John Beilein can coach basketball. After his small lineup gambit in East Lansing, the obvious response was for MSU to post up more. Beilein was ready and sent double teams at MSU post players as soon as they touched the ball inside. As much progress as they've made of late, the Nix/Payne/Sherman trio doesn't have the court sense yet to make the right pass at the right moment. And when Draymond Green or Delvon Roe did find an open shooter early in the game, the jumpshots wouldn't go down.
The result was that MSU was forced to play from the perimeter all night. It worked at times--Lucas, Summers, and Appling combined to make 8 of 18 three-point attempts--but the shooting wasn't consistent enough to dig all the way back from the 10-point deficit that had been dug.
The wildcard against any defensive scheme is Draymond Green. Unfortunately, Green was completely off tonight (partly due to the ankle sprain, no doubt). He shot just 3 for 14 from the field, posted only 2 assists, and (along with Roe) ended up fouling out of the game. I love Green's game to death, but he's got to recognize his limitations. When he lunges out at 3-point shooters or tries to grab rebounds over the top of opponents, he's going to get called for fouls, fair or not. (And the post-call reactions from Green don't seem to be changing the officials' minds.)
The Wolverines, meanwhile, fit together quite neatly into a complete basketball team. Evan Smotrycz emerged out of nowhere to score 14 points. Jordan Morgan held his own inside with 10 points and 6 rebounds. Tim Hardaway, Jr. took a while to find his scoring touch but more than made up for the delay, scoring 20 points--all after halftime--on just 13 FGA. And Darius Morris took control of the game at a key few moments, going for 13 points and 6 assists. (If only Morris had a jumpshot to go with his other skills--he could just go ahead and go pro now.)
I thought perhaps the key moment in the game was the possession with a little over five minutes to go and MSU trailing 58-54. The Michigan players had started to tighten up a bit, missing the front end of a one-and-one at the line and several jumpshots (a Morgan dunk on the last possession being the exception). The MSU offense came down with a chance to close to within 1 or 2 but was looking directionless. I thought for a moment Tom Izzo was going to call a timeout to set something up, but he let Lucas try to create something on his own. As great as Lucas is (25 points today, all but 2 of them coming in the second half), trying to score off the dribble in a 1-4 set is still a low-probability strategy. Lucas pushed off trying to create a jumpshot, and the game started slipping away from there.
MSU clearly fought hard in this game--as evidenced by the large rebounding gap below. (One stat that shouldn't get lost: 7 rebounds in 12 minutes for Garrick Sherman. Another: 13 rebounds for Durrell Summers.) Ultimately, though, the team just couldn't find enough ways to get the ball in the basket (12 of 39 inside the arc). MSU has gained some identity over the last month, but Izzo still doesn't have a cohesive basketball team on offense. John Beilein does.
On to Indianapolis. It's been overused this year, but I think the term "must win" will definitely apply Thursday.