offense - As we have been doing all conference season long, Michigan State relied too heavily on outside shooting. We didn't focus on pounding the ball down low and settled to quickly for outside shots. The Spartans did win the points in the paint battle 28-26, but a lot of those points were off of offensive rebounds. We can't expect Durrell Summers to go 8-12 from the 3-pt line like he did in the two previous games. Instead, we need to pound the ball inside and get Suton more involved.
3) Rebounding - Yes, MSU won the rebounding battle, but only by a +5 margin (35-30). This was one of the Spartans' worst outings of the year and ultimately it hurt them. Was there no bigger rebound than Cornley's off of his own miss at the free throw line with 50 seconds left. How does the free throw shooter get an offensive rebounder against a Michigan State team? That was crazy.

What Went Well for MSU:
1) Delvon Roe - His first half of play was probably one of his best so far this year. He scored all 8 of his points on 4-4 shooting during that time. He didn't score in the second half however.
2) Goran Suton - Despite finishing 4-8, I thought Suton played well. He finished with 11 points and 9 rebounds, which I thought was pretty decent seeing how the offense was not going through him at all. He also had two key three pointers that helped us slow down the momentum of the Nittany Lions.
3) Kalin Lucas - I know he finished 7-21, but I think that he still played better than that stat line suggests. Obviously his shots weren't falling, but he had no support from the other guards on the team. He took it upon himself to get us back in the game and he nearly pulled it off by getting to the foul line and converting 9-10 attempts. On this day, however, Talor Battle got the best of him.

Coaching Issues (Notice how they are all the exact same as my post after the Northwestern game)
1) We Ignored Our Bigs - After the game, Izzo commented how his players were relying outside shooting too much, but I didn't see him trying to establish an offensive inside presence at all. We shot 20 threes and probably a half of a dozen more just inside the arc. Summers winds up 1-8 from the 3-pt line and we only win the points in the paint battle by 2 points (28-26). If Izzo doesn't make a consistent effort to get the ball down low, we are going to continue to lose to lower ranked teams. We cannot keep blaming our unexpected losses on an outstanding performance of one player. We need to have more outstanding offensive performances of our own players.
2) Clock Management - Again, Izzo started fouling way earlier than I would have in another loss. Understandably, with 4:19 to go Izzo wanted to get Penn State into the bonus so that we can better manage the clock. But, we were down 9 at that point and I would argue why not just play really aggressive defense and try to get a steal. We were not doing that. We were going hack-a-Shaq on these guys and just wasting fouls. Then, at one point, we got the lead down to 5 with 2:30 left and Izzo was still fouling! Why!! Can't we play good defense and then get a good shot to cut it to 2 or 3 with around 1:30 left? That doesn't make sense. I don't care if Penn State shoots 64% as a team. If you keep putting them on the line, they are going to eventually make a few of them. Ultimately, I will concede that this strategy did not hurt us, but if he continues to do this, it will hurt us in the future.
3) Substitutions - I have an excellent example to my rant earlier about how there is no rhyme or reason to Izzo's substitutions. With 12:55 left and we were down by 7, we had the following lineup in for almost one full minute: Lucious, Allen, Walton, Green, and Gray. Then for the next full minute, he replaced Lucious with Summers. What are we supposed to do with these lineups? How are we in any position to come back against a quality opponent when we have these squads in for two minutes? And then putting Raymar in the game during crunch time was nothing more than an act of despiration. If he could have helped you, he would have played before the end of the game.
4) X's and O's - As much as I hate Izzo's drawn up plays, I was surprised to see a somewhat organized offensive set to get Chris Allen an open three-point attempt to win the game. It was a good look and it would have given Allen a ton of confidence for the future if he hit that shot. The problem was, however, that we should have either had Lucas penetrate hoping for a foul or get it down low to one of the bigs. In the end, Lucas had a big rebound, was fouled, but couldn't convert on both free throws to win it.
5) Pressure Defense - After seeing a higher pressure defense against Iowa, I was hoping that we would continue that against Penn State. For some reason, the coaching staff didn't want to go in that direction. Maybe they are worried about our guys getting into foul trouble? I say every time that you have Lucious in there, I want him harassing the ball at all times. If he picks up a few fouls, who cares?

"The game wasn't won or lost on Kalin Lucas' free throw, it was won or lost when we were seven up and we just decided not to guard." --Tom Izzo

Besides Talor Battle playing phenomenally, I would argue that the reason we didn't win was because our offense was largely ineffective. We went over 4 minutes without a basket in the second half. Izzo even said himself that you can't do much defensively when opponents are hitting 35 foot threes and banking in threes. So which one is it? Therefore, I don't think defense was as much of a factor as our inability to score was.

"I've never seen two losses with banked-in threes, 35-foot threes." --Tom Izzo

As the saying goes, fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice and shame on me.

"Sometimes when you're playing more young guys, I think they just live in the watching of the TV where Michigan State always wins at home. You win at home because you work. You don't win at home because you're supposed to. It's an entitlement society, as we all know, and I think our players kind of feel that the past players pioneered their way through, and it's an entitlement that we're supposed to win at home"

--Tom Izzo on losing two consecutive home games.

This is starting to be a recurring theme for Spartan teams. I think that I have heard this multiple times about every MSU basketball team since 2001. Some of the responsibility has to be on the coach.

That's Ridiculous
1) Michael Phelps Pictured Smoking Tree - Apparently America's golden boy got lit up at a University of South Carolina off-campus party after a football game last fall. Even more funny are the quotes found in the story:

“He looked just as natural with a bong in his hands as he does swimming in the pool. He was the gold medal winner of bong hits. Michael ended up getting a little paranoid, though, because before too long he looked like he was nervous and ran out of the place.”
This isn't surprising. I was surprised last summer when I saw how every news show, including 60 Minutes, conviently omitted Phelps' DUI arrest in Ann Arbor in 2004. I guess we should all take comfort in the fact that at least he is owning it.

2) Superbowl MVPs Smoke Tree Too - In addition to being the most decorated Olympian, kids also learned that they can smoke pot and also being a Superbowl MVP. Thank you for that Santonio Holmes.

Penn State Preview

Penn State (16-5 overall, 5-3 in conference)

Key Wins:
vs. Purdue 67-64
vs. Michigan 73-58

Key Losses:
at Wisconsin 65-61
at Minnesota 79-59

Why Penn State Could Win:
1) Talor Battle - This young point guard leads the Big Ten in minutes played and in his two years of experience, he has had two big games against Michigan State. In the last meeting, he led the Nittany Lions' ferucious comeback with a bunch of points late in the game. Battle's other great game came last year at Penn State when they upset the highly ranked Spartans. Talor Battle is a lot like Kalin Lucas. He seems to be a scoring point guard who can hit shots from almost anywhere on the court. It will be a great matchup today at that position.
2) Jamelle Cornley - Cornley is the Big Ten's leading active scorer with 1369 points. This season he is averaging 16.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game in the Big Ten. In the last contest against Michigan State, he had a career high 26 points. Look for Penn State to try and get him going early as he may be a matchup problem for us with Raymar Morgan and his virus thing. Izzo may be forced to have Allen or Summers guard him as he may be too quick for our bigs.
3) Three Point Shooting - The Nittany Lions are a good outside shooting team. They currently are third in the Big Ten in 3-pt percentage at near 37%. Stanley Pringle and Talor Battle lead the team on the season with 50% and 41% respectively.
4) Stanley Pringle - The outside shooter is Penn State's x-factor for this game. If he can provide a third scoring option for the Nittany Lions, Michigan State will have a hard time winning this game.
5) Rebounding - While they aren't near Michigan State's dominance, Penn State is a decent rebounding team. They rank fourth in the conference so far this year in rebounding margin. The Spartans, however, won the battle on the boards 39-23 with 15 offensive rebounds.
6) Raymar Morgan - His status is uncertain. Tom Izzo has him listed pre-game as a starter, but I'm not so sure it will happen. Then, even if he does play, which Morgan are we going to get? We need the one that played at Penn State the first time and finished with 17 points on 7-9 shooting. Even more importantly, we need him for his size so he can matchup against the Nittany Lions' big men. If he doesn't play, it will be interesting to see who Izzo chooses to go with for the majority of the game.

Why Michigan State Can Win:
1) The Game is in the Breslin Center - Penn State has looked horrible on the road this year. They were blown out at Minnesota and even struggled at Indiana. Couple these facts with how good the Spartans are at home and you have to think the odds are against the Nittany Lions. Unfortunately, Northwestern probably has every visiting team that walks into the Breslin thinking that they can beat the Spartans at home.
2) Rebounding - According to ESPN, Michigan State leads the entire country in team rebounding margin at +10.6. They have only lost the rebounding battle once this year and that was to UNC without Goran Suton. Although the Nittany Lions are a solid rebounding team, I don't expect them to be the second team to pull down more boards than the Spartans. As Izzo has said in the past, sometimes our best offensive play is an offensive rebound.
3) Durrell Summers - He is in the zone right now. In his last two games he is averaging 23.5 points and shooting 66% from behind the arc. If he has another big performance today, I am sure he will be Big Ten Player of the Week. I just hope he doesn't force any three point shots. I expect Penn State to focus on him today which should give him plenty of opportunities to put the ball on the floor and attack the basket. While he obviously is shooting a high percentage from behind the three point line, I still think he will be more dangerous attacking the basket.
4) Kalin Lucas - Lucas actually now leads the Big Ten in conference scoring at 18.8 ppg. He had a poor game the first time around so I expect him to be trying to outperform Talor Battle today. Hopefully he plays within himself and utilizes his quickness to open up the offense.

In their first contest, Penn State gave Michigan State all they could handle. MSU was plagued by a long offensive drought and a poor game from Kalin Lucas. I don't expect a repeat performance from the Spartans today in the Breslin Center. While Battle and Cornley will undoubtedly get their points, I don't think that Stanley Pringle will be able to provide a third scoring option for Penn State.

Michigan State over Penn State 69-61.

"Losing to Northwestern, a lot of teams think they can come in here and do the same thing. So we have to come out with the same type of energy we have been coming out with on the road and hopefully sustain that." --Tom Izzo

"Their prowess has even reached historic level, with the first 5-0 Big Ten road record in MSU history. The problem for the Spartans is the next three games are at Breslin Center."
--Andrew Mouranie of the Lansing State Journal

Okay, this last one is a little bit ridiculous. At least wait until they lose in the Breslin Center again before you start implying that they can't win at home.

Other Michigan State News
1) Delvon Roe Feels Game is Starting to Come Back - A link to the Detroit Free Press story is here. I don't know about eveyrone else, but even at 100%, I don't know if I would have expected anything more out of this kid this year. He is playing good defense and is a great rebounder. Sure, his offense is lagging behind, but it will get better. I think we should just be happy with the Delvon that we have now and not worry about the Delvon that we thought we landed as a high school recruit.
2) Matt Trannon Playing Basketball in Australia - Joe Rexrode tells us how he said all along that Trannon's best option was to play basketball professionally instead of football. I don't know if I remember that, but I do know that he should have never quit playing for us. The link is here.

That's Ridiculous
1) Manny Harris Ejected Against Purdue - Manny Harris's ejection yesterday in Michigan's loss at Purdue was completely ridiculous. I can see calling the guy for a foul, or even a technical, but to be thrown out for a very common play is crazy. Watch today in the State game and see how many players swing their elbows around when they catch a ball. The difference on this play was that Kris Kramer's high pressure defense made him more vulnerable to getting elbowed. If you are going to guard a guy that tight, you are going to get hit sometimes. That is just the way it is. I didn't see any intent by Harris to hurt Kramer. I think he was just making a fundamental move to get his defender off of him. Unfortunately for Michigan State fans, this bad call turned the tide for the Boilermakers and they ended the game on a 40-20 run.

Tomorrow: Penn State Post Game.