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Michigan State 71, Northwestern 67 - "We Can't Keep Living Like This"

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That quote is from Tom Izzo after the game, and I feel the majority of Spartan fans would agree with that sentiment.  Michigan State won its second straight overtime game in a fashion unseen to this season - Draymond Green buried six free throws to tie the game, and was able to seal the victory thanks to a couple more free throws and a huge three from Keith Appling.  Here are five thoughts I had on the game:

 

  • I think the poor free throw shooting is mostly mental - except in Draymond's case.  24-28 - soak that in.  The only miss that could've been critical was Lucious's with ten seconds left that could've made it a four-point game.  Other than that, it was a miss by Sherman (expected), Nix (whose stroke is miles beyond what is was last year, and could've missed his second with two seconds left intentionally), and Roe (1-2 for the game, it happens).  Kalin Lucas went six for six, and I don't know what Green did to his form in the past couple weeks, but each one of his shots - even the one that rolled inside the rim before falling - looked gorgeous.  Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come.

I think a couple fans expected Durrell Summers to win the Nobel Prize this year.  For whatever reason yesterday, Summers wasn't assertive (four points on 2-5 shooting, four rebounds, two turnovers).  When I saw a couple of comments in the postgame, I had to roll my eyes.  All season he's been involved on offense (He takes 29.9% of MSU's shots while he's on the floor, that's top 100 in the nation), and shot it at a very nice clip (eFG% of 53.9%, 350th in the nation).  I think the source of this disappointment is that Summers hasn't taken the jump most anticipated for him, as his offensive rating has only climbed one point (105.0 to 106.0) from this season to last.  Yes, he got benched and sulked a bit, but I'd sulk too if I was sitting for overtime, here's the reason: 

As for why Summers didn't play in overtime, Izzo said he "struggled a little bit defensively" and that associate head coach Mark Montogomery "just thought we were better off with a smaller lineup."

Not a glowing compliment, but it didn't say attitude was a problem. Summers has been in slumps before, I have faith he'll find a way out of this one.

 

  • That said, Summers might lose time to Keith Appling if he doesn't come out of it soon.  To put it simply, Appling's defensive performances in the past few games have been Waltonesque (Travis, not Bill).  What I've been most impressed with is his ability to stay with his man through screens, switches and what have you.  This game could mark a tipping point in his role on offense - 19 points thanks to going 5-8 from three.  If the offense and defense stay at these levels and he cuts down on his turnovers (26.9 TO%, he had five yesterday), I don't see how he gets anything less than 25 minutes a game from here on out.
  • Korie Lucious is the personification of the idiom "feast or famine".  Bad Korie showed up today in a lot of ways: 0-8 shooting, missed a free throw that could've sealed the victory with ten seconds left (but was 3-4 on the day), and had six assists to ago with three turnovers.  I said in the earlier paragraph that Appling could take some of Summers's minutes, but I don't see why Appling couldn't take some of Korie's minutes as well.  The biggest advantage Summers has over Appling is that Durrell rarely turns the ball over (13.7 TO% to Appling's 26.9%); Korie has no such advantage, his TO% is 26.5%.  That said, Korie does have the best assist percentage on the team (30.3%, that's good for top-100 in the NCAA), and his knack for the big moment is substantial enough where he can't be benched for too long.  He could reign in the errant outlet passes and alley-oop lobs a bit, but I don't think that's going to happen - Korie plays the most wide-open style of anyone on the team to its detriment and to its benefit.
  • Derrick Nix needs to get more minutes for the offense's sake.  I get the feeling Izzo would like to use Nix more but can't because of Nix's lack of conditioning.  This is a shame, and it's not like Nix isn't trying either:

 "I will say this -- after every game, he's in there 30 minutes, riding the bike, or doing something," Izzo said. "He stays after every practice. He definitely has had some of the best practices he's had lately, and he will get more time because of that."

The offense looks dramatically more effective when Nix is in the game.  He's got the best chance of anyone from scoring in the paint, and now that his free throws are improving (still under 50%, but his shot looks markedly improved from a year ago.  I know it's the second time I've said this, but I want to emphasize just how much better it looks) opponents can't hack him to effectively get a turnover.  Even if he can only play 10 minutes a game for the rest of this season, it's still better than none.

Tuesday MSU plays at Illinois and on Saturday MSU travels to West Lafayette to face Purdue.  This is the worst two-game stretch of the season for the Spartans; 0-2 I'll be disappointed but understanding, 1-1 is perfectly acceptable, and 2-0 means I'm ecstatic.  Right now Kenpom is giving State a 55% chance of losing both games, a 39% of winning one, and a 6% chance of winning both.  MSU's had to defy the odds to win late in its last two games, let's hope the streak continues.  Winning, that is, not winning late.  I don't want to have a pacemaker before I'm 30.