So that went to plan, more or less. After a first half that was slightly tighter than Michigan State fans would have preferred, MSU pulled away in the second half to conclude with a scoreline befitting a 1-vs.-16 NCAA game.
The stars for MSU were all along the front line:
- Draymond Green: 24 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists. The third player to ever record multiple career triple doubles in NCAA tournament play. You may have heard of the first two: Oscar Palmer Robertson and Earvin Johnson, Jr.
- Adreian Payne: 16 points and 7 rebounds in 18 minutes.
- Derrick Nix: 18 points and 8 rebounds in 20 minutes.
If you're keeping score at home, that comes to what must be career highs for Derrick Payne by some distance: 34 points and 15 rebounds. When the team wasn't out in transition, the ball went into the post. LIU didn't offer much of anything in the way of strategic resistance, and the points in the paint flowed like honey.
MSU's large advantage in the interior is evident in the four factors graph, as well:
The Spartans dominated the two-point shooting (62.7% vs. 42.4%) and rebounding (48.4% vs. 12.5%) numbers by more than a few lengths. LIU hung around in the first half by driving hard to the hoop (resulting in 23 free throw attempts for the game) and knocking down the resulting three-point looks (8 for 17 for the game) when the MSU defense collapsed.
89 points in 69 possessions is more than sufficient. It would have been nice to hold the Blackbirds a little further below the point-per-possession mark, but that's a minor quibble. LIU has some versatile offensive players, as three guys hit the 15-point mark.
As a final note, it was good to see Brandan Kearney get a little more involved in the offense. He scored 4 points and posted 2 assists in 15 minutes.
Next up. Is not the dangerous, fast-paced, KenPom-top-ten-ranked Memphis Tigers, but rather the dangerous, slow-paced, KenPom-top-fifteen-ranked Saint Louis Billikens. SLU outlasted Memphis 61-54 by keeping the pace moderate (63 possessions) and simply outshooting the Tigers (48.4/38.5/77.8). Junior point guard Kwamain Mitchell led the way with 22 points, while senior forward Brian Conklin chipped in 16 (but also turned it over 8 times).
So, for now at least, ignore all that jazz about the up-tempo West bracket. The Billikens are the third most deliberate squad in the tournament field. They take care of the ball, outshoot their opponents, forego offensive rebounds, and prevent second chance points for their opponents. Hmmm, remind you of anyone you know?
The good news is that they're not all that big. MSU should be able to continue to pound the ball inside. Opponents only attempt 25.7% of their shots from three-point range, so they don't invite you to jack it up from the outside. The bad news is that there won't be as many easy points, either in transition or off offensive rebounds.
Defensively, the trick will be to keep track of SLU's multiple three-point threats (four players averaging 2+ attempts per game) and contain Conklin without fouling too much. His free throw rate is a hefty 64.3, and he's shooting 79.9% from the line to boot. Beware Draymond Green foul trouble.
KenPom predicts a 63-58 MSU win in a 62-possession game. Last night's win was Saint Louis' first win against a KenPom top-50 opponent (in their third attempt). But they're a healthy 10-5 vs. top 100 foes. And, since I haven't mentioned it yet, their coach has been around the block before.