The Michigan State basketball team is somehow remarkably unlucky and decidedly lucky all at the same time.
Unlucky: Every MSU opponent that takes the court comes out shooting the ball like a team of five Jimmer Fredettes. Following tonight's 11-21 shooting performance by Indiana, four straight opponents have now shot the ball right around 50% from beyond the arc. Yes, MSU is perhaps giving up too many 3-point looks in rhythm off kickouts, but this can't go on forever, right? Really: right?
Lucky: MSU now holds a 5-4 record in Big Ten play, despite having been outscored by 15 points in the 360 minutes of regulation play that have occurred over those 9 games. There's an alternate universe somewhere in which the Spartans have a conference record of 2-7 and TheOnlyColors.com is running out of pictures of kittens to post.
I have no idea what any of that means for the nine games that remain on the conference slate, so let's just stick to tonight's game action. And the story of that game action was clearly offense, with both teams getting above the 80-point mark in a 73-possession game.
MSU's offensive efficiency was achieved by limiting turnovers (11.0 TO%) and getting to the free throw line (40.9 FTR). Those two things are arguably signs of, like, running a real offense with a plan of attack and what not. They got the ball into the post--with Draymond Green, Derrick Nix, and Delvon Roe combining to shoot 11-21 on two-pointers and get to the free throw line 16 times (making 10). Meanwhile, the looks from the outside were generally good ones, although MSU only knocked down 8 of 23 three-pointers (with Durrell Summers only hitting 2 of 7). Finally, Kalin Lucas put together a second consecutive highly-efficient, vintage-Lucas-looking offensive performance, scoring 26 points on 18 FGA while playing 43 minutes of basketball (also: 4 assists vs. 1 TO). Indiana ain't exactly a defensive menace, but this was another step in the right direction for the MSU offense.
The defense, meanwhile, suffered from another severe bout of can't-stop-opposing-shooterism. Through the end of regulation, the Hoosiers had shot a remarkable 11-16 from 3-point range. Christian Watford was knocking down shot after shot off of pick-and-pops behind the arc, and Matt Roth was doing his best Zack Novak impression. Thankfully, the Indiana shooters went ice cold in overtime (0-5 on three-pointers), thanks in part to the MSU defense going into full scramble mode. Again, I have no idea what to make of this going forward. It sure seems like opponents have to regress to the mean from 3-point range (at this point, we'd take regression to the very good--say 40%), but ideas like regression to the mean are for people inhabiting a rational universe, which we do not at the moment.
- Draymond Green really did not want to lose this game: 19 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 turnovers, 1 block, 2 steals. Can't do much more than that. I was very afraid the adrenaline would get the best of him at the end of regulation, but he calmly sank both free throws to get to OT. (On the radio, he said Izzo didn't even the mention the possibility of a miss in the ice-the-kicker timeout before the second attempt.)
- Derrick Nix: Best game of his career? I think so. His 9 points were the most he's scored since his freshman debut (11 points and 14 boards against Florida Gulf Coast--you'd probably forgotten that). The three assists he recorded were perhaps just as big, demonstrating he can deal with defenses collapsing on him in the lane. I'd guess Tom Izzo starts giving him 15 minutes per game from here on out, regardless of match-ups. Based on one night at least, Nix sure looks like he'll create just as big a match-up problem for opponents on the offensive end. If that scenario can play out, he gives MSU a third option, to go with Lucas and Green, in terms of players who can initiate offense on an individual basis. Knock on wood.
- Keith Appling only scored 3 points, but he pulled down 5 of the toughest rebounds you're going to see.
- To harp on something from the last recap: Green and Roe have to be more judicious in terms of reaching for the ball on defense. Green gets screwed quite often when officials don't believe his hands can really be as quick as they are, but he has to adjust to that. MSU was very fortunate to get through the 13 minutes that transpired after he picked up his fourth foul without losing him. Nix's performance obviously helped enormously when Roe did foul out.
- I really liked the patience MSU displayed with 30 seconds left in regulation not to foul Jordan Hulls, who shoots 88% from the line. The conventional wisdom is that you have to foul immediately when you're down that late in the game. But it was worth losing the 10 seconds to get Jeremiah Rivers to the line; Rivers is shooting over 80% from the line this season but clearly isn't the pure shooter that Hulls is. Draymond took over from there.
So, at this point, a win is a win. Tell your alarming predictive scoring margin indicators to shut up.
With Penn State now 4-1 at home in Big Ten play, after beating Wisconsin yesterday, MSU really only has one bad loss on its record. That may sound like spin, but it's also reality in terms of the information the NCAA Tournament selection committee will be looking at. The two points that separated a win from a loss tonight were, I think, practically a chasm in terms of the effect on MSU's postseason outlook.
The Spartans will look to avoid picking up a second bad loss on Wednesday night in Iowa City. 8:30 on BTN.