Where: Breslin Center; East Lansing, MI
When: Tuesday, January 8; 9pm tip-time (ET)
TV/Radio: ESPN 2/Spartan Sports Network
MSU status report:
MSU is now 13-2 (4-0), #6 (AP), #5 (USA Today/Coaches), #4 (Kenpom). Things have gone well so far this season. In fact, they have gone far better than even I (a constant optimist on MSU hoops) hoped they would this season. Even with Josh Langford out again (he has been really darn good this season on both ends), this MSU team has found its groove and has really begun to gel. There are still areas of improvement, but wow, things are looking good.
Winston is crushing things on the offensive end and holding up much better on defense than he did in his first two seasons - the man is currently sitting at 17.7 ppg, 7.6 apg, 2.3 rbpg, 1.0 spg, and only 2 TOpg. For the real numbers (i.e. Kenpom’s numbers), he is at a spine-tingling 131 Ortg, using 25% of possessions when on the court, taking 26% of the shots when he is on the court, has an Efg% of 59.5, a TS% of 62.6 (on 52.6% from 2pt, 45% from 3pt, and 79% from ft - get that ft% back up Cash), his TO rate is down to a shocking 14% (he was in the low 20’s the last 2 years), he is drawing nearly 5 fouls per 40, and as we can all see: the man is a stone cold killer out there.
Nick Ward has become everything we ever wanted him to become (see doubters?!?! we told you - now just keep it up Nick). He is so much more poised, engaged, active, vocal, steady, and imperturbable than he was his first two years, he is defending really well, he is producing like he usually does (raw: 16.7 ppg, 6.5 rbpg, nearly 1 apg, 1.5 bkpg, under 2 TOpg; KP: 118 Ortg, ~30% usg, ~27% shots, 66% for EFG and TS, drawing 9.4 fouls per 40 (#1 in the country!!!), up to 64% from the ft line (and hopefully creeping closer to 70% by the end of the season)), and generally just dominating teams and games.
Even without Langford, our wings have really stepped up to form a potent 3rd-option pastiche: McQ, Ahrens, and Henry are all defending brilliantly, and are playing confidently and aggressively on offense, especially McQ and Ahrens (both at 124 Ortg, with 44% and 35% 3pt shooting respectively). All 3 are running the lanes hard in transition, attacking the paint, making good passes, getting rebounds, and taking (and generally making) open shots when they get the chance.
Tillman and Goins have blown me away for the most part. Tillman especially concerned me earlier in the year because he wasn’t finishing around the rim, but the man has changed his ways, started nailing his dunks/layups and is showing us a nice hook every once in a while, to go along with the occasional long-ball. Goins is struggling offensively of late, at least in the shooting department where he has been hesitant and hasn’t been finishing from anywhere on the court recently. But I am confident that KG will bounce back and that this duo will continue to provide excellent supporting offensive play. Defensively they have been other-worldly. Both have really got their hip technique and footwork down pat on the perimeter (as has Nick, which is even more stunning). They are opening their hips to the ball, shuffling properly, and correctly assessing when they need to turn and run. They are locking down switches, ice-actions, high-hedges, and slips. They are (along with Nick) blocking shots in beautiful fashion (all 3 are in the top 200 players in the country in terms of block rate, with Tillman at #65!!!). It is their development, along with the back-court’s improvement on defense, that has ensured that this team has a real shot to do things. I hoped it would come to fruition, and we are beginning to see it happen.
Despite losing Tum, Carter, Schilling, Jackson jr, and Bridges, who all greatly contributed to last year’s team having the #10 defense in the country per Kenpom, this season’s team is only a handful of spots behind that team (currently #17 in the country per Kenpom). The exciting thing about this year’s team is that we are still great on the offensive glass and even BETTER on the defensive glass (last year’s team was #4 in the country in Oreb rate, while only #76 in opponent Oreb rate; this year’s team is #31 in Oreb rate, but #36(!!!) in opponent Oreb rate), and this year’s team is still great in terms of blocking shots (last year’s team was #1 in the country in defensive block rate, this year’s team is #36 in defensive block rate). So we have gotten only slightly less-good in a couple of areas and have actually improved on the defensive glass this year. And, what is more, this team is still getting better, and hasn’t had Langford the last few games (who had been the team’s best perimeter defender until his injury).
In summary, this team is really really good already. You can see that Izzo knows and sees this with his recent immediate-shutdown of comparisons to last year’s team - he is trying to keep the pressure/hype off of this team for as long as possible given the apparent “NBA talent” disparity between the 2 squads. You can also see that this team is getting better and better with each passing week. I don’t think that we will run the table in the B1G (although Kenpom’s current ratings only have us losing 1 B1G game, I imagine that we will pick up another 1 or 2 - I am guessing we lose no more than 4 B1G games, probably only 2 or 3), but I do think this team is in a great position to challenge for the title, and to have a deep post-season run.
Brief rant on Izzo’s coaching and calls to “modernize” the offense:
Major apologies to all the haters, but Izzo is still an incredibly good coach. He has adapted his offensive scheme a bit this year... well, actually, no he hasn’t. Even though he has made a couple of Twitter-appeasing comments in this direction this season he really hasn’t changed his “system” at all. Rather he has allowed this group of players into the more-advanced version of his offense where he is less hands on because the players themselves are more-capable of running the show themselves. The team is awesome in transition, great in its second phase, still running nice sets, and the best-ever version of Cassius Winston is driving the bus.
Notice, in particular, how focused the team is on properly running the second phase of the offense - the secondary break motion (which as always been a part of Izzo’s offensive system, but wasn’t seen much the last two years because our predominately young talented players weren’t experienced, sophisticated, in-sync, or precise enough to run it effectively). As Winston, Goins, McQ, and Ahrens have all noted in interviews/comments, the team spent the entire summer working on their offensive flow and motion, which comes immediately after the fast-break gets shut down by the other team, or the ball-handler.
Guys are moving, replacing, and shifting the ball from one side of the court to the other hunting for an early breakdown in the opposition’s defense. If they see the break-down they attack immediately (or get Nick an early post-touch before the defense is set), and hunt a shot against an unsettled defense. Only when the secondary offense is stymied, or if the team needs a bucket after a dry spell, does the crew get into a real set (of which their are hundreds to choose from per usual).
It is just a joy to watch and something we haven’t really seen since the Valentine senior year team, the Lucas FF teams, and the Anderson FF team (and then the Cleaves/Bell teams before those ones). So yeah, Izzo hasn’t “modernized” his offense, he just has another team that can run it as it is best run (turns out that basketball savants don’t just forget how to coach). But it does turn out, again, as it does every so often in Izzo’s tenure, that when he doesn’t have experienced players running the show that the offense doesn’t run as smoothly as it can at its peak effectiveness (and heck, even last year’s sometimes-stilted offense, with its shocking turnover numbers, was still the #13 offense in THE ENTIRE COUNTRY).
Purdue 9-5 (2-1): NR (20 votes, AP), NR (0 votes, USA/Coaches), #17 (Kenpom)
1 - Edwards (6’1” jr)
2 - Cline (6’6” sr), Hunter (6’3” fr)
3 - Eastern (6’6” so), Stefanovic (6’4” fr)
4 - Eifert (6’6” sr), Wheeler (6’9” fr)
5 - Haarms (7’3” so), Boudreaux (6’8” jr), Williams (6’9” fr)
This team is really solid on offense, mainly because Carsen Edwards is filthy. The challenge for Purdue is that he is SO GOOD that the rest of the team doesn’t do enough in part because he is so dominant and in part because they aren’t creating much themselves. Defensively they are surprisingly soft (#68 in Kenpom, giving up good looks all over the court). I haven’t watched them much this season, but from what I have seend they appear to have a lot of issues with mobility on the perimeter where Cline, Eastern, Eifert, Wheeler, Haarms, Boudreaux, and Williams are all not super comfortable navigating PnR’s and cuts, and can struggle to keep guys in front of them. These struggles are likely due to a combination of athletic/mobility limitations and lack of know-how (for the freshmen).
Offensively, they shoot it well (Edwards doing his thing with Cline, Wheeler, Stefanovic, and Eifert all being good 3pt shooters getting kick-outs), attack the glass (Haarms, Boudreaux (especially), Eastern, Eifert, and Williams all have good-to-great Oreb rates), and don’t turn the ball over. Everyone takes good shots and everyone is pretty good from the ft line (even though they don’t get there often).
Edwards: 115 Ortg, 81% of mins played, 35% of possessions used, ~39% of shots taken while on the court, 49% from 2, 39% from 3, 89% from the ft line. Averages 25 ppg, 3 rebs, 3 assists, and 3 TO. Dude is a beast.
Cline: 123 Ortg, 82% of mins played, 38% from 3 (109 3pt fga). Averages 12 ppg, 3 rebs, 3 assists
I feel really good about this game even in the face of a potential Taylor Battle scenario [*furiously* knocks on wood]. Eastern will get his numbers, but if we can make it tough for him and make him as inefficient as possible then Purdue will really struggle. Winston, McQ, Henry, and maybe even Brown will all have their chances to contain him, but the real trick will be our bigs defending the PnR, our off-ball guys not giving up open 3’s, and everyone crashing the glass and then running in transition.
I expect us to really hurt them when we have the ball:
First in transition. If they try to crash the glass, then we will really make them pay because we are a better defensive-rebounding team than they are an offensive-rebounding team. So their choice to commit bodies will just give us easy transition looks; expect to see them crash the glass early and to drop off after we hit them with a few transition buckets (or to continue crashing the glass if they get early extra looks). KG, Tillman, and Ahrens, especially, in their match-up with Eastern, Eifert, Boudreaux, and Wheeler will have to lock down the glass... Winning this game-within-the-game will be key.
When we get to the half-court I think Nick will have another great shot to prove his scoring and foul-drawing prowess vs NBA length in Haarms, and that Winston will be able to generate a lot of looks out of the PnR. It will also be essential for McQ, Henry, Tillman, and KG to make good decisions with the ball when they get DHO’s and elbow touches.
If we win the glass, get out and run, and if Nick can work his way into their big-man rotation while staying calm, making good reads, making passes when necessary, and drawing fouls, then we should win this one comfortably. Keep Edwards under 30, and don’t let their “others” hit more than 6 3’s.
MSU 84 Purdue 68