Michigan State completely dominated the last 6 minutes of the game to turn a defecit into a tougher-than-the-score-indicated 13 point victory. With the win, the 3rd ranked Spartans climbed to 7-0 on the young season and won the championship of the Wooden Legacy.

Reviewing the keys…

1. Dribble Penetration – It seemed as if Providence shot a lot more than 17 free throws against UA but that was the final number. On the season, though, they’re averaging 24 FTA per game and it’s easy to see why when you watch them play. They’re not a great jump shooting team and they don’t have a true back to the basket dominator inside. What they do have are a lot of athletic, tough kids who seem to be more than fine with looking to get to the rim as often as possible. MSU has been inconsistent so far this year in terms of denying penetration. I thought they did a nice job of it against Kansas. I thought they were less impressive in each of the first two games of the Wooden Legacy. They need to be closer to the KU level of defensive focus…turn PU into a jumpshooting team and they’re a lot easier to handle. They’re only hitting 31% of their threes as a team thus far.

RESULT – For the most part, I thought we did a decent job. Dunn is going to get something and he did, but only something, not everything. Otherwise, I thought MSU did a nice job not letting PC get to the rim regularly and they only attempted 12 free throws on the night, so obviously they didn’t live at the line either. They shot better than I thought they could (6-15 from three, though that’s not a ton of raw production, so MSU did a good job in limiting quality looks…the kid Fazekas is their best deep shooter and he only went 1-3) but they didn’t get much done off the dribble and I do think that was a key. I also think you saw fatigue betray them a bit late on some of those missed jumpers and that’s why you want them taking those shots as opposed to layups.

2.Boards – MSU has been crushing people on the glass so far but I thought Boise did a very good job in contesting the Spartans in that area. Providence has not been a great rebounding team thus far but they’re a little better than the overall stats (which have them as a minus group) would suggest, because they are grabbing 12 offensive boards per game, which is a decent raw number. Still, this is an area MSU needs to control.

RESULT – Definitely a tale of two halves. In the first half, I thought PC did a great job in limiting our second chances…they had to do that in order to win this game. In the second half, though, MSU asserted itself, most memorably in that one late sequence where DD and Goins just hammered them with attempts until it finally went down. The Spartans won the overall battle by 11 but more importantly ended up with 15 offensive boards to just 7 for PC. It wasn’t the only area where MSU won the game in the second half but it was a big one.

3. No Shootout – This could be one of the best individual matchups of the season with Kris Dunn going against Denzel Valentine. The thing is that a large part of what makes both players so great is that they aren’t just guys who go get shots…they are fantastic passers and creators and each need to resist the temptation to try to take the game over offensively. Zel has exceled in a lot of areas so far this season but I think the best thing he’s done is, generally speaking, let the game come to him. Very rarely has he seemed to force anything in terms of looking for his own shot, trying to make spectacular plays where a simple one will suffice, etc. It can be toughest to do that when you are going up against another great individual player and maybe even more so when that player does a lot of things well, just like you do. It’s important for both players to play the game and not each other individually.

RESULT – Both guys could be accused of forcing a shot here or there but for the most part, I thought they were trying to play the way they normally do, looking to score when opportunities presented themselves but creating for teammates also. Dunn had the better game from an offensive standpoint, outscoring Zel 21-17 (and Zel got a lot of freebies late to boost his number, though I’m not discounting those…they all matter) but he also had 4 TOs to Zel’s 1. Both guys had their nights disrupted some by foul trouble, though I thought most of the foul calls on both players were legit (the one I questioned was Zel’s 3rd early in the second half…the only one which could be attributed to the “freedom of movement” nonsense IMO). All in all, you saw big plays from both guys and the reasons why they’re among the best in the nation were on ample display.

4. Bryn – A poster mentioned here today that Bryn hasn’t gotten a lot of looks lately. I think some of that yesterday (actually most of it) was due to the fact that he was in foul trouble but I also do sense that opponents are paying even more attention to him this year and are really focusing on limiting his open looks. That puts an onus on him and on MSU to find shot opportunities for him more consistently. MSU’s coaching staff is right at the top of the list in terms of ability to tweak and adjust their sets to counter what defenses are doing and I suspect we’ll see the fruits of that borne out in the games to come.

RESULT – Big time positive here and you could see Zel coming right out of the chute with a purpose, getting Bryn some great easy looks to get back on track. Bryn has certainly had better shooting games…5-12 and 3-8 from deep for 18 points…but the most important thing is he looked aggressive and confident, something I thought had been missing a little bit in the first two games of this tournament. One other thing helped…I think MSU was only called for one moving screen all night (someone can correct me if I’ve forgotten any…think it was on Bess) and that means both the screeners and guys coming off them did their jobs well. Bryn was a big part of that…I thought he was active and moving really well and with intent.

5. Depth – Providence isn’t a deep team. They’re playing only 7 guys in a consistent sense, with a couple of others getting 4 or 5 mpg here and there. Even with a day off, that should play to MSU’s advantage. MSU didn’t have anyone play even 30 minutes against BC and had 10 guys in double digit minutes. Against Boise, it was a different story with Zel playing 37 minutes and Tum playing 34, but still MSU got 8 guys into double digit minutes and Kenny Goins played 7. I would look at the last 10 minutes of the game to see how each side is holding up. I suspect that if we’re going to see an impact in terms of depth, rest, accumulated minutes, etc. that’s where it’ll show up. The one caveat is that Dunn did get plenty of rest against Arizona, the enforced kind due to foul trouble, and so he should be fresher than we’d normally have seen for this game.

RESULT – Over the last 6:17 of the game, MSU outscored Providence 24-7. Now, it wasn’t *only* about depth, energy level, etc. but it’s funny how these things play out. MSU’s been here before in previous seasons where they could go 9 or 10 deep…in the Kalin Lucas years, they won a lot of games like this one, just by outlasting the other guys and being the stronger, more energetic team late. I don’t think it was an accident that Providence missed some shots they were hitting earlier in the game when it came to winning time. MSU played 11 people and the Friars only 7…I think it mattered in the end.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

THE GOOD:

1. Toughness – I think MSU answered some questions in this one. Providence is the first team so far this season that I thought really punched MSU in the mouth. Not that they were thuggish or anything like that, but if you’d seen them before tonight you sort of knew this is what was coming. They are a tough bunch and they played that way, especially in terms of controling the first half back boards. I thought MSU responded brilliantly in the second half, though. That’s what you have to do when you’re confronted with aggressive resistance…go right back at them. Too many guys were part of it to call out any individuals…I thought collectively, MSU showed some balls in that second 20 minutes.

2.Eron Harris – You saw the most vivid picture tonight of what he can mean to this team. I commented at halftime that I had really liked a couple of early plays from him after Zel went out, but then the game seemed to speed back up on him and he struggled. THere were no struggles in the second half, though. I *loved* a couple of those possessions late when MSU spread the floor, got him the ball up top and let him go to work. MSU did not have that kind of player last year. They have one now. He just has to get his s*** together enough defensively on a consistent basis to stay on the floor. He did that tonight and was a massive part of the victory. To have a weapon like that, and know that if he gets fouled, he’s going to punish the opposition as well, is a huge, huge weapon.

One side note…I continue to see signs that he can not only be a scorer but a dynamic creative force for this team as well as he continues to settle in. He’s done a nice job setting up others so far and he continued it tonight, with 3 assists to just 1 TO. He’s coming…slowly but surely, it’s starting to come together for him and when it all clicks? Good Lord, will this team be tough to handle.

3. Freshmen – Once again, at winning time Deyonta Davis and Matt McQuaid showed LARGE. DD didn’t have a perfect night…you did see Bentil back him down and use his strength to get deep position a few times, and there were long stretches where I felt Costello was the better defensive answer because he at least was offering resistance and making him take tougher shots. Then late, DD got it together, did a great job of denying Bentil the ball in the post, and did what he does at the other end, which is simply make shots. The kid is so freaking LONG…he doesn’t really even need to jump to literally drop the ball into the hoop and that makes him tough to handle. He continued to show that hook shot of his, and then the rim running hoop on a long feed from Denzel was special as well. He owned the glass late as well…he’s just longer than everybody else and when he uses that length, it’s over.

McQuaid was also up and down a bit but once again, when MSU needed a big shot, he stepped up and dropped a f-ing HAMMER on the opponent. That rainbow three over a decent contest from Dunn was a huge, huge shot in the game. It took the lead to 5 and PC never really seriously threatned again…I don’t think it was ever less than a two possession lead after that triple from Matt. He also did a credible job defending Dunn, which is saying a mouthful with the package that kid throws at you.

4. Goins – 4 points and 2 boards may not seem like a lot but quietly, I think Kenny has been making a case to earn a role on this team. I thought he hung in there defensively again, battled on the glass (he was part of that big effort late with DD and actually got the tip in) and then he stepped up and drained a 15 footer and looked good doing it. He’s enough of an athlete and a tough man to be able to handle the 4 and I think you saw him in there late because Izzo liked the way he was defending and his attitude inside. It is fantastic to have someone like him on the roster to hold guys like Javon and Marv accountable. Don’t play hard enough or tough enough for Izzo’s liking? You’re going to sit and MSU can get production from a guy like Kenny while Izzo is teaching lessons. That’s a huge luxury. You can already see why he had MAC offers…Kenny can play.

5. Glass – At least in the second half, it was a huge part of the victory. MSU just shut down PC and on the other end got second chances when they were needed most. Big time response in terms of energy and toughness against an opponent who challenged them.

6. Carry The Leader – It wasn’t *quite* that dramatic but I don’t think anyone would argue that this game saw Zel at his best. He was in foul trouble and his shot was off a bit. Yet, MSU hung in there without him. It wasn’t always pretty but the fact that they kept it close against a good opponent is encouraging to me. I think MSU needed a game when Zel wasn’t the dominant reason they won and that was absolutely the case tonight. This was very much a team victory, with a lot of guys making big plays.

THE BAD AND THE UGLY

1. FT Line – MSU was actually really good late, when it mattered most, but struggles earlier in the game kept the conversion rate to just south of 70%. Tum obviously had a nightmare game at 1-6. I’m a big booster of his but there’s simply no way that’s good enough and you saw Izzo respond at winning time by having him off the floor and going with Eron and Matt.

2. Deep Shooting – It was the thing that kept MSU alive early on but as the game progressed, MSU struggled to hit the deep ball, only shooting 7-22 from the arc on the game. No big deal…there will be nights that happens and I was still happy with the quality of look MSU was generating for the most part.

MSU wins a November tournament, something which has not been a regular occurence in the Izzo era as most here should know. They return home and will face Louisville at Breslin on Wednesday night as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Everyone remembers the last time we saw the Cardinals…let’s hope for a similar result.