Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Michigan State Recap of the 08-09 Season

What a strange season. In November, the Spartans were seen getting waxed by future bubble team Maryland on a neutral court. In December, Tom Izzo's squad beat Texas in the Lone Star State. In January, Michigan State thumped Kansas in front of the Izzone. They followed that up with home losses to Northwestern and Penn State. And they pretty much cruised the rest of the way in Big Ten season, save a minor scare at Indiana. MSU's performance in the Big Ten Tournament was not all that impressive, however. After a first round win over Minnesota, Ohio State beat the Spartans rather handily.

But then came The Dance. Michigan State advanced all the way to the title game (one that most fans of the Green & White would rather soon forget) to preserve Tom Izzo's streak of never allowing a graduating senior to leave without experiencing a Final Four. What's more, the road to Detroit was not easy for the Spartans, who had to go through USC, Kansas, and Louisville. During their run, it was Michigan State's ability to suddenly restrict their turnovers that got them to the final game. On the season, MSU sported a mediocre 20.7 turnover percentage. In the five games preceding the matchup with UNC, Izzo's squad dropped that number to 18.7.

It's been said over, and over, and over: when Michigan State turns it over, they are beatable. When they don't, it's a very different story. For 4 games, Michigan State kept the lid on the turnovers, and that's all they needed to do to get to Detroit.

That's not to say that MSU's title game appearance was "flukey." They played the games just like they did in the regular season, and the Spartans had a very difficult road to the Final Four. But on the whole, last year's team was the worst one that Izzo has ever taken to the Final Four:

Those wide splits around the 2000 timeframe indicate just how dominant the Flintstones teams were. And the 04-05 showing - where the offense jumped while the defense tighted up - shows another healthy split. But last year's team had roughly the same gap as the previous two incarnations. And yet, the Spartans ran the table in the Big Ten, taking the conference title by an impressive four games. Sure, it was an odd season, but we could also say it was Izzo's finest coaching job. He got everything he could out of that team. And as much as we love efficiency numbers, we don't lose sight of the fact that scoreboards are what matter the most. And Izzo's scoreboard still says that every 4-year player he's ever coached has been to a Final Four.

On an individual level, Kalin Lucas was clearly the straw that stirred the drink. In the non-conference slate, Lucas played the part of distributor, which is a great job to have on such a talented team. However, when conference play hit, Lucas' assist numbers went down. Not coincidentally, the Spartans were dealing with loss of Raymar Morgan and some cold shooting from Chris Allen. In short, Lucas did whatever the team needed, a big reason why he took home Conference Player of the Year honors.

Speaking of Raymar, he was all over the place last season. He started off well enough, with big games against Oklahoma State and UNC. And then he became sick and injured. From then on, you were never sure of what you were going to get. He started off conference play with 4 double digit scoring outputs, but then disappeared (when he physically was not able to play much). But even after his minutes increased, his performances were inconsistent. Could it be blamed on health? A side effect of missing time? Who knows, but much more will be expected of Mr. Morgan this year.

One piece that will not be coming back is Goran Suton, who played the best basketball of his life in March. We've always been fans of his understated, yet efficient game, so it was great to see the big guy finally get some recognition for his efforts. Behind Suton, Freshmen Draymond Green and Delvon Roe provided nice rebounding support. However, with the exception of Travis Walton, everything that leaves East Lansing is 6-8 or taller. That means there will be a lot riding on the health of Green and Roe this coming season, which we'll look at tomorrow.

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