Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Preview of the Michigan State 09-10 Season

08-09 Overall Record: 31-7
08-09 Conference Record: 15-3 (1st)
09-09 Conference Efficiency Margin: +0.13 (1st)
Percent of Returning Minutes: 66.3
Percent of Returning Freshman Minutes: 19.4

This season, Michigan State returns two-thirds of the minutes from a Final Four team. Their best player also stuck around. Last year's run included lots of minutes from talented freshmen, who are strong candidates to improve significantly. And they bring in a pretty decent recruiting class. So there are reasons to be excited.

And frankly, any holes found on the Spartans are just dark holes on an otherwise very silver cloud. But let's explore some of those dark holes, shall we?

The above graph shows the points per possession of conference opponents since the massively talented Flintstones left town. The takeaway I get from this chart is that Michigan State's defense is less than consistent from year-to-year. Of course, over the past two seasons, it has been very good. Then again Travis Walton has been a pretty good defensive player over the past two seasons, and he won't be suiting up in Green & White any more...

...Ok, I tried. But I just can't do it. Travis Walton is gone, sure. But I don't see that affecting the MSU defense too much, because of how MSU's defense operated last year. For one, opponents shot 29.9% from three point land last year, tied with Illinois for tops in the league. Not only that, MSU's scheme actually encourages teams to chuck those three pointers. What's strange about this phenomenon is that Michigan State wasn't blessed with any elite shot blockers that saw significant action. I mean, Delvon Roe was usually good for a swat every game, but it's not as if he was a one-person border guard. Idong Ibok was a good shot blocker, but he didn't play very much. That said, Michigan State was a tall team last year (ranking 45th in the country in Effective Height). They might get a little shorter by swapping Suton out for Draymond Green, but I'm not too concerned. This is still a team that starts a 6-8 small forward.

Moreover, there's room for improvement, especially on the offensive end of the floor. For example, take Kalin Lucas. He had a great season, sure, and certainly was worthy of his Big Ten Player of the Year hardware. But his two point shooting was terrible. This isn't especially surprising from a 6-0 player who likes to live inside the arc. But as I said last year, maybe that ought to change. Wing players Chris Allen and Durrell Summers were inconsistent over the season. Allen is probably a much better outside shooter than he's shown so far, given his 80% free throw percentage. Summers struggled with his shot in conference play, and was also too careless with the ball. And of course, if Raymar Morgan were to simply revert to his sophomore form, it would represent a substantial upgrade over last season.

This isn't to say that Michigan State doesn't have problems. Korie Lucious' lingering injury suddenly makes the point guard position of concern, and should Roe or Green miss any time, the most obvious scenario would be to move Morgan over to the 4 spot, which would certainly chip away at the Spartans' typical dominance on the glass.

Nonetheless, there's just too many reasons to be bullish on the Spartans this year. The biggest obstacle to a second consecutive league title will be the improvement of the conference overall. Put simply, it will take a better team to win the Big Ten this year than it would have taken last year. But I expect Michigan State to be better.

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