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Michigan State Spartans NCAA Tournament Basketball: Oklahoma Preview

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Tighten Up

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Four Factors

These teams have some similarities in terms of statistical profile. Both try to push the ball offensively while settling in defensively; Oklahoma has a 1.8 second differential between offensive possession time and defensive possession time, while MSU has a difference of 2.5 seconds. These may not sound like large numbers, but in Oklahoma's case, their offense is the 31st fastest in the country while their defense is the 200th fastest. The disparity is larger for MSU.

Additionally, neither team gets to the line particularly often. MSU ranks 276th in the country in terms of free throw rate, and OU is actually worse at 280th. This is good news, as MSU has certainly been hurt defensively by teams which can get to the line with regularity.

MSU appears to have an advantage on the boards on both ends, as Oklahoma ranks worse than 150th in terms of both offensive and defensive rebounding rates. This was something Tom Izzo mentioned as a specific concern of his entering this game. Considering that MSU was out-rebounded against both Georgia and Virginia, that's understandable. But I'd be very surprised if MSU lost the battle of the boards tonight.

When Oklahoma Has the Ball

Per hoop-math, Oklahoma ranks 51st in the country in terms of field goal attempts coming in the first 10 seconds of the shot clock. Interestingly, Oklahoma isn't that effective in transition, ranking 129th in the country in terms of eFG% on transition attempts. Here are some interesting splits, with national rank in parentheses:

Avg Poss. Length %FGA in Transition eFG% in Transition eFG% not Transition Assists/FGM
16.7 (31) 24.7 (51) 56.5 (129) 47.1 (200)

48.9 (263)

What this translates into is a lot of hero-ball, and that's borne out in per-game stats as well; Jordan Woodard is the only player to average more than 2.2 assists per game.

The bad news is that Oklahoma has the guys to be somewhat effective in playing hero-ball. Buddy Hield is the star, taking more than 30% of shots at an efficiency of nearly 110. Despite the massive volume of shots he's taken (481 over the course of the season) Hield hasn't reached the line all that often. He's got a lower free throw rate than Travis Trice.

Isaiah Cousins uses fewer possessions less efficiently, but his game is largely similar to Hield in that he takes many shots but doesn't get to the line often. Cousins is a highly efficient long-range shooter, though, at 45.3% on the season. Also, this is worth noting:

Woodard is a point guard with a higher turnover rate than assist rate; he's not a great long range shooter either. However, he does get to the line with regularity and that could be trouble for either Tum Tum or Trice; Woodard's aggressiveness early will be something to watch.

TaShawn Thomas and Ryan Spangler are the bigs that will get the large majority of the minutes. They both appear solid if unspectacular, boasting middle-of-the-road rebounding rates but blocking their fair amount of shots. Spangler can shoot a jumper some, but has taken just 33 threes on the year. I'm guessing he's at least 2-2 from deep in this game.

Unlike the first two tournament games, individual defense will have heightened importance. Oklahoma isn't going to share the ball like Virginia, but if their individuals are on, it could be a long game.

When MSU Has the Ball

Oklahoma is an effective defensive team because they don't foul often (#20 nationally in free throw rate), and they force opponents into tough shots (#12 nationally in eFG%). Part of this is that they block a lot of shots. However, they're not elite at defensive rebounding or forcing turnovers.

One underrated element of the MSU season is how this team has improved at getting to the free throw line. Despite ranking 276th in the nation in terms of free throw rate, MSU got up to sixth in the Big Ten in the category. If MSU can continue this aggressiveness it would be hugely helpful; Oklahoma doesn't have a particularly deep bench so foul trouble would be a major issue for them.

It does feel like Albany and Dayton were able to get open looks from deep against this Sooner defense. If the ball is whipping around the court like it usually does, the shooters should have a big game. Especially because it feels like this offense is now getting everyone the ball where they like it:

I'm also still waiting on Branden Dawson to just go HAM on the boards in a tournament game. The last time he hit double-digits on the boards was the second game against Michigan. It's time for this to happen, and considering the lack of an elite rebounding presence for Oklahoma, this seems like it'd be a good time for it.

Prediction

This feels weird to say this, but I think MSU needs to tighten up the pace in this one. The offensive styles of both teams would seem to favor MSU in a game of offensive sets; Oklahoma can be forced to take bad shots in a half-court setting. Izzo alluded to this team's ability to play different styles and excel in playing those styles. He also alluded to the fact that this team is not quite as athletic as a typical MSU team, and to me that suggests that a slower pace would be to MSU's advantage.

Regardless I trust Izzo to make the right call in this situation. It feels like a good matchup for MSU, barring a barrage of difficult shots being made by Oklahoma.

MSU 76 - Oklahoma 74