Michigan State put another stifiling defensive effort together with good shooting and enough energy and effort to glide past Maryland Eastern Shore by 43 points. Once again, MSU played a ton of people and not just in cameos either, as the Spartans continued to see a lot of guys see meaningful minutes.

Reviewing the keys…

1. Play The Game – Soon enough, this won’t be an issue as the competition gets turned up from here and MES is the last “who’re they?” opponent (Florida is a known commodity obviously and though Oakland and Northeastern are mid majors, those should each be challenging games for MSU). With the #1 ranking freshly bestowed on the program, I suspect there’s been some talk about playing like they’ve earned it. You demonstrate that best by bringing energy and focus to the court, regardless of the opponent. To date, I think MSU has done a nice job against these types of teams in that area. They need to do it one more time.

RESULTS – For the most part, MSU once again did a very good job here. You can’t hold an opponent to 22/20% shooting without bringing good focus and energy to the court. At times in the second half (and even a bit in the first) I did think MSU lost some offensive focus, as their ball movement wasn’t as crisp as we typically see. In total, though, I think you have to be impressed with the way this MSU team has treated these sorts of games this season. This is the last one of it’s type and I have a hard time remembering another MSU team which did as good a job in this area as these guys have.

2. Boards – The Hawks are not a good rebounding group but they do have some physically strong guys, so MSU needs to take the challenge seriously and work a team they ought to dominate on the glass. Again, it’s about habits more than anything else.

RESULT – Not great, not by this team’s standards. I say that because they gave up 13 offensive boards to MES. That’s just too many in this kind of game. MSU’s margin was fine (+16) but they weren’t quite up to the standard they’ve set for themselves this season in terms of clearing the defensive glass IMO. Not a horrible effort, but not meeting the level they’ve carved out for themselves.

3. Penetration – I’m not sure that MES is a great test in this area but every team has guys looking to get to the rim in this environment. I thought MSU showed some slight improvement in their last game, though you do have to acknowledge the level of opponent. It’s a similar situation here. Look, you can only play the guys in front of you, so regardless of how good or bad MES is, MSU needs to do a better job in containing penetration. That’s a team wide deal.

RESULT – Nice job here. MES isn’t Maryland, of course, but they got virtually nothing going to the rim today and it wasn’t from lack of trying. I thought we saw an overall focused and disciplined defensive game from MSU.

4. Eron – Other than the fact that Tum’s shot is the thing which will keep MSU from extending its Tourney streak (kidding, kidding…sort of ), one of the more popular points of discussion for MSU fans, and a legitimate one IMO, is the development of Eron Harris. Expectations were very high coming in for the WVa transfer and though it’s fair to say he hasn’t met them yet, it also has to be acknowledged that he’s shown flashes suggesting what he could yet be for this team as the year progresses. I think at the outset, most (myself included) saw him as a starter and a major offensive weapon in that he gave MSU an off the dribble element they lacked a season ago. That may still pan out, but I think right now as I look at him, the role and importance of what he can be and needs to bring to this team is maybe a little more focused. MSU needs a second dynamic force on offense besides Denzel. Ideally, it’s someone who can both allow him to get some rest and who can play alongside him at times and let him have to expend less energy creating everything on O (which should help Zel on the defensive end as a knock on effect). Harris is the guy capable of doing those things on this team. He needs to tighten up his defense considerably before he’ll play the kind of minutes where his playing that role would have a major impact, so that’s where it starts. Offensively, though he hasn’t shot the ball as well as expected, I don’t have a ton of complaints. He’s been as advertised in terms of getting to the rim, he’s proven to be a clever and willing passer, and he forces defenses to pay attention to him in a major way when he’s attacking.

RESULT – If we were just talking about shooting, he passed with flying colors. He was 4-4 from three for 12 points and the shots looked smooth and in rhythm. That is very much a welcome sight. I thought he was part of the good defensive effort as well and he grabbed 3 boards and was active there as well. The negative was the 4 turnovers. That’s been an issue for him in the past at West Virginia but so far this season, I think he’s been pretty controlled. Tonight, especially in the second half, I thought he was playing just a little too fast. Still probably an overall step forward but the late mistakes marred what was otherwise a really nice game.

5. Jumpers – This is a very, very good jumpshooting team. We all know that. In their last game, MSU was uncharacteristically off the mark, though. Not to a massive extent, but just not where we’ve been accustomed to seeing them, as they missed a lot of good shots. Would be nice to see a solid 38-40% type game from three as a team to get back on the beam.

RESULT – Back on the beam in a big way. 12-22 from deep for 55% is more like it.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

1. Shooting – Can’t argue with the deep ball numbers, and MSU was 50% overall as well. During some spurts in this game, MSU really did make those occasional Golden State comparisons come to mind…when the team is playing fast, moving the ball quickly and with purpose, it becomes an inevitability as to what is going to happen…SOMEONE is getting a wide open look, because no defense can cover everything when the Spartans are humming that way. Tonight, as opposed to this past weekend, they were hitting those open looks with regularity.

2. Defense – Again, we understand the level of opponent but 22/20% doesn’t lie. Those are strong numbers against anyone and if you watched the game it was absolutely earned. MES was taken late into the shot clock all night long because MSU simply refused to break containment, maintained contact with shooters, and stayed focused. This was true well down the lineup as well, as the constant personnel shuffling didn’t result in much of a downtick throughout the night on the defensive end.

3. Effort – I really respect and appreciate what these guys are doing in this regard. Even when things got sloppy tonight, it wasn’t due to lack of effort and motor. It is very, very easy to come into games like this one and coast…I’ve seen it more often than I’d like to remember from past teams. It’s also easy to let up when you get a massive lead established. Those things didn’t happen and they haven’t happened at all this year, really. That’s a credit to everyone…coaches and players alike. Great job and it bodes well for what’s to come.

THE BAD AND THE UGLY

1. Turnovers – A bunch came late but they all count. 15 is just too many and MSU wasn’t quite as sharp as they have been in other games even before that spurt of giveaways.

2. Defensive rebounding – I’m nitpicking here, really. However, giving up 13 offensive boards to that team probably isn’t going to have Izzo thrilled. Some of it was truly bad bounces…MSU didn’t come with a lack of effort and some deflections simply didn’t go their way…but as with the TOs, we have to evaluate what happened, not what could or should have occurred.

MSU will meet Florida at Breslin on Saturday in a rematch of the 2000 title game. MSU has had a nice occasional series with the Gators over the last 15 years but they’ve got a new staff in place now and a team which isn’t quite at the level we’re used to seeing. Still, they’ve got plenty of athletes and enough horsepower to make things tough on MSU if the Spartans don’t come ready to play.