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On the Shoulders of Giants

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MSU’s defensive domination

NCAA Basketball: Houston Baptist at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

This year’s Michigan State defense has been historically great. A stat that I have seen floating around MSU Basketball twitter (Hi KJ) as of late has been the defensive 2pt FG%. As I am writing this, MSU is holding its opponents to shooting 31.5% from inside the arc. I didn’t have a ton of context on this other than if someone on MSU was shooting 31.5% I would think they shouldn’t be shooting anymore. So I wanted to dig a bit deeper and see what this 31.5% actually means.

First up the 2017-2018 season-

Thanks to http://barttorvik.com for having these stats readily available(Seriously browse around that site, it is awesome).

The Spartans are sitting at 31.5% which gives them a 7.2% lead over Cincinnati who is currently second in the country. MSU’s lead is huge, I added the 7.2% MSU lead to Cincinnati’s total and found myself all the way down to our old friend Duke who is 66th in the country with 45.9%.

Another fun way to look at this lead is that MSU opponents would have to make their next 58 2PT shots in order to fall behind Cincinnati’s percentage at this moment. As far as the whole season goes, MSU opponents would have to average 43.3% the rest of the regular season in order to fall behind where Cincinnati stands now. For what it’s worth, the only team to shoot above 43.3% from 2pt this year against Michigan State is Notre Dame, who shot 44%, so unless something drastic happens (knock on all the wood) staying in first place seems pretty doable for this year’s squad.

To put this season into a more historical perspective, here is a chart showing the top Defensive 2pt FG% of each season since 2008.

One of the teams that finished their season as the leader in this category was 2015 Texas, which ended the season sitting at 37.7%. For MSU to fall behind 2015 Texas, their opponents would have to make their next 49 shots or shoot 41.6% the rest of the way. As we discussed earlier, only once this year has MSU given up anything above 41.6% and that was the 44% against Notre Dame.

The strength of this defense comes from the interior. As our own Matt Hoeppner pointed out earlier this year, Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson specifically have been game changers. Jackson has emerged as a true rim protector, and he’s on a historic pace. Jackson is already tied for the 10th most blocks in a single-season among Spartan players all time with 43. As a Senior in 1984-85, Ken Johnson set the record with 72 blocks. At his current pace, Jackson would pass Johnson nine games from now against Wisconsin in what would only be his 22nd college basketball game. Enjoy Jaren Jackson while we have him, because I don’t think he will be here next year.

Updated this section after it was pointed out by Smokestack Lightning my table was missing some players. Statistics for this table pulled from https://www.sports-reference.com/cbb/.

We are only 12 games into this season so it is a bit early to know whether MSU is able to keep this defense rolling, but based on the early season schedule strength and weakness of the Big Ten MSU has a chance to end this season as a historical outlier defensively.