The last time I did an "On ____ _____" post, I declared Durrell Summers to be the key to the team's key to success down the stretch. That's worked out pretty well: 40 points on 29 FGA in two NCAA Tournament games. So let's take a look at Korie Lucious. Almost as a matter of pure mathematics, he and Summers are definitely key performers going into the Northern Iowa game; they are the only two healthy guards with substantial playing experience at Tom Izzo's disposal at the moment.
The last time Michigan State went into a basketball game with Lucious as the primary point guard option, things didn't go all that well:
As bad as Lucious' stat line was--1 for 5 from the field, 3 assists, 6 turnovers--it really doesn't fully reflect how ineffective he was in his 27 minutes on the court. He looked overmatched and overanxious for almost the entire game.tried to take some pressure off him by not starting him, but he still looked like he was pressing. Even his dribbling skills--normally a strength--seemed to fail him, and he telegraphed a multitude of passes. You hate to pin a loss on one player being asked to take on a significantly-increased role in a hostile environment, but you have to think that, had Lucious been just average tonight, MSU wins this game.
Positive spin: There's plenty of room for improvement this time around.
Also, we now have an additional data point on Lucious playing the point without Lucas available: the second half of Sunday's game. After halftime, Lucious scored 8 points on 3-4 shooting, posted 1 assist, and the turned the ball over just once, despite playing 19 minutes against nearly-constant full-court pressure.
Against UNI, Lucious can expect to play at least 30 minutes. Given how poorly the Chris-Allen-at-point-guard experiment went in the Illinois game--and the fact that Allen won't be getting any significant practice time this week--it's going to be Lucious, Mike Kebler, or bust at the point. (Emergency point guard: Draymond Green.)
Stepping back some, Lucious has had an up-and-down season. He came into the season having barely returned to the court after offseason surgery for a broken foot he suffered in last year's national title game. Despite the long layoff, Lucious played efficiently in nonconference play, shooting .370 from 3-point range and posting a 2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Things didn't go nearly as well in Big Ten play, as those figures plummeted to .237 and 1.4. Despite averaging 21.6 minutes/game in conference play, Lucious failed to score in double digits in a regular season conference game and recorded at least 5 assists in just 2 of the 17 conference games he appeared in (hitting the 5 mark exactly in both cases).
Thankfully, he's refound some of his mojo in postseason play. Over the last 3 games, Lucious has scored 25 points on 7-15 three-point shooting. He hasn't dished out a lot of assists (2 in each of the 3 games), but he's turned the ball over just 5 times in 73 minutes on the court. Without Lucious' 3-point shooting heroics, MSU doesn't even get to overtime vs. Minnesota and we're in season recap mode at TOC right now.
Lucious' defense remains iffy. He still tends to lose shooters in traffic, and he's picked up 7 fouls in the last two games against the bigger guards of New Mexico State and Maryland. Against Northern Iowa, he should be able to breathe slightly easier on defense, though; the Panther guards aren't all that big and, outside of Ali Farokhmanesh, they're not big threats to score in bunches.
Korie Lucious has had his one shining moment. He probably won't top that single moment on Friday night. A series of less spectacular but generally effective moments on Friday night would go a long way toward a trip to the 7th regional final of the Tom Izzo era.
P.S. Quote from that Summers post:
Morgan will show up in flashes, but the idea he's going to put up 15 points per game on a game-by-game basis has to be abandoned at this point in his career.
Boy, am I glad I was wrong there. In the six games that have been played by Michigan State since I wrote those words, Raymar Morgan has scored over 15 points five times. The sixth game was the 11-point performance against New Mexico State, in which he carried the team late after sitting out with foul trouble early in the game. The very definition of consistency.