A Pilgrimage to East Lansing:
A quick fun note: I got to go to East Lansing last weekend for the first time in my life (and Spartan fandom, obviously). First, I got to see MSU beat OSU in the Breslin Center; sitting just above the Izzone behind the OSU-bench/basket in the corner section. The Breslin Center (if any of you haven’t been yet) is the best sports arena I have ever experienced: state of the art, shiny, new, great size (big, yet much more intimate than an NBA arena), loud, and the Hall of History was really neat (I saw Mark Dantonio too, at a range of 20 or so feet, which was cool)! I have been to lots of basketball arenas and football stadiums (including Crisler Center to see MSU lose to UM in 2014, a handful of NBA arenas and other college arenas, a bunch of different NFL and college football stadiums, and a number of soccer stadiums) and Breslin is by far the best one I have been to in terms of basketball venues.
The game experience was awesome - the first half was weird as hell (with about 4-5 balls rimming out), the team getting down, and Ward getting injured. The second half was awesome - including Kithier, Goins, McQ, Loyer, and Ahrens on the floor for a crucial stretch that decided the game, and Holtman bizarrely deciding not to play Wesson every minute of the second half. Really awesome to see these guys live, to see how talented they are, how hard they work, and how much they care.
Then, on Monday, I went to Tom Izzo’s live radio show at Reno’s. That too, was totally awesome - I sat a few feet away from Izzo’s mom, met one of Lupe Izzo’s childhood friends, and got to meet Tom Izzo and chat with him briefly. Listening to Izzo and Kithier talk about the OSU win and the upcoming games was great, and even better live. It was really cool to see how great of a community Michigan State has, and what an incredible man-of-the-people Tom Izzo is, in person.
All in all, it was an incredible weekend (all made possible by my infinitely amazing better-half), and one that I would replicate, and encourage any of you who haven’t had a similar kind of East Lansing experience to replicate, a thousand times over.
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
When: 3:45pm (ET), February 24, 2019
TV/Radio: CBS/Spartan Sports Network radio
Michigan 24-3 (13-3): #7 (Kenpom)
1 - Simpson (6’0” jr)
2 - Poole (6’5” so)
3 - Matthews (6’6” sr)
4 - Brazdeikis (6’7” fr), Livers (6’7” so)
5 - Teske (7’0” jr), Johns (6’8” fr)
Michigan is a damn good team, especially defensively (#2 in Drtg per Kenpom). They contest shots (#7 in the country in defensive eFG%), rebound the defensive glass (#34 in the country in defensive Oreb rate per Kenpom), and don’t let teams get to the line (#5 in defensive FTA/FGA in the country).
Despite playing only 6 guys (in their regular rotation), they maintain their excellent defense through their length and activity (Simpson, Matthews, Teske, and Livers all have long arms, gap well, and/or move their feet really well). Simpson, especially, is tough, smart, active, aggressive, and fearless - excellent on the ball, and excellent off the ball as a help defender digging down, stripping the ball when bigs rebound it, and generally disrupting opposing teams’ actions. Poole and Brazdeikis are hit and miss defenders - both can fit in seamlessly when they are on, but both can be attacked on and off the ball where they can be lazy with their initial footwork/hip placement (giving up straight-line drives away from their help) and can ball-watch (letting guys back-cut them, or replace-cut without effective trail-pursuit). Teske and Winston are awesome in PnR defense, and Matthews’ length allows him to really bother jump-shots and play passing lanes.
Offensively Michigan is hot and cold. They don’t shoot particularly well from 3 as a team, although all of their rotation players are capable of hitting and all need to be respected, especially when they are at home. Simpson has developed a pet hook shot to solve his general lack of explosion near the rim, but his greatest skill offensively is his ability to drive deep, maintain his dribble and find late cutters or spot-up shooters - this is all enabled because of Michigan’s generally excellent spacing and the strong competence of each of their main rotation guys in every aspect of offensive basketball (driving, shooting, passing).
Poole and Teske are their most dangerous offensive players: Poole because of his microwave capacity - can get super-hot and really create his own shot well - Teske because of his 3pt shooting (36% in B1G play), and really strong rim-diving (he can pick and roll OR pop). Brazdeikis has regressed a tiny bit in conference play, but is pretty outstanding handling the ball and creating offense for himself; he really doesn’t pass much though so he needs to be forced into contested shots. Matthews is a good slasher and cutter, is shooting well from 3 in B1G play (36% in conference play), but his comfort zone is in turn-arounds and fade-aways from the elbow and short-corner - some of the least efficient shots in the game of basketball. Off the bench, Livers is outstanding. He can really shoot (43% from 3 on the season, 36% from 3 in the B1G), and he can handle it; he can get in foul-trouble though and isn’t super laterally on defense.
Michigan spaces the floor, runs a lot of PnR, and has everyone driving from the wing looking to get to the paint to score or kick; oh, and they don’t turn it over...at all (#3 in offensive TO rate per Kenpom). As glowing as this scout has been, they are only the #33 offense in Kenpom (great not elite), in large part because they play at a glacial pace (#274 in pace), don’t rebound it offensively (#285 in Oreb rate), and don’t get to the line (#291 in FTA/FGA) - they shoot a lot of jump-shots. This team can have offensive droughts, and if you can find ways to score you can win.
I really like this match-up for MSU - many of you all will scoff at this - and it is an optimistic take on this match-up given Ward’s absence, so let me make my case/share my game-plan.
Defensively, I think we will be fine against them: we just need to stay solid on the drive (which is what opens up everything for them) - especially McQ on Poole, Henry on Matthews, and Goins on Brazdeikis. If we don’t give up easy drives to the paint and the rim, then UM’s offense has to come from their motion sets (mainly Poole, Brazdeikis, and Matthews coming off of curls, horns-sets, and pin-downs) - these should be straight-forward for our guys to defend: none of this is fancy and our guys have defended these kinds of actions really well all year. If we shut down UM’s iso-wing drives, and their motion sets, their last resort is the Simpson-Teske PnR, which will likely decide the game: Tillman, Goins, and Kithier will all have to really read Teske well because Simpson wants to find him. If we force Simpson into tons of shots and he makes them, then I will live with that - my goal is for Simpson to take 10-15 shots for the game.
If Michigan wins they will likely have to hit a number of contested 3’s (say about 8-10), and will have to get a relatively high number of transition points, mostly off of MSU turnovers, which brings us to MSU’s offensive game-plan...
No Ward means our low-post offense will be diminished, Simpson will be all up in Winston’s grill (hand-checking him all day, if the refs call 1-2 of those fouls the game totally changes, assume that they won’t), and Matthews will likely shut down McQuaid with his length. MSU’s offense, therefore, will be seriously dependent on 4 factors: Henry vs. Poole, Goins vs Brazdeikis, offensive rebounds, and turnovers.
If MSU can limit turnovers to under 15, rebound 30% of available offensive rebounds (again, Goins and Henry are essential here), and if Henry and Goins can score against Poole and Brazdeikis, then MSU should win the game. To score against these two UM defenders, Henry will need to continue to drive aggressively from the wing, get to the paint, and finish around the rim, and Goins will need to be the primary PnR man for Winston (I would try to get Brazdeikis switched onto Winston as much as possible). If Goins can get switched onto Simpson he can crash the glass, and if Brazdeikis isn’t seamless in his hedge-and-recover, then Goins should have plenty of looks from the 3.
I am boldly predicting that Henry goes for a career high in points, that Goins hits at least 4 3pt shots, and that both guys have 3+ offensive rebounds. If these three factors play out, if Goins can limit Brazdeikis’ drives, if Henry can force Matthews into mostly shooting 2pt jump-shots defensively, and if Winston can have a 2:1 A:TO ration, then MSU wins.
MSU 68 Michigan 62