Well last week the house was on fire, dog and cats were living together, and everyone wanted to know what was wrong with MSU’s basketball team. This week, we have much better news to report. But before we get to the new stuff, I would just like to go back and recap the areas we highlighted last week and how the Spartans fixed those in the last two games, leading to a pair of victories.
First, we talked about defending the three-point line. It was not something MSU had been doing well lately and had struggled during the losing streak. Purdue, Indiana, and Illinois combined to make 31 threes and shoot 43.1% from beyond the arc.
Minnesota and Wisconsin made 11 threes, and shot 32.4% from the long line. And Minnesota banked two of their threes in off the glass so the numbers really shouldn’t have been that good.
Second we looked at rebounding. In the three losses MSU’s opponents were averaging 12 offensive rebounds per game. The last two games, 11 total offensive rebounds for Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The Spartans cleaned up the offensive glass at a 73% rate against Minnesota and an 83.3% rate against Wisconsin. The Badgers aren’t a good offensive rebounding team, but Minnesota is 36th in the country in that department. Big improvement there.
And finally we talked about Nick Ward. In the three losses Ward was averaging 10.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, and shooting 46.4% from the floor.
In the last two games Ward is averaging 17 points, 7.5 rebounds, two blocks, and two assists. He is shooting 60.9% from the floor. His activity on the offensive end helped get MSU going and out to a big lead against Minnesota, and his defensive performance on Happ was key in the win at Wisconsin.
MSU massively improved in all three of these areas, and they came away with two wins, including a big one at Madison.
Loins are Girded
We need to talk about Kenny Goins. I know plenty has been written about him, but the guy is having just a phenomenal year. The growth from walk-on to his senior season has been tremendous, and this is the type of thing that makes Izzo a great coach. The guys like Goins who go from after thoughts or minutes eaters, to key contributors on teams that make deep tournament runs.
Earlier this week I compared Goins’ senior season to Goran Suton’s. Here is how they stack up.
Goins: 7.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.4 blocks, 34.2% three-point percentage
Suton: 10.4 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.5 blocks, 43.8% three-point percentage
The reason this comparison first came to me is the sudden emergence of Goins’ three-point shooting. This is a guy who did not attempt a three in his first two seasons, and only attempted 15 of them last year. Now, over the last 10 games, he is averaging three attempts per game, and shooting 42.5 percent. That attempts per game would be higher if he didn’t miss all but seven minutes of the Minnesota game.
Similarly, Suton attempted just six threes in his first two years and then only 12 as a junior. Then as a senior he shot 21-for-48 from deep. Goins will end up shooting way more threes than Suton did, but part of that is because of the Langford injury.
Another comparison people suggested was A.J. Granger, who helped lead MSU to the National Championship in his senior year. Granger wasn’t quite the rebounder of Suton or Goins, and he had been a bit more of a shooter before his senior year. But I think the growth overall is what people were referring to.
Both Granger and Suton played in the final college basketball game of the year as seniors and were both named to the All-Tournament team. If that happens with Goins, I think we will all be pretty happy about it.
Michigan State remains fourth in the KenPom rankings right now, but the top three teams (Duke, UVA, Zags) have separated themselves a little bit. Still the Spartans are one of only three teams (Duke, UVA) that are top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
MSU is sixth on offense at 120.0 AdjO. Comparing that to other MSU teams and it lines up as the second best of the data going back to 2001. The best Izzo offensive team was the 2016 team. The next closest are last year’s team, and the 2005 and 2001 teams. The latter two went to the Final Four.
On defense, the Spartans are eighth overall at 89.6 AdjD. That is the best since 2013, and compares most closely with the 2009 and 2003 teams, which went to National Title game and the Elite Eight respectively.
Looking at both numbers this team continues to line up most closely with the 2001 team that was the third straight MSU team to reach the Final Four.
We had a few milestones since we last checked in on this. First and foremost, Cassius Winston has crossed the 600 assist plateau. That moves him into fourth place on the all-time MSU list, passing Eric Snow who just missed out on the 600 club with 599 assists. Winston needs 31 more dimes to tie Denzel Valentine for third place and 37 to tie Scott Skiles for second. Something tells me he will pass them both before the year is out.
Also of note for Winston is that he has now made 167 three-pointers, which moves him into ninth place on the all-time school list ahead of Durrell Summers. More impressive, is that he hasn’t cracked the top ten in attempts yet.
Speaking of three-pointers, Matt McQuaid is now tenth all-time in both three-pointers made and attempted. That’s a lot of McBuckets.
As mentioned earlier, Nick Ward woke up from his slumber and has been a factor once again the last two games. With it he has climbed up the MSU leaderboards some more.
Ward is now over the 1,300 point mark, and is just five points away from Branden Dawson for 26th on the MSU all-time scoring list. With ten points he will tie Durrell Summers for 25th all-time.
Ward is also up to fourth on the all-time block list with 137 rejections. He needs four more to tie Adreian Payne for third all-time. Ten more blocks and he becomes MSU’s all-time leader.