MSU with its worst defensive game in conf play, Minn. with its best offensive effort. Tonight's four factor graph. pic.twitter.com/aazC0JHrRp— Tim Conner (@connertp) February 27, 2015
Let's not sugar coat this loss: it was a disaster. The way it was lost, the implications for the season, and the weaknesses it confirmed are devastating. In fact, lets go in that order:
The Way it Was Lost
This game should have been salted away several times in the final minute. Two made Travis Trice free throws gave MSU a 6 point lead with 34 seconds left, before a crazy Carlos Morris three cut the MSU lead down to 75-72 with 28 seconds left. Two made Denzel Valentine free throws gave MSU a 5 point lead with just 25 seconds left before Branden Dawson fouled Joey King in the act of shooting a really lean-y three. King hit all three free throws. Minnesota put Denzel Valentine on the line again, and he split the pair, giving MSU a 3 point lead, 78 to 75, with 12 seconds left.
So, #TeamFoul or #TeamDefend ? Minnesota hit 43% of their three-point attempts in this game, so allowing a three-point attempt wasn't ideal. I think both strategies are effective depending on the opponent; studies show that in these situations the team up three wins the vast majority of the time. #TeamDefend is the more defensible position morally and from a sporting perspective; #TeamFoul seems intuitively correct. I really have no issue either way. Izzo went defend, and if I've learned anything while writing for TOC it is that Tom Izzo is smarter at coaching basketball than I am. I'm fine with it.
But, it didn't matter as Gavin Schilling went both #TeamDefend and #TeamFoul. Luckily, the four point play wasn't completed.
Overtime was a complete mess. Both teams spent a lot of time early in the overtime getting bad looks or getting fouled. Free throw shooting made the difference. More on this later.
BUBBLECON 4. Look, consensus was that MSU needed just one win out of the remaining four (including MINN) to cement their tournament place. This was the most winnable game, with the final three going at Wisconsin, vs. Purdue, and at Indiana. The final two are winnable, but one must be won. Here's the definition of BUBBLECON 4:
BUBBLECON 4: On pace to make the tournament, but with considerably less room for error. An upset loss or two, or even just the failure to grab any of several opportunities at a decent quality win, could make things dicey, but if they can keep up with their projected record, Selection Sunday will be free of drama.
Yup, that's us. Projected at 11-7 in the Big Ten. If we get there, we're good. If not, we're in trouble.
There's a silver lining, though. If MSU loses out, it is unlikely to get into the double-bye for the Big Ten Tournament. In this scenario, however, I think getting only a single bye is helpful, as being the #5 or #6 seed allows for playing one of the winners of the two games at the bottom of the bracket. That means playing one of Northwestern, Nebraska, Penn State, or Rutgers. The additional win would mean at least one BTT win, and that would be beneficial.
On the flip side, if one or two more games are won in the last three, then MSU likely gets the double-bye. In that case, a more difficult matchup would occur, but a loss likely wouldn't matter much. Things should be OK, but there's just not much room for error.
It also sucks that there was a very slim (though non-zero) chance of this team sneaking into a share of the B1G regular season title. That might've been a pipe dream anyways, but now it's over.
Free throw shooting will continue to hurt this team for the rest of the season. There are probably no opportunities for blowout wins left on the schedule, so this will be a major sticking point. There's nothing left to be said about this topic that hasn't already been said.
I'm disappointed in the defensive effort, but I don't expect that to become the norm. Just a brutal game, and I hope there's a rebound performance in one of the last three.