"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Marquette-Michigan State Preview

For the fourth time in the last six seasons, Tom Crean's Marquette Golden Eagles will lace'em up in the NCAA tournament later this week. I'd venture to guess that Thursday's opening round matchup will immediately become the most memorable of those four as MU squares off against perennial power Michigan State in Winston-Salem.

Now its time to know our opponent. We've enlisted the help of Tom Keller, MSU's beat reporter from The State News , MSU's Independent Voice.

Tom covered the mentor v mentee angle yesterday, and was kind enough to work on a detailed Q/A to help us get up to speed on the Spartants. Tom, take it away ..........

CS: What types of teams generally give MSU the most trouble?
Keller: No surprise with an Izzo team - it's all about defense. The Spartans have only allowed 15 opponents to top 60 points this season, which has helped mask some of their offensive deficiencies. A team that can push the tempo and shoot from the outside (like, say, UNC, or to a lesser extent, Marquette) is a threat - this team isn't built to be playing in the 70s.

What types of teams do the Spartans generally handle well?
Keller: The Spartans have four respectable bigs they can rotate down low, so few big men have presented much of a problem - MSU put a reasonable clamp on Greg Oden and D.J. White, at least comparatively. Zone defense has also been pretty ineffective against the Spartans.

Raymar Morgan could give Coach Izzo his biggest matchup advantage. Can you breakdown the freshman's game?
Keller: Morgan's a 4 playing the 3 out of necessity. He's got good range out to about 18 feet, and MSU has been getting him more touches on the block of late. Has a great knack for contact. MSU was plus-6 with him in the lineup against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament; minus-19 without him. It's funny that he's MSU's biggest matchup problem now - it was exactly that mid-sized swing forward that the Spartans glaringly lacked last season.

Every team gameplans for Drew Neitzel, yet he stil averages 18ppg, 4 apg and shoots 41% from deep. What does Izzo do to free him up?
Keller: Relentless downscreens, a la the Detroit Pistons with Richard Hamilton. Neitzel's shifty enough to get a step on his man and quick enough to get out and shoot right off the catch. The teams that have slowed him have hedged way out on those screens - he's a less effective (but still surprisingly dangerous) scorer off the dribble.

MSU is 2nd in the nation in assists/field goals made, yet turns the ball over on nearly 25% of their possessions. Are MSU's guards susceptible to full-court pressure?
Keller: Without a deep roster to do much fast breaking, the Spartans have instead relied on a very meticulous half-court offense, a big reason for the high assist/high turnover count. (A lot of those turnovers come from mistimed sets or illegal screens for Neitzel.) Opponents pressed with pretty good success early in the season, but MSU adjusted well and hasn't seen much of it lately.

The Spartans enter the NCAAs losing three of their last four games. Is this team struggling right now?
Keller: The first loss came with Neitzel severely hampered by flu-like symptoms, the second by two at Wisconsin on Kammron Taylor's late 3, the third a legitimate handling by the Badgers at the Big Ten Tourney. None was a bad loss (the only one that would really qualify all season was the 30-point drubbing at Purdue), so it's not a complete freefall. This team has undeniably had problems winning away from home, but neutral wins over Texas and BYU and two-point road/neutral road losses to Maryland, Wisconsin and Ohio State bode well.

Goran Suton is a greatly improved big man, averaging roughly 10ppg and 6 rpg. Is he a legitimate threat on the blocks?
Keller: Suton's a remarkably skilled Euro-style 4 with good rebounding skills and range out to 18 feet. He's also the Spartans' best back-to-the-basket scorer. They don't get him the ball there as much as they probably should, instead using him a lot in pick-and-pop sets. When he's hitting that mid-range shot, the rest of the offense flows a lot better.

Other than the players mentioned, are there others who might step up and surprise MU on Thursday night?
Keller: Travis Walton is a hawkish on-ball defender who will likely draw most of the James assignment. (Ironic, because each could easily be playing for the other's school right now.) He can be very disruptive, and he's improved his jumpshot enough to add a few baskets a game. Drew Naymick's a steady defender in the post who's averaging almost two blocks a game the last month. Other than that, though, this team doesn't have a whole lot of options. It's got to come from the top seven (maybe even the top one or two), or it's not coming at all.

Expectations are always high in East Lansing. How have the 2006-2007 Spartans performed relative to those expectations?
Keller: Izzo was realistic from the beginning of the season - this team has NIT talent. But the Spartans relished that underdog role, got some big wins early, and have been playing as a sum greater than their parts ever since. They've acknowledged their deficiencies and embraced a system that hides them well. Getting to the tournament was a huge accomplishment in itself, but there hasn't been any back-slapping over it. They've still got a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, and they're not a team I'd want to see on the other side of my bracket.

Tom Keller of The State News, THANKS VERY MUCH!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Best Crean-Izzo story yet;