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Key Stats from PK80 and a Notre Dame Preview

MSU’s interior defense has been stout, and they will need it against Notre Dame.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at Michigan State Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

It was about as successful of a holiday weekend as Michigan State could have hoped for in the PK80 tournament. The Spartans won their bracket by beating DePaul, UConn, and North Carolina by an average of 20 points. Next up is Notre Dame tonight as MSU will face their third top-10 opponent, and second in the top-5, of the season. Here are some things that stuck out from the PK80.

Second half surge

The first two games of the weekend saw MSU in close battles against inferior opponents. They were tied at the half with DePaul at 31, and were up just one against UConn 28-27. However, the second half proved to be a different story in both games. The Spartans outscored those two teams by a combined score of 91-50.

It was a bit of a reversal against UNC, with MSU getting out to a 37-23 halftime lead, with the Spartans outscoring the Heels by just four in the second half.

Still, in the three games MSU held their opponents to a total of 72 points in the second half, an average of just 24 points. UConn had the best second half, getting 30 points. That is some stingy defense, and if that becomes the norm for this team, I am fine with that. You would always rather be a second half team than a first half team. And this group is talented enough that even if they struggle in the first half, they are usually even or close on the scoreboard, if not still ahead.

Interior Defense

Michigan State is leading the nation in opponent’s two-point field goals. The Spartans are holding teams to just 33.9% shooting inside the arc. That is almost a full three percent better than the next closest team. That is an absolutely insane number. And it’s one that is skewed because of the easier opponents on MSU’s schedule. Here is how teams have fared on two-pointers against the Spartans.

North Carolina: 32.6%

UConn: 37.1%

DePaul: 25.7%

Stony Brook: 33.3%

Duke: 39.6%

North Florida: 32.4%

No team has broken 40% on twos against MSU so far. The best anyone has done is Duke, the number one team in the KenPom AdjO efficiency. For reference, the D-1 average is 49.8% on two-pointers.

The blocks are helping this as well, MSU is still 11th in the country with a 17.4% block rate. They had seven blocks against UNC, four against UConn, and just one against DePaul.

In case you were wondering, the best MSU team in the KenPom era (since 2002) in terms of two-point defense was the 2016 team that held opponents to 41.7 percent.

Tonight should be an interesting test of this, as Notre Dame comes in shooting 58.2% on two pointers, 27th best in the country.

Improved Shooting

Something else we saw come to life in Portland was the Spartans outside shooting. For the tournament, MSU went 28-for-67 from behind the arc, a very nice 41.8 percent. They hit double digit three’s in two of the three games.

They also didn’t just shoot threes. They averaged about 22 three-point attempts per game, which feels like a reasonable number for this team. They are below the average nationally of percentage of shots that they take that are threes and the percentage of their total points that come from threes. That number can probably come up a little and be right about the national average.

Everyone Contributes

Maybe the best thing that we saw from the Spartans performance in the PK80 tournament was how the Spartans were able to beat you with different guys stepping up each night. Remember, Miles Bridges didn’t play in the first game, and only scored a TOTAL of 17 points in the tournament.

What we did see was Matt McQuaid stepping up for 20 points against DePaul. We saw Cassius Winston drop 28 on UConn. Then Joshua Langford hung 23 on North Carolina. In total, six different Michigan State players had a double digit scoring game in the tournament. This team is tough to defend, and they should only get better as the year goes on.

Too Many Turnovers

One area that remains a negative for Michigan State is the turnovers. MSU is now 304th with a 22.8% turnover rate. They turned it over an incredible 24 times against UNC and still managed to win by 18 points. They only had eight against UConn, but had 15 against DePaul.

All in all MSU has turned it over at least 14 times in five of their six games. They have two games with 20+ turnovers. The UConn game is the only one where MSU didn’t have double digit turnovers.

Early season turnover problems are nothing new for Michigan State, but this is a really bad habit to get into. It is also one that is not new to this group of players. Last year’s team turned the ball over at a 20.5% clip.

So far the tremendous defense has covered for the sloppiness with the ball, with the exception of the Duke game. This is an area that has to get cleaned up, as you cannot expect to beat good teams being that careless with the basketball.

Notre Dame

The Spartans take on undefeated Notre Dame tonight in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. This will be just the second time the two teams have matched up since 1979 and the first visit to the Breslin Center for the Irish.

Notre Dame won their holiday tournament, knocking off Wichita State in the final of the Maui Invitational. They also beat LSU and host Chaminade.

The Irish come in as the number three team in offensive efficiency according to KenPom. They are fifth in eFG% and turnover percentage. Overall they have been a very good offensive team, with no real glaring weak spot, like MSU has with the turnover issue.

Defensively they are also pretty solid, especially when it comes to keeping their opponents off the free throw line. They have held their opponents below the national average both inside, and outside of the arc.

Their best player is Bonzie Colson, who ranks second in KenPom’s player of the year ratings. Colson is averaging 20 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. He’s also blocking more than two shots per contest.

Colson does most of his work inside, where he shoots close to 64%, but he can also step out and hit the occasional three pointer (4-13 on the year). He’s also a very good free throw shooter at better than 77% for his career. He gets there quite often too, drawing about five fouls per 40 mins, and about seven free throw attempts per game.

Notre Dame is far from a one man show. Senior point guard Matt Farrell is averaging 17.5 points and 4.3 assists per game and shooting 42.9% from three. Sophomore guard TJ Gibbs is averaging 15.5 points and 3.2 assists. Gibbs is dangerous from anywhere on the floor, shooting 53.6% on twos and 53.3% on threes.

MSU should have enough bodies to throw at Colson, although this could be a game where Jackson ends up on the bench often with foul trouble. That would require Schilling and Carter to step up.

The perimeter players will be interesting, especially Gibbs. At 6-3, 188lbs. Gibbs shouldn’t be a size issue for Langford or McQuaid, but they will need to keep him from going off like Grayson Allen did against them. You can’t expect Notre Dame to shoot 1-for-18 from three like North Carolina did.