Michigan State took on Duke in another Champions Classic showdown. The Spartans started with more energy but the same cold shooting streak of the first two game of the season. That doomed the Spartans as they fell behind 11 at the half and could not dig their way out in the second half.
The game had some promising signs in that second half, and could prove to be a turning point in hindsight. For now, it was a loss where their opponent looked in control for the bulk of the game.
Details of the Grading Curve for this Game: Duke is good. The champions classic is always a tough test for the big name programs involved. That said, Duke did not look as good as Tennessee. MSU is getting a little support for their grades (i.e. they are a bit higher than maybe they should be) because Duke is very good competition and it is early in the season.
The pre-game chatter was about the three point shooting. For the fan base it was also about Malik Hall. Both got an answer on the first score of the game as Hall took a wide open three and converted it.
Early on each possession ran through Hall in some way. It didn’t end up in a ton of points but the message was clear: Hall is a key for this team, even if he struggles.
The shooting for the Spartans clearly held them back. MSU’s offense generated plenty of good looks in the first ten minutes yet they failed to convert. Open threes by the likes of Holloman and Hall failed to connect. Down low, Mady Sissoko found ways to creatively slip and dive to the basket that looked great on everything but the finish. It showed the offense has bite in its movements but is lacking players that are actually converting the shots.
Sissoko continued to stand out for much of the first half and not in a good way. Great passes from the guards kept finding Sissoko in position to score. And consistently they ended up in turnovers and bad shots that missed - essentially turnovers.
The offense stagnated as MSU seemed to go away from feeding the post and focused on shooting from the outside. The problem wasvMSU can’t shoot from the outside so far this year.
The missing ingredient has been driving the ball. Hoggard used to be relied upon to get angry and use his larger frame to create space in the paint. With that element completely empty this year, MSU’s relative lack of size on the perimeter seemed to squash any early attempt at driving the ball.
Hoggard wasn’t all bad in the first half as he tallied 4-assists and had a roll and drive for a score that was vintage last year. He might have had more assists if anyone could hit a shot.
At the end of the first half MSU was down eleven because it’s offense was just unproductive. The offensive sets consistently created open looks that ended in missed shots. In all of that the Spartans couldn’t get to the line and draw fouls. They had two free throws that they missed, while Duke hit 11 of 14. That was the difference in the game.
The second half MSU looked determined to flip the script. They came out aggressive. A transition basket for Hall that drew a foul (he missed the FT), a big corner three by Hall and actual drives by the guards. For the first four minutes of the half MSU looked a lot closer to the team everyone expected to see this year.
The gas ran out pretty quickly. The team hit a real speed bump when Malik Hall picked up two fouls and went to the bench with a total of four. The savior at that point was Coen Carr who’s defense helped spark an 8-0 run that closed the gap to one possession. That was as close as the Spartans would get for the game.
Down the stretch MSU found shooting and aggression. It’s hard to understand where that was for the first 2.5 games of the season. At least it showed up.
The problem was it was not enough. MSU dug too big of a hole in the end fo the first half when their shooting let them fall behind by 11.
Offensive Grade: B-
The early part of the game the defense looked good. It helped that Duke was missing shots but the Spartans were also doing everything possible to keep Duke’s offense off balance. Fast hands all around generated steals and deflections that kept MSU in the game while their offense struggled. It made the game look a bit ugly early on, but it was a credit to the effort MSU was putting out.
8 turnovers by Duke in the first 10-minutes is an achievement by the Spartans. Yes, Duke was over dribbling but the position of MSU’s guards and digs by help defenders were a nightmare for the Blue Devils.
The defense held Duke to 31 in the first half which objectively was decent. The problem was the way Duke got to that number. The Blue Devils were struggling for 15 minutes then finally got hot. They started focusing their offensive sets to create mismatches and repeatedly guards ended up under the basket bodying one of Duke’s big men. That created mismatches underneath and a tendency to over help that drew defenders away from the three point line.
In the second half the Spartans defense had stretches of dominance but kept letting Duke find its way offensively. Some incredible stands by Coen Carr sparked a run, but every time the Spartan offense seemed to be getting on track the defense could not hold the line.
It seemed like MSU finally found its offense but it cost them some energy on the defensive end. Duke is one of the better scoring teams in the country, and they are deep. The point explosion for their freshman guard Foster was unexpected and was just one too many scorers for the defense to focus on. MSU came into the game concentrating on limiting Duke’s front court with Filipowski as a key. Overall, MSU did pretty well against the star center allowing him to get only 15 points, a credit to MSU’s front court and team defense.
In the end it was not enough, but it was still a good effort.
Defense Grade: B+
Transition played a role right from the start. Less than two minutes in a block against Mady put Duke on the run and MSU got back to defend. They turned it into a run out of their own that ended in a Hoggard missed layup. It was good to see Hoggard be aggressive but the finish had no authority, thus the missed shot.
Early on, MSU created a lot of transition opportunities with its defense. The problem was the shooting. In the half court and in transition the poor shooting short circuited even the most aggressive of moves by the Spartans. The team ended the first half with only 2-points in transition. That is a ridiculously low total considering the opportunities they created.
Opening the second half, a great pass from AJ Hoggard to Malik Hall grabbed an early transition basket and drew a foul. MSU looked faster in the first four minutes of the second half since they have at any point since the Tennessee exhibition.
Still, the transition game never really got going. The first half had lots of opportunities but no shoting to take advantage. The second half had substantially improved shooting but the defense was not as aggressive and the transition opportunities were few and far between.
Transition Grade: C
Early the rotation was a bit fast and furious. After the last few years where Izzo switched his first substitution from the 17:30 mark to the 16:30 mark to give his starters more time to get into a rhythm. That seems to be reversed this year as Cooper consistently is checking in just before the 17 minute mark. It’s smart when it comes to the centers, both need to play a lot. I’ve also argued that some games Sissoko’s style is going to work, in others he is going to be overmatched.
The concern with that early substition is how Izzo then adopts such a heavy rotation early. From the 17 minute mark to the ten minute mark Izzo rotated through all five positions at least twice more. That was a lot of speed in and out making the Spartans look choppy and a bit disjointed. It didn’t seem to impact the high effort early defensive effort but it didn’t help an offense that is still struggling to find any sort of rhythm.
Speaking of the offense, Michigan State ran some great offensive sets in the first quarter of the game. These were well designed plays that consistently got players open. The problem was the shooting failed all too often to convert.
The rotation slowed down in the closing stretch of the first half largely because half the Spartans had two fouls at that point. Still, Izzo’s belief in the veterans started paying dividends.
In the second half, Malik Carr sparked the early offense before picking up his fourth foul. Izzo went with Carr at the four spot and the team thrived for an 8-0 run. Izzo comes under fire for his handling of certain freshmen and rotations, but in the second half he showed what he currently thinks are his most reliable players. It looked an awful lot like a steady diet of the veterans.
The one area that made little sense was the strategy to close the game. MSU was unable to overcome the hole they dug in the final four minutes of the first half. That 11-point gap was too large even as MSU challenged a few times. It left them down 12 with a few minutes left.
MSU went to fouling a little later than expected. Then did the fouling approach for a few possessions then seemed to abandon it. Then seemed to try and get back to it with less than 30-seconds left. The end games strategy was hard to decipher and looked like a coach that wanted the game to end. Rare for Izzo.
Overall, Izzo rotated his players in, lept people fresh and found the spark he’d been looking for in his veterans. The first half continued shooting slump and the huge foul shooting differential is really what sunk this team. Except for the end of game oddness, Izzo did a nice job preparing this team for this game.
Coaching Grade: B+
Michigan State is starting to get it together. In this game it was not enough. If the trends from this game continue though it could be down the road.
Michigan State spent the first half continuing their shooting cold streak. It changed in the second half. The three point shooting showed up, the drives to the basket showed up, and the veterans all contributed.
Walker led all scorers at 22 and continued to look like the start of the team. Hall had a breakout game, even limited in minutes due to foul trouble. Akins also quietly had his best game of the year with 11 points and 8 rebounds. He is starting to impact games, even if it needs to be more.
Even AJ Hoggard played well in stretches. The offense - shooting and driving - is not there but the assists were huge in this game, as he dished out 8. That’s hard to do on a team where no one could hit a shot for the first half.
Defensively, the team looked prepared and locked in. Carson Cooper and Mady Sissoko struggled mightily on offense but they played with energy on the defensive end. Notably, Cooper had 8 rebounds as he continues to look like the better option long term than Sissoko.
Outside of Coen Carr’s great impact on the game, the freshman did not have as much impact. And in the end, the effort from Michigan State could not keep this game close. The lack of fight down the stretch combined with the very cold first half lowers this overall grade, even if the opponent was very good.
Overall Grade: B-