The Michigan State 2010-11 basketball season, which began with such high expectations, has reached a crossroads. No longer can it be said that each loss has been away from home to a top-ten team. MSU was thoroughly and emphatically beaten at home by a Texas team that came into the game ranked 18th in the AP poll, 22nd by the coaches and 23rd by Ken Pomeroy. Regarded as very good, but an unlikely threat for the Final Four, or even a Big 12 championship, they crushed the Spartans easily, without even playing especially well. Although, as with Connecticut and Syracuse, it could be said that Texas was underrated coming in (Izzo called them the most talented team MSU has faced), it was a discouraging end to a great run of 52 consecutive non-conference home wins for MSU. And it was hard to sense much passion or urgency to defend that streak, as the Breslin Center stands started to empty with more than 3 minutes left in the game.
MSU's record for the non-conference season ends up at 8-4, with no wins against currently ranked teams. With the Big Ten as strong as it has been in years, the Spartans face an uphill battle to get to 20 wins, and the prospect of a 1-4 seed in the tournament seems likely to have vanished, barring a near sweep of the conference schedule.
The four factors graph and the grisly details after the jump.
This was a 70-possession game, meaning the Spartans scored at a cataclysmic .79 points per possession, MSU's worst offensive output since February 17th, 2009 at Purdue. The obvious key to the game was Michigan State's game-long inability to hit shots. It is, frankly, difficult to properly express just how badly MSU shot the ball in this game. They shot 29% overall and 18.8% from three-point range. And they couldn't throw the ball in the ocean even when presented with good looks. They went only 11 of 22 on layups, leaving them at 5-38 (13%) on jump-shots. The astounding thing about the game is that, given this performance, Texas only won by 12. This was the worst shooting night, field-goal percentage-wise, for the Spartans in over four years, since they dropped the semi-final of the Big Ten Tournament to Iowa by shooting 28.3%. And at no point, in the second half at least, did they give any kind of impression that they were going to go down swinging. MSU did pull down 18 offensive rebounds, but when you miss 44 shots, you're going to get a few of them back. And it's going to take a lot more than a middling 38.3 OR% to overcome a 31.5 eFG%. Rebounding was adequate but no great strength in the game.
Defensively, MSU actually held Texas below a point per possession (.96), marking their first loss of the season when holding this line. This obscures that fact that Texas was consistently able to score in transition after Spartan misses or turnovers. Texas scored 19 points off of 16 Spartan turnovers (MSU was back on the bad side of 20% TORate after two good games) and outscored them 14 to 4 in fast-break points. On a number of occasions they were able to turn missed jump-shots on MSU's offensive end into fast-break layups on their own. In a sight fairly unfamiliar before this year, the Spartans were getting beat down the court in transition. It was Texas' performance from the free-throw line that was primarily responsible for keeping this one as close as it was. The Longhorns finished a pretty horrible 11-21 from the line. Their shooting overall was nothing to write home about with a team shooting line of .440/.308/.524 (2pt/3pt/FT) but Texas was never really tested in this one, pushing their lead as high as 16 before setting the cruise control and finishing with a 12-point advantage
So while the Spartans' half-court defense was not all that bad, they could find no one to keep freshman Tristan Thompson off the boards and out of the paint. He pulled down 15 rebounds, 6 of them offensive and had what is really a modest 17 points, since it took him 13 shots to get there and every one of his made field goals was a layup or dunk. Jordan Hamilton was the other offensive star for Texas, as he got 21 points on 19 shots to go with 8 boards. Gary Johnson added 14 points, but no one else was much of a factor in the game.
Individual MSU player bullets:
- Kalin Lucas had 17 points on 13 shots but was 1-4 from beyond the arc and committed 3 turnovers against only 2 assists. And it wasn't a matter of being shut down by Dogus Balbay, who only played 13 minutes. Lucas had some individual moments, but wasn't able to bring his teammates along.
- Draymond Green - We can only hope that this was Draymond Green's mulligan. He was frankly dreadful in this one, for the first time this year, before fouling out after only 21 minutes. He managed to hit his final shot to avoid being whitewashed in made shots, blocks and steals. He did grab 8 rebounds. His shot was not falling and he appeared to be bothered by the length of Texas' front court at both ends.
- Durrell Summers got it going briefly at the end of the first half but had a fairly unimpressive game overall. It took him 11 shots to get his 11 points and his 5 boards were offset by an uncharacteristic 4 turnovers. He only had two points in the second half.
Adreian Payne started the game in place of Garrick Sherman, apparently, according to Jay Bilas, because Sherman was late to shootaround. He played only 9 minutes, but acquitted himself reasonably well, with a bucket, an assist, a block and a steal to offset one turnover and one glaring defensive lapse. Sherman was fairly effective when he was in the game, hitting 3 of 5 shots and grabbing 5 boards. That's about all the good news I've got as only 3 Spartans hit more than 1 field goal and no one had more that one three-pointer (or shot better than 33% from beyond the arc). They offset their 16 turnovers with only 10 assists, and they only seemed to have any success when individual players tried to force it inside and got fouled. Korie Lucious, who played despite worries about the ankle he injured against Prairie View A&M, seemed to regress to the form that had coaches and commenters tearing their hair out. He had only 3 points and two assists and made several bad passes leading to unforced turnovers.
The only game left in 2010 is the Big Ten opener against Minnesota on New Year's eve. We can only hope that they regroup (yeah, I'm tired of typing that word) and head into 2011 with a positive start to the in-conference schedule. It's going to be imperative to hold serve at home in games like this with a slew of tough road games awaiting and teams like Minnesota, Michigan and Northwestern looking even tougher than predicted. And now, Conor Boyle, I am going to have that drink. Have a good rest of the year, TOC readers.