In the final game of the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State put together one of its strongest performances of the year in a blowout win over rival Michigan, collecting some important confidence and cohesion in addition to the tournament title.
Both players and officiating showed signs of the strain of three games in three days, but there were some nice lessons and red herrings to be drawn out of the 14 point Spartan victory.
Be very encouraged by: protecting the basketball
Just 10 turnovers for MSU today, bringing them to only 28 over the past three games. After four straight games with a turnover percentage above 21%, MSU didn't post a rate above 18% in the Big Ten Tournament. It will not surprise you that MSU's offense and defense dramatically improved with the cut-down in errors.
Be encouraged by: MSU protecting the paint
Michigan's field goal attempts stacked up like this:
3 point jumpers: 6/23 (26.1%)
2 point jumpers: 4/19 (21.1%)
layups or dunks: 7/12 (58.3%)
Get a team to take ~78% of their shots as jump shots and you are probably well on your way to a good defensive performance. The back screen and lob action that tortured Michigan State in Ann Arbor got erased, and Caris LeVert no longer dribbled his way into the paint at will as he did in the first two contests. This left UM with little other option than heaving lots and lots of contested jump shots which, understandably didn't go well.
Don't lose sleep over: MSU's three point shooting
2/17 is horrifyingly bad, but though it's not like MSU hasn't had bad days behind the arc before (Remember 0/7 in that too close for comfort game against Columbia?), it's pretty easy to lay the vast majority of the blame for this on the tired legs of a team on its third game in three days. Besides, they made up for it by gliding through Michigan's defense to an outstanding 67.6% shooting percentage on their 2 point attempts, including a sterling 13/16 on dunks or layups.
Don't get too excited by: the offensive rebounding
Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford played a combined 25 minutes. You know what Michigan is without Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford? A baaaaddd offensive and defensive rebounding team. So while I'd like to think Gavin Schilling's 4 offensive rebounds in 5 minutes is a sign of good things to come, I don't know, maybe let's not make too much of nearly one out of every two Spartan misses getting recovered.
Be encouraged by: Branden Dawson hitting the afterburners
15 points on 8 field goal attempts and 6 rebounds, plus great defense, particularly on Glenn Robinson III.
Since his return, Dawson is averaging 10.8 points on 65.9% FG shooting and 6.8 rebounds, in only 25 minutes a game. He's been especially strong in this three game stretch in the Big Ten Tournament both at some things you'd expect (15 points per game on 75% shooting) and some things you wouldn't (3 assists, 0 turnovers).
Lose some sleep over: Foul trouble
In particular, Dawson and Valentine, two very important players for MSU finished the game with 3 and 4 fouls, and were limited to a combined 45 minutes. Let's not repeat that too much in the NCAAs, 'kay y'all?
Sleep well knowing: Everything seems to have clicked together just in time.
Which doesn't, of course, mean someone can't bump MSU out of the NCAA tournament, such are the perils of single elimination (as MSU discovered in 2012, among other years). But, given the choice, you'd prefer your team to be playing well heading into the tournament vs not, as the idea about 'getting bad performances out of the way' has always struck me as bunch of hooey (as if team's have a limited reserve of bad performances. that have to be spent at the proper times...)
Obviously, there's lots of #narrative fun you can have with UM fans after this game (for example: another double digit win for Izzo over Beilein, his 6th such win in only 13 meetings), but the reality is the two teams have played remarkably even to one another this year, with each team scoring exactly 214 points in their three combined meetings, and finishing 10th (MSU) and 14th (UM) in Pomeroy's pre-tournament rankings.
The post game NCAA draw was a bit of a head-scratcher (not many, I don't think, would slot MSU as the nation's 14th best team, as the committee did) that seemed to work out okay in the end (draw seems favorable!), but then, 'head-scratcher that seemed to work out in the end' would also pretty accurately describe the past seven or so games of Spartan basketball. We'll have more, I'm sure, about the tournament and MSU's first round match-up vs Delaware in the days to come.
For now, enjoy that 'Beat Michigan' has turned into 'Beaten Michigan', and feel free to tweak your UM friends with some good-natured trash talk. They've probably earned it.