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MSU Basketball: at Louisville Preview and Gamethread

2018 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational - Michigan State v Texas Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

MSU takes on Louisville in the BIG 10 - ACC challenge:

When: 7:30 p.m (EST) Tuesday
Where: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky
Radio: Spartan Sports Network

MSU (5-1): #9 (AP), #8 (USA/Coaches), #8 (Kenpom)

MSU had a great trip to Vegas, though not without drama. After a solid beat-down of UCLA, MSU came out flat and lacking focus against a tough and competitive Texas team. After going down 25-6, with a shocking set of turnovers and too-casual defense, the team turned its game around. Aaron Henry chipped in a few buckets in the final 10 mins of the first half (including 2 excellent, under-control drives to the paint), Josh Langford chipped in 7 in the first half, and the Spartans, crucially got the deficit down to single digits.

After the break, MSU took over and dominated the game. Langford poured in 22 second half points hitting from 3 and 2 on a variety of pull-ups, turnarounds, fade-aways, pin-downs, and transition buckets. The man played inspired ball. Winston, too, played great in the second half, helping Josh rain fire on the helpless Longhorns, controlling the game, and helping contain Texas’ dynamic back-court along with the excellent defense of Henry, Langford, McQ, and Ahrens.

Nick Ward played an outstanding game overall (though he didn’t have his best statistical outing), and helped off-set the awful first halves, and generally sub-par performances over the balance of the game, from Kenny Goins and Xavier Tillman (who both played well down the stretch). Ahrens, Bingham jr, Kithier, and even Loyer all chipped in some nice minutes and helped right the ship. The most important factor though was MSU’s defense, which completely stifled Texas after the first 10 mins of the game, denying dribble penetration, locking up on the glass (MSU won the rebounding battle 42-23 for the game), and closing-out under control against Texas’ excellent 3pt shooters.

Slightly-random interesting statistical factoid/developing trend:

Before I get to Louisville: I was ruminating on Josh Langford’s NBA potential last night and found myself saying, “well Bryn Forbes is the starting point guard for the San Antonio Josh has a chance. And Josh is a bit bigger and a bit more athletic, but Bryn might be a better shooter...wait, come to think of it Josh is a +40% shooter from 3 for his career isn’t he? [Checks Kenpom for Josh’s current stats, also thinks about Winston and his NBA potential, then goes back to Forbes’ senior year stats, also see’s Valentines’]... [pauses]...hmm.”

The more I looked at the numbers of Forbes and Langford (the primary off-guards for the respective seasons), and then Valentine and Winston’s numbers (the de-facto and actual point-guards for the respective seasons), the more I realized that they play very similar games on the offensive end. I haven’t really thought about a more sustained comparison between the two Spartan teams (Costello maybe better defensively, but not in Ward’s zip-code on offense, Goins vs. Davis may not even be as stark a disparity as first appears given Goins’ mobility, McQ vs Harris, bench mobs...), but there might be an interesting post to make here comparing the two teams. Both teams emerged (are emerging), early in the season, as teams with maybe-higher ceilings than they entered their respective seasons with.

Anyways, take a look at the below to see what I am talking about. The first column in each table has the relevant stats identified, then I have 4 columns for the 2 comps - Forbes next to Langford, and Valentine next to Winston. Compare Forbes’ and Langford’s numbers, and then Valentine’s and Winston’s numbers...they are eerily similar (assuming Josh’s and Cash’s pace holds)...

Forbes-Langford, Valentine-Winston pt 1

Stat. Forbes (15-16) Langford (18-19) Valentine (15-16) Winston (18-19)
Stat. Forbes (15-16) Langford (18-19) Valentine (15-16) Winston (18-19)
%Min 69.7 71.2 72.5 75
ORtg 132.2 122.1 125.7 123.1
%Poss 18.2 22.7 28.9 27.1
%Shots 23.7 28.4 29.5 28.3
eFG% 64.4 63.5 57.9 57.9
TS% 66.7 65.6 60.8 60.3
OR% 1.5 4.7 3 0
DR% 6.5 9.8 21.1 10
ARate 9.7 9.4 45.8 43.1
TORate 10.1 16.4 17 18.4

Forbes-Langford, Valentine-Winston, pt 2

Stat. Forbes (15-16) Langford (18-19) (Pace) Valentine (15-16) Winston (18-19) (Pace)
Stat. Forbes (15-16) Langford (18-19) (Pace) Valentine (15-16) Winston (18-19) (Pace)
FTRate 21.9 17.9 NA 21.4 19.5 NA
FTM-FTA 63-75 12-14 (62-72) 81-95 13-16 (67-83)
Pct 0.84 0.857 NA 0.853 0.812 NA
2PM-2PA 53-110 21-38 (108-196) 101-210 19-40 (98-206)
Pct 0.482 0.553 NA 0.481 0.475 NA
3PM-3PA 112-233 19-40 (98-206) 104-234 19-42 (98-217)
Pct 0.481 0.475 NA 0.444 0.452 NA

Louisville (3-2): NR (AP), NR (USA/Coaches), #59 (Kenpom)

Don’t let Louisville’s record (or lack of even a single vote in either poll) fool you. This is a talented and dangerous team, especially at home. After beating 3 lesser opponents, Louisville lost 2 games in Brooklyn to Tennessee (92-81, to a Tennessee team that took Kansas to OT) and Marquette (77-74 in OT, to a very skilled and hot-shooting Marquette team). Louisville basically plays 4 guards/wings at all times, and rotates a couple of talented and imposing centers. Here is their rough rotation:

1 - Perry (6’0”, so)
2 - Cunningham (6’2” sr), McMahon (6’0” jr)
3 - Sutton (6’5” jr), Fore (6’0” sr)
4 - King (6’6” jr), Nwora (6’7” so)
5 - Enoch (6’10” jr), Williams (6’11” so), Agau (6’8” sr)

Kenpom ranks them as #40 (Ortg) and #93 (Drtg). They play pretty fast (#48 in pace), don’t turn it over much, and, biggest of all, get to the line at an incredible rate (#2 in the nation!!!). Nwora is their highest usage player by far (113 Ortg, 31% Usage, 35% shots, 66-30-85 shooting percentages) and clearly the most important guy to focus on defensively (Goins, Ahrens, and Henry will have to be on their games). Perry (148 Ortg!!!, 78-52-86 shooting percentages!!!), McMahon (130 Ortg, 60-35-100 shooting percentages), and Cunningham (113 Ortg, 35-36-82 shooting percentages) form a very solid, if underutilized, trio of guards (Winston and Langford/McQ will need to stay tight to these dudes and not give them open shots).

The X-factors for Louisville are VJ King and Dwayne Sutton who came is as pretty highly rated recruits, but have yet to live up to their billing. Both are long, athletic, and have the ability to put up points if they get hot. These are guys we need to put in our pocket, and not have to worry about - stay in front, stay solid and don’t bail them out with reaches.

Finally, Enoch (UCONN transfer; 121 Ortg, 85% FT shooter, long, solid shot-blocker), Malik Williams (former MSU recruit, long, talented, under-performing so far in his career - you will see him and think “wow, how is this kid not better than he is?” 105 Ortg, 52% FT shooter), and Agau (148 Ortg all at the ft line and around the bucket) are all tall, long, and solid around the rim.

Most of all though, as I note above, as incredible as this may sound to MSU fans pining for trips to the FT line, every single one of these guys gets to the ft line (only Nwora out of the rotation players has a FT rate below 50% (!!!)). Every guy in the rotation draws contact and pressures defenses.


On offense, MSU will need to try to get the ball to Nick and let him operate, while Louisville’s trio of centers is good they are likely not quite ready for a big of Nick’s talent level (Grant Williams and the Tennessee front court got all 3 in foul trouble, and though Williams is outstanding, and has a somewhat different game from Ward (elbow operator and low block), Ward is even better on the low-block than Williams). Nick having another good, patient, smart-passing, and relatively effective scoring game will be a major key (anything line in the vicinity of 23+ minutes, 15+ points, 7+ rebounds, and 6+ fouls drawn is a great game from Nick, assuming continued excellence on defense).

Another key will be driving on their wings, who despite solid physical profiles seem incapable of playing lock-down defense to this point in their careers (especially Sutton who fouled out against Marquette and Tennessee). Our wings need to, and likely will, win their match-ups by playing solid defense (containing penetration, not fouling jump-shooters, and crashing the boards) and pressuring Sutton, King, and the undersized 2-guards on offense and in transition. I don’t have a great sense for Perry other than he is a much improved shooter, and has cut down the turnovers that he had last year. Winston needs to defend like he did for the last 30 minutes of the Texas game (where he was very solid).

Finally, and most importantly, MSU will have to limit Louisville’s trips to the ft line (where they are excellent, and where they get a lot of their offense - yeah, I know... awesome...), or, as Tennessee and Marquette did, fight fire with fire by getting to the line at a good clip themselves. If we see MSU settling for contested jumpers early and often (and they aren’t going in), then alarm bells should start ringing. If MSU is getting to the paint, and getting offensive rebounds (Louisville is pretty good at controlling the offensive glass) then things will look up for the Spartans.

First true road test of the year, hostile environment, enigmatic and dangerous team... this should be a great test.

Prediction: MSU 83 Louisville 70 - MSU pulls away in a game that is very tight until the final 4 minutes.

Make Gamethread go now...