MSU used a big push early in the second half to get a working margin in the high 20s to low 30s and cruised to a 24 point win which was actually a bit worse than the final score indicated due to a late run EMU put on against deep MSU reserves. The Spartans got out to a 15 point lead at the half but seemed to get most of their work done via energy and effort…they weren’t particularly smooth looking despite only committing 3 TOs. In the second half, MSU looked much better offensively and used a lot of transition play to blow the game completely open.

Reviewing the keys…

1. Motivation – These games always have some degree of danger associated with them when you play an instate school with a chance to make a statement for themselves with a win…ask Michigan how that went for them against these guys last year. Eastern actually doesn’t have the number of Michigan kids some other schools (like, say Oakland) will have, so this is probably a bit less of a factor in this game than in some others MSU could play but still, they have to counter what will likely be a lot of emotion from the Eagles.

RESULT – Despite not having as many instate kids as you might normally expect, I thought Eastern played with the kind of energy and effort you’d expect from an opponent from within the Michigan borders. I thought MSU’s energy was good throughout and in fact it had a lot to do with getting them a big halftime lead despite not always playing their sharpest basketball.

2. Ball Movement – Always a key to evaluate how MSU is playing on offense, but especially necessary when facing a zone. Eastern plays a little different zone than MSU saw from UAPB. The matchup tends to extend more and Murphy recruits to it, which is why you see perhaps a few more long guards than other mid majors might have. For MSU, as with any zone, a key is finding space in the gaps and getting the ball there to force the zone to collapse. I would expect to see a variety of players filling that free throw line extended role but this is one thing I tend to think a kid like Bess could potentially really excel at, as his vision and ability as a passer is part of what you want for that role. He won’t be alone, though, as I would expect Izzo to roll several guys through that spot throughout the game. The other thing unique about facing a matchup is that, because it utilizes some man principles, you can run some of your “normal” man offense against it and I’d expect to see MSU do that at time, with some high screening action in the mix as one example of what you’ll likely see.

RESULT – It was OK, but not great IMO in the first half, though MSU only had the 3 giveaways. I just thought MSU was a bit off in terms of getting clean catches and clean passes delivered to shooters. In the second, MSU seemed much crisper in attacking the zone. 26 assists on 31 made field goals tells part of the story and I thought in general MSU was far more effective and sharp as the game went on. Somehow the TO numbers climbed to 13, but I’m thinking a lot of those came late during that bad close.

3. Boards – Eastern is a plus rebouning team on the season. MSU’s rebounding numbers have been ridiculous, though…almost a plus 23 overall per game and about a 15-7 offensive rebound differential per game. Now, some of that certainly is distorted by the complete wipeout against UAPB but MSU was strong against KU as well, so I think it’s fair to conclude the Spartans are showing to be a good rebounding group so far…and that’s without Gavin Schilling or mostly Marvin Clark. This will be a stiffer test than UAPB provided by any measure, though, so you want to see MSU continue on this path toward board dominance.

RESULT – I said at the beginning of the season I thought MSU would be an improved rebounding team. Even I didn’t see this coming, though. 56-29 overall. 16-10 on the offensive end. Eastern is a pretty good rebounding group so far and they look the part when you see them play, and MSU just crushed them on the glass. Six guys had at least 5 boards for MSU, led by Costello’s 10.

4. Free Throws – Through 3 games, MSU is at just under 69% as a team. That’s just about acceptable (70% is generally your cut off for being considered “solid”) but we’ve seen variance so far. MSU was great against Kansas but less than that in the other two games. In particular, I think you look at a guy like Bess and expect more. Because of the way he plays, he’s going to get to the line a decent amount (he’s tied with Denzel for most attempts so far with 13), so he has to do better than the 54% he’s shot in the early going. Looking at his stroke, he *should* shoot better than that…when I see him shoot, he looks to me like a guy who should be at 70% or better.

RESULT – Back in the right direction. MSU went 18-24 as a team, and overcame a shaky start from Javon Bess, who ended up turning it around and finishing 9-12 on the game (so half of MSU’s production on the night). I mentioned Bess in the keys for a reason and you saw it tonight…with the way he’s playing, aggressively looking for seams and attacking the basket, he is going to get chances. He’s got to convert them and tonight, he did a great job.

5. Arc Differential – MSU’s been good so far from deep, hitting 38% as a team. The thing is, you feel as if they can get better from here. Forbes is at 50% and McQuaid is a ridiculous 71% so far but Zel dropped to 30% due to a rough night on Friday, Eron Harris hasn’t gotten going yet, Marvin Clark has barely played, etc. OTOH Eastern’s been miserable at 24% from three. They also tend to not use the shot much (probably smart, given the percentage) as threes represent just over 25% of their overall shots from the floor. MSU should have a decisive advantage in this component of the game if things go according to script.

RESULT – MSU was 9-20 on threes, Eastern 5-19, so it played out pretty much according to script. Nice especially to see Zel and Eron get going with a couple of makes each from outside the arc.

THE GOOD:

1. Posts – It wasn’t all perfect but when I look at Costello, Bess, Davis and Marv tonight, together they fared pretty well against an EMU team with decent size and some good physicality and talent. Davis and Bess were the headliners. Deyonta had his best game yet, with 16, 5 and 5 blocks. In the first half, I thought he scored mostly via energy and effort but in the second half, we saw a couple of nice post moves. I don’t discount for opposition either, because the Thompson kid he was going against is big and clearly can play…that was a reasonable fascimile of Big Ten level post opposition in some ways. Javon was on the attack all night and when he’s hitting free throws, he’s going to pile up numbers…13 points, 6 boards and 2 assists for him shows the versatility he has and he impacts the game in a lot of ways. Matt wasn’t as sharp as he’s been to date but you look up and he still had 10 boards in just 17 minutes…2-10 from the floor was forgettable but one off offensive night is OK. Marv is still rusty but I liked the bursts of energy we saw on occasion from him…he had a nice putback basket, had a nice 3/4 post denial late in the game, etc. Somehow he had 6 and 6 in just 13 minutes, so he was active. I think he and Javon are going to be a hell of a combo at the 4 as this season progresses.

2. Move the Ball – So many great passes made by MSU tonight…Zel screwed around and had 7 assists on what seemed like an “eh” kind of game for him. McQuaid had a couple of great feeds, one a volleyball kick to Forbes for a 3 after receiving a kick out from Costello. Eron Harris made some great feeds, including 2 to Zel. Tum had 5 assists on the night. The commitment to sharing the ball and passing up good shots for great ones is remarkable and it’s team-wide. You do that, it gets a lot easier to shoot 48/45% the way they did tonight.

3. Boards – Remarkable performance team wide by MSU to date this season, and tonight was no exception. The fact that they’ve done it with no contributions at all from Gav, a guy who should be among their better rebounders on the entire roster, makes it all the more impressive. Now, Eastern isn’t Purdue, but this is a team with some real size and athleticism and their compete level was great, so that was a legitimate test. Test passed.

4. Free Throws – Nice bounce back for a 75% team conversion rate. Keep it around that number and everybody’ll be happy.

5. Transition game – When MSU got it cranked up in the second half, it seemed overwhelming, like they were coming at Eastern in waves.

THE BAD AND THE UGLY

1.First half zone offense – It wasn’t a disaster at all…in fact, it’s only a negative based on setting some REALLY high standards. However, I didn’t think MSU was moving the ball in and out as crisply as you’d like to see for much of the first 20 minutes. That changed for most of the second half, though.

MSU hits Southern California next for a trip to the Wooden Classic. First up is Boston College on Thanksgiving evening.