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The Season in Review: Preventing Points Edition

If the story on offense was "failure to improve," the story on defense was "anticipated decline":

2009 2010 Change
Adj Tempo 67.3 66.1 (1.2)
Adj Efficiency 88.4 91.1 2.7
Raw Tempo 66.8 66.1 (0.7)
Raw Efficiency 95.3 96.5 1.2
Effective FG% 47.2 46.6 (0.6)
Turnover % 19.9 18.7 (1.2)
Off Reb % 27.3 28.1 0.8
FTA/FGA 36.5 31.4 (5.1)
3P% 31.7 32.8 1.1
2P% 47.1 45.1 (2.0)
FT% 69.6 71.0 1.4
Block% 8.3 9.5 1.2
Steal% 9.8 9.9 0.1
3PA/FGA 35.8 37.0 1.2
A/FGM 52.4 55.7 3.3


The Spartan defense declined from being the 10th stingiest in all the land in 2009, on an adjusted basis, to ranking just 30th in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2010.  Despite facing only the 25th toughest set of opponents in the country in terms of offensive efficiency--vs. the 6th toughest set in 2009--the Michigan State allowed an additional 1.2 points per 100 possessions this past season.

Consistent with MSU's offensive problems relative to the 2009 season, the defensive issues were related to the number of shots they allowed their opponents to take.  The Spartan defenders forced fewer turnovers and allowed more second-chance opportunities on the glass.

During the 2008-09 season, MSU took an average of 4.8 more weighted shots (FGA+FTA*.475) than its opponents.  In the 2009-10 season, that advantage fell to 2.2 weighted shots.

The decline in defensive rebounding prowess was somewhat understandable, given the departure of Goran Suton.  MSU still ranked 22nd in the nation in that category in 2010.

The decline in defensive turnover percentage, meanwhile, was a regression from what was already a weakness.  MSU only ranked 190th in that measure in 2009, falling to 263rd in 2010.

The drop in MSU opponents' free throw rate helped offset some of the extra possessions those opponents had to work with, but that drop appears to have been at least partly a function of a reduction--for whatever reason--in the number of fouls called in Big Ten conference play.  MSU's average defensive free throw rate was 31.0 in nonconference play--including 39.2 against the four quality nonconference opponents.  That average dropped to 29.9 in Big Ten play before jumping up to 42.1 in the five NCAA Tournament games.  It's not clear that avoiding fouls was truly a strength of this Spartan squad.  They were also a little unlucky, as their opponents made a healthy 71% of their shots from the free throw line.

The last of the defensive four factors is, of course, the most important. MSU's defensive effective field goal percentage improved slightly, but not enough to count as real improvement given the easier schedule the team faced in 2010.  The team's interior defense drove the slight improvement in unadjusted terms, as the team's block percentage improved from 8.3 to 9.5 while opponents' 2-point shooting dropped from 47.1 to 45.1.  That's somewhat surprising given the undersized nature of the Spartan lineup this season.

On the perimeter, opponents were slightly more efficient in converting 3-point looks: 32.8 vs. 31.7.  That's the highest percentage MSU has allowed since the 2005-06 season, ranking (just) outside the top 100 nationally.  Given that Tom Izzo's help-heavy defensive scheme is designed to force 3-point looks (opponents took a full 37.0% of their shots from beyond the arc), that 32.8 figure--while fairly innocuous looking--was problematic.

In 6 of MSU's 9 losses, the opponent shot 40% or better from 3-point range.  That was true in just 8 of MSU's 28 wins.  (Two of the eight wins that came despite the opposing long-distance proficiency were the last-second victories over Maryland and Tennessee in the tournament.)

So I've now taken nine paragraphs to get to a conclusion most observers of the MSU basketball program could have arrived at without looking at a single statistic: The graduation of Travis Walton had a significant negative impact on MSU's team defense.  With Walton gone, the team became a distinctly below-average team in creating turnovers and struggled to force tough perimeter looks (Walton's spec-i-ality) against quality opponents.

(Note that they remained tough enough on the perimeter against lesser opponents, though, to rank first in the conference in opponents' 3-point percentage.  When you strive to contend on a national basis, the margin for error is small.)

The individual-player-stat table below tells the story of the hole that Walton's departure left on defense:

Min% 2009
Steal% Block% DReb% Min% 2010
Steal% Block% DReb% Min% Change
Steal% Block% DReb%
Kalin Lucas 79.8 1.9 0.6 5.2 69.2 2.3 0.2 4.5 (10.6) 0.4 (0.4) (0.7)
Travis Walton 69.4 3.2 0.1 6.7 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Goran Suton 56.3 2.6 2.2 23.9 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Durrell Summers 53.4 1.8 1.9 11.2 65.4 1.5 0.4 13.9 12.0 (0.3) (1.5) 2.7
Raymar Morgan 51.8 1.7 1.0 17.9 65.9 2.3 2.9 17.0 14.1 0.6 1.9 (0.9)
Chris Allen 47.6 1.1 0.0 9.2 61.8 1.1 0.4 8.6 14.2 0.0 0.4 (0.6)
Delvon Roe 44.9 1.4 5.0 20.4 51.4 2.4 5.3 17.6 6.5 1.0 0.3 (2.8)
Draymond Green 27.8 3.0 2.5 23.0 63.6 2.9 4.2 23.3 35.8 (0.1) 1.7 0.3
Marquise Gray 23.8 0.7 3.9 22.3 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Korie Lucious 22.6 1.7 0.7 9.5 55.6 2.0 0.7 6.9 33.0 0.3 0.0 (2.6)
Idong Ibok 10.9 0.0 5.0 11.3 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Derrick Nix -- -- -- -- 18.8 1.5 2.5 17.3 -- -- -- --
Garrick Sherman -- -- -- -- 17.4 0.9 2.2 17.3 -- -- -- --
Austin Thornton -- -- -- -- 13.1 0.9 0.0 12.3 -- -- -- --


The first four columns of data are 2009 data; the next four columns are 2010 data; the final four columns are the season-over-season changes.

The largest beneficiary of the minutes Walton left behind was Korie Lucious, who continued to struggle as a sophomore in terms of picking up the hedging and switching Izzo preaches on the perimeter.  Allen and Summers picked up the remainder of the PT, with better defensive results from the former than from the latter.  (I'm counting Morgan's and Lucas' changes in minutes as washes, even though they play different positions, as both changes were injury-driven.)

Individual defensive stats are inherently limited.  And that's even more true for MSU teams, since Izzo has never emphasized forcing turnovers or blocking shots.  But they've what we got.

In the perimeter group, Summers' disruptiveness (steals/blocks) declined from his sophomore (he did pitch in at a nice rate for a shooting guard on the defensive glass, though), while the other guards were basically steady.  Only Lucas was within a percentage point of Walton's 2009 steal% of 3.2 among the guards.

On the inside, Draymond Green picked up the bulk of the minutes Suton left behind, and he picked up the slack quite well for an "undersized" power forward, beating Suton's block% and steal% figures and coming very close to matching his efficiency on the defensive glass.  Delvon Roe was more disruptive as a sophomore than he had been as a freshman (even with his late-season injury issues, he recorded 4 steals and 6 blocks in the NCAA Tournament), although he wasn't as good on the defensive glass--due, in part, to matching up with opponent's largest player on defense.

On several occasions during the season, Tom Izzo called Raymar Morgan MSU's best defensive player.  And the numbers back that up.  Morgan ranked third on the team in both steal% and block%, improving both numbers significantly from his junior season.  And he kept his defensive rebounding percentage within a point of the prior-year number, despite playing at the 4 spot more due to MSU's lack of experienced post players.

Morgan's versatility on defense may be a bigger loss than many fans realize next season.  His ability to guard both on the perimeter and in the post gave Izzo more flexibility to mix and match lineups based on match-ups than most coaches have.  That flexibility won't exist next season (unless Draymond Green makes another huge leap in his conditioning/quickness).  Generally speaking, expect MSU's lineup to consist of 3 littles and 2 bigs.

The 2010 version of the MSU defense was the weakest of the last half decade.  To basically repeat what I said in the conclusion to the post on the team's offense, MSU was just good enough this season to take advantage of enough breaks to pull off a successful season.  Not many teams get to the Final Four after allowing 2 of their first 4 tournament opponents to top the 115 efficiency mark on offense.

Going into the 2011 season, the group of four upperclassmen on the perimeter (assuming, of course, they're all coming back) are going to have tighten things up and get the Spartans back to forcing tough outside looks on a consistent basis.  On the interior, the luxury of playing only two post players for more than 10 minutes per game won't exist.  Nix and/or Sherman will need to show enough defensive reliability to stay on the floor for 15-20 minutes/game--or Adreian Payne will have to be a difference maker right out of the chute.