Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
All hail KenPom!
Our lord predicted a 64-54 MSU win at Bowling Green and, thanks to Keith Appling's sportsmanship-be-damned shot in the final seconds, MSU came away with a 64-53 victory.
That certainly doesn't mean it was encouraging, though.
These teams were tied at 45 with 10 minutes to play before MSU's defense clamped down and the offense did enough to pull away with a victory. This game really encapsulated the season so far. MSU shot 48 percent from the field and held Bowling Green to 32 percent, but the Spartans committed 16 turnovers.
The Falcons did grab 10 offensive rebounds, but the story this season has been a really good MSU defense and an offense that is pretty good when it doesn't turn the ball over (No. 46 in adjO entering Tuesday, No. 258 in TO%).
The first half was pretty even, with MSU taking a lead as big as five a few times. Bowling Green also had a three-point lead. A buzzer-beating jumper from Brandan Kearney (!) gave MSU a 34-29 lead at the break. MSU pushed the lead to 40-33 and appeared to be pulling away when Gary Harris soared for a highlight-reel dunk. The ball went through the rim — but not the net — and came out. No bucket.
Naturally, BG responded with a 7-0 run to tie the game at 40. The teams were tied at 45 as the midway point of the final half passed. MSU answered with a 14-2 run to pull away and held on.
When you look at the four factors from this game and the past, what this team is has come into focus. It's a good offensive team when it doesn't shoot itself in the foot. It's also a very good defensive team. (As for the offensive rebounds, MSU has been really good in this category, so I'll chalk it up to an aberration).
The problem is going to be, as we get into Big Ten play, the opponents know MSU's sets. That doesn't bode well. No, I'm not expecting they'll fall to the NIT, as someone suggested, but the chances of a Big Ten championship don't look too good right now. Will these nonconference tests (including Texas next) help the team in the second half of the season? We will see.
--Denzel Valentine quietly may have been the best Spartan on the night. He finished with 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting (2-for-2 from three) with four rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block. Also, just one turnover.
--Gary Harris had a decent night, scoring 12 points on 5-for-10 shooting, along with two rebounds, two steals, one assist and two turnovers. He made up for the missed dunk with another highlight one later.
--Branden Dawson was the third Spartan in double figures with 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting. He also had seven rebounds (four offensive), three steals, two assists one steal and just one turnover. That last stat was the most encouraging. Oh, and he also taunted some BG fans after a breakaway dunk.
--Keith Appling was a bit of a mixed bag. The offensive numbers were dreadful: nine points on 3-for-9 shooting, two assists, six turnovers. On the other hand, he effectively shut down Jordon Crawford, BG's top player. Crawford averaged 16.3 points coming in, but was held to 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting. The defense is obviously great, but MSU won't be able to afford many off-nights from Appling's offense in Big Ten play.
--Derrick Nix was featured quite a bit, finishing with nine points on 4-for-9 shooting with eight rebounds. He also had two assists, two turnovers and a steal.
--Adreian Payne played just 17 minutes, but was very effective (seven points on 2-for-5 shooting with five rebounds). He went 3-for-3 from the free-throw line, pushing his team-leading FT% to 92.3 percent (24-for-26). He shot 69.7 percent at the line last year.
After the game, Izzo said he wants the rotation at nine guys and was considering using Matt Costello because of his rebounding (#FreeMattCostello). Alex Gauna did get four minutes, making his lone shot, but giving up at least one offensive rebound.
Next up: Texas, at Minnesota and the rest of Big Ten play.