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Looking at some early MSU basketball trends

The Spartans have had their issues on the defensive glass, but have been blocking shots at an insane rate.

NCAA Basketball: Stony Brook at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The MSU basketball season is only three games old, and only one of those three games was against a “legit” opponent, so it is hard to learn a whole lot from the games so far. But we can still take a look and see if there are any trends developing and areas that the Spartans might need to worry about as they head to Oregon for the PK80 Tournament this weekend.

Defensive Rebounding

This seems an odd thing to even put down on paper, but here it is anyway; Michigan State has been terrible on the defensive glass so far. They are currently allowing an offensive rebound on one-third of their opponents missed shots.

Here are the breakdowns by game so far, with their opponent’s offensive rebounding rank:

North Florida: 23.9% (146)

Duke: 52.1% (1)

Stony Brook: 21.1% (213)

Now going back through the Izzo years what you see is that MSU is usually allowing opponents to get offensive rebounds at a rate somewhere around 25-27 percent. Between 2008 and 2016, the Spartans ranked no worse than 35th in defensive rebounding percentage. Last year, they were 85th in that department. However, due to their general lack of depth and size up front, I was willing to write that off as a one year issue.

Now I am not so sure.

Duke obviously is a good team and has the length and size to cause problems, but giving up an offensive rebound on over half the missed shots is unheard of at Michigan State, I don’t care who you’re playing. And while that game obviously skews the number with the small sample size, you would have liked to see a more complete domination on the boards in the other two games against lesser opponents.

So this is an area we will really want to watch this weekend. The Spartans start off with DePaul, a team that despite not being particularly good, has been efficient on the offensive glass so far. The Blue Demons are 33rd in offensive rebounding percentage at 37.9 percent. And two of their three games have been against teams MSU will face this year in Notre Dame and Illinois. DePaul grabbed double digit offensive rebounds in both those games.

In the second round MSU will face either Oregon or UConn. The Ducks are currently at 33.3% (91st) in offensive rebounding and the Huskies are at an even 33% (100th). Should MSU win both of its first two games a likely matchup with North Carolina awaits. The Tar Heels are currently rebounding 34% of their misses.

So this will be something to really keep an eye on this weekend, although obviously if Miles Bridges does not play, that will factor in as well.

Perimeter Defense

Another area where MSU has really struggled to start the season is defending the three point line. Teams are currently shooting 42.3% from beyond the arc against MSU. That puts the Spartans at 317 out of 351 teams in opponents three point percentage. They have allowed 33 made three-pointers in three games. I’m no math genius, but that one is pretty easy to figure out. With MSU currently allowing an average of 75 points per game, it means 44% of the points they have allowed have come on three pointers.

Even if MSU was defending the arc as the exact middle of the road team is so far, they would be allowing a little more than two less made threes per game. That is six less points right there. When you combine that with the fact that the Spartans are currently the fourth best team in opponent’s two-point field goal percentage, then you have the makings of a very good defensive team.

You have to figure this number will improve, as no MSU team in the last 17 years has allowed opponents to shoot even at a 37% rate from three.

DePaul is currently shooting 26.7% from beyond the arc, making them one of the worst teams in the country in that department. So if they light up MSU from three, it might be time to worry.

Should the Spartans face Oregon in the second game, they will need to lock down the perimeter defense, as the Ducks are currently shooting 41.9% from the long line.


One area that has not been a problem is blocking shots. Michigan State is currently second in the country with a 23.6% block rate. That is a pretty absurd number. For reference, MSU’s best block percentage since 2002 is 14.8%, coming in 2007. Since 2011, the Spartans have finished between 11.1 and 13.5 percent.

We figured this team would be tough to deal with inside because of their size, and that appears to be the case so far. Ward, Jackson, Bridges, and Tillman all have a block rate of 8.3% or higher according to kenpom.

The current team record for blocked shots in a season is 177, set by the 2015/16 team. At their current (unsustainable) rate, this team would eclipse that mark during the 19th game of the season. Their 12 blocks against Duke tied for the second most in a single game in school history, done three other times, most recently against Florida Atlantic in 2015.

Jaren Jackson has a real good shot to break the freshman block record of 64 set by Deyonta Davis just a few years ago. Matt Costello’s sophomore mark of 43 will likely fall to either Nick Ward, Miles Bridges, or both. And the single season mark of 72 set by Ken Johnson in 84-85 is certainly in play as well.

Blocking shots is obviously good, because zero percent of blocked shots have a chance at being made. However, if players fall into the habit of hunting for blocked shots, even when they shouldn’t or don’t need to, then that can have repercussions on your rebounding. I am not sure whether that is a factor in the poor defensive rebounding numbers yet, but there have been a few cases where I noticed that happening, especially in the Duke game. Something to watch for.