Our good friend KJ, from The Only Colors, agreed to exchange questions regarding Thursday’s game in East Lansing. Of course we had everything wrapped up before the news broke last night that backup point guard Korie Lucious had been dismissed for the season. KJ, being the astute blogger that he is, has already posted his thoughts on what Lucious’ dismissal means for Michigan State going forward, so I’ll just point you in that direction. The rest of the Q&A session remains relevant and a worthwhile read.
Expectations couldn’t have been much higher headed into this season and, thus far, they haven’t been met. What went wrong? Is there a duct tape fix or are there more serious problems? Will we see Izzo turn this thing around before March?
Well, I spent most of a football game thinking this through and writing about it Sunday afternoon. The (relatively) short version: Statistically, this was a good, but not great, team last season. While the team had the pieces in place to potentially contend for the national title, an increase in both offensive and defensive efficiency was going to be necessary.
There were a number of areas where it looked like offensive improvements from last year were a real possibility–Durrell Summers being an explosive scorer on a more regular basis following last year’s NCAA run, Korie Lucious playing with the consistency that would befit a junior starter, Derrick Nix and/or Garrick Sherman becoming legitimate low-post threats, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling being immediate contributors as freshmen, and so on. Unfortunately, those things haven’t happened or, at least, didn’t happen immediately. The fact that it’s taken Kalin Lucas longer than expected to get his explosiveness back following last year’s Achilles’ injury has also been a significant issue, as it’s left Draymond Green to bear more of the burden on offense than he would be ideally.
Combine the lack of offensive improvement with what’s turned out to be an absolutely brutal schedule, and the result has been seven losses. I think we’re seeing slow-but-sure progress, though. The early-season turnover bonanza on offense has disappeared. Appling, Payne, and Nix are all starting to make real contributions. Lucas thinks he’ll be close to 100% by March. And Delvon Roe has really stepped up on defense.
MSU has played solid defense most of the year, and despite the two road losses this past week, displayed improvement offensively against Illinois and Purdue. If they can put those two things together, they should be able to navigate the rest of the Big Ten season with fewer bumps. I don’t expect that this team will be playing consistent top-5-level basketball by the NCAA Tournament, but I do think the pieces are coming together for them to be very dangerous in March.
Everywhere I turn I hear about Michigan State and turnovers. When I look at the Big Ten numbers, turnovers don’t seem to be a huge problem as Michigan State is directly in the middle of the pack, turning it over on 79 of 450 Big Ten possessions or an acceptable 17.6%. Are turnovers still a concern or is this a problem that Michigan State has fixed.
As the number you cite indicate, the turnover issue seems to be under control. MSU just played two road games against teams that play a fairly aggressive man-to-man defense, the scenario in which they’ve struggled with turnovers most in the past, and came out with two turnover percentages below 20%.
Korie Lucious’ shooting touch has gone missing, but he’s only turned it over 5 times in the last 4 games. If he’s holding on to the ball, chances are the rest of the team is playing under control, as well. [Ed: Lucious was dismissed for the season last night.]
Keith Appling seems to be coming into his own. How has he developed over the course of the season and what should Michigan fans expect from the freshman?
His main contribution so far is emerging as MSU’s best perimeter defender. He’s certainly not Travis Walton on defense yet, but he’s shown a real knack for sticking with shooters and being able to handle more physical guards around the lane. I’d expect he’ll see a fair amount of time on Darius Morris Thursday night (although the MSU guards generally switch on all screens among opposing perimeter players).
Offensively, it’s taken Appling a little longer to adapt to the college game, as he deals with defenders that are generally taller than he is. He scored 19 points against Northwestern in East Lansing, though, to give MSU the chance to eventually win that game in overtime and is shooting .381 from 3-point range in Big Ten play, so he’s becoming a legitimate scoring option.
Michigan State seems to be lacking a true low post scoring threat. Draymond Green can do damage on the block but also plays a perimeter role. Delvon Roe is more of a defense and rebounding kind of guy. Who does Michigan State look to for offense on the block and is the lack of production down low a problem?
Green has had to manage the balance between posting up on the inside to give MSU a presence around the paint and taking advantage of the quickness advantage he has on most opposing power forwards by pulling them outside to either shoot the three or drive to the basket. I think he’s finally found the right balance, as he’s scored both inside and outside with regularity over the last four games (18.8 points/game in that stretch).
Roe and Nix have both shown signs of being more reliable options down low. Roe scored 16 points against Purdue (with most of them coming off high-low action with Green), while Nix has posted 19 points and 15 rebounds in his last 39 minutes on the court (conditioning remains an issue). Still, this MSU team is going to score points mostly off perimeter shooting, Lucas and Green driving to the basket, and transition scoring.
This Michigan State team shoots more threes than any Izzo-led team since 2005. With four players – Lucas, Green, Summers, and Appling – that shoot over 40% from three point range, is it possible that Michigan State needs to shoot more three point shots?
Well, I don’t think that’s necessarily true. The problem is that MSU tends to be somewhat streaky from the outside as a team. The four guys you list are all good shooters, but none of them are really pure shooters, so they can be susceptible to missing open shots when the team isn’t playing with confidence. The 10-20 three-point shooting performance against Purdue was the team’s first 3-point percentage mark above 33% in Big Ten play.
At the same time, as I indicate above, this team will have to live and die by the three more than most past Tom Izzo teams have. That may be particularly true against a team like Michigan that has the capacity to break out two different zone looks on defense.
Can you give me any reason that Michigan State doesn’t win this game in a blow out? Michigan has lost six games in a row and hasn’t won at the Breslin since the 90s. Michigan State can’t afford a home loss and needs a win badly after dropping two straight games in conference play.
On paper, MSU certainly looks like a decided favorite. Both the team and the crowd should come out fired up to make a statement following the slow start to conference play. The one thing that really worries me is three-point shooting. It’s the great equalizer in college basketball, and there should be plenty of shots fired up from beyond the arc in this one. Michigan is taking almost half its field goal attempts from long distance, while MSU is taking over a third from 3-point range, which is high by Tom Izzo standards. If Douglass, Novak, and Hardaway come out drilling 3-point shots (the way a disturbing number of Spartan opponents have this year), this could be a real contest.
Additionally, the turnover problem still lingers in the back of my mind. If I were John Beilein (and we’re both glad I’m not), I’d mix up my defenses throughout the game and hope the MSU players have trouble adjusting.
To end on a positive note (from my perspective), I think Michigan will have a tough time matching up with Green and Roe inside, giving MSU a chance to play from the inside out and build on the positive offensive indicators we’ve seen in recent games.