MSU got past a lethargic opening 10 minutes or so to power their way past Northeastern by 20 in the first true road game this year for the Spartans. MSU had 12 players score in the winning effort.

Revisiting the keys…

1. Road Environment – This is the first true road game of the season for MSU. That in and of itself presents a challenge but on top of that, this game is part of a major event for Northeastern and they are sure to be treating it as Christmas and the Super Bowl all wrapped up into one big package. In an old building which is sure to be jammed, it will be important to handle emotions and to get off to a good start to keep the crowd out of the game. I’m not saying this is like going into Kohl in mid February but it is a challenge this particular MSU team hasn’t faced yet this season and it’s against a capable opponent, one with some Tournament experience of its own.

RESULT – MSU handled it decently, I thought. The first 10 minutes were marked by a very flat energy level from the Spartans but after that, I thought they played hard. Never did I feel I was watching a team which was bothered by the crowd or the environment, so that’s a good sign.

2. Guard The Arc – Northeastern hits almost 39% from three and they take about 40% of their overall attempts from deep. So, the perimeter shot is a big part of their attack and they shoot it well. MSU’s been pretty good so far guarding the three…they’re only giving up 26.6% against from out there, which tells you some good work has been done even if you account for some luck in that statistic. If Northeastern is to pull off the upset, they will have to shoot well from deep, bottom line. If MSU can limit their production from three, the path to a Northeastern win becomes very difficult to traverse.

RESULT – Fantastic. You heard the broadcast team allude to the idea in the second half that MSU was opting to allow for some penetration, with the unspoken element being that they were focused on denying good looks from three. Northeastern was held to 2-16 from deep in this game, so it was a really nice effort both in terms of percentage allowed and limiting the number of attempts. Walker and Ford in particular were really contained…Walker came in at 46% from deep and Ford 39% but the two were a combined 1-8 on the game.

3. Boards – Northeastern is a middling rebounding team…averaging about 10 offensive boards per game with a plus 3.6 margin per contest overall. MSU has been back among the national elite in this category so far this season, doing the job against some high level opposition. This is an area the Spartans would expect to control in this game.

RESULT – Awful early. Really, the final numbers weren’t a ton better…MSU was outrebounded overall for what I believe was the first time this year, but more troubling was surrendering 17 offensive rebounds to a group which had been OK but hardly great on the season in that area. If there’s one disappointing thing to come out of this game, it was in this area.

4. Transition – MSU hasn’t gotten a ton done in transition lately. Northeastern isn’t typically a slow-down team so I would think there’s a chance for a decently fast pace in this game. It would be nice to see the Spartans getting some easy baskets in this one, if for no other reason than to set a tone heading into conference play.

RESULT – Maybe the best transition work done by MSU all season. Tum was a huge part of it, with the way he was consistently pushing the ball and getting to the rim and/or finding teammates, but then the rest of the team got into the act. It was a fun game to watch for an MSU fan in that respect, that they were pushing and weren’t settling for just breaking pressure or getting into offense quickly…they were looking to score while playing fast and did a great job of it.

5. Dribble containment – Northeastern does a decent job of drawing fouls, as they’re averaging a bit over 22 FTA per game as a team. They also hit 72% from the stripe, so they tend to cash in on the chances they get. MSU has made some small but positive steps forward in terms of dealing with penetration over the last 3 games. That needs to continue. Putting the Huskies on the line often is another path to a tighter game than the Spartans want to see.

RESULT – As noted above, I think particularly in the second half, penetration was given up to some extent by design, as MSU was focused on denying threes. Still, mildly disappionting that rotations down low weren’t better than we saw at certain points. MSU gave up 19 FTA in the second half and much of that was a result of poor rotations inside.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

THE GOOD:

1. Transition basketball – Loved the way MSU looked to push the ball, particularly in the second half. Again, Tum was the engine which made it work but he was hardly alone. Particularly when Northeastern tried to press MSU in the second half, the Spartans were regularly ending those possessions with easy layups after some aggressive press breaks. Tum, though…when he plays like that, with his speed, it gives MSU another level to play with.

2. Perimeter defense – Again, not so much on dribble containment but in limiting threes, MSU was fantastic. They were generally right there on the catch for NE’s shooters and never got lost through some fairly clever stuff I saw the Huskies try to run to free up their guys. It was a simple equation…Northeastern could not win that game unless they had a very productive day from deep. When you hold them to 2-16, you’ve essentially won the contest right there.

3. Gav – Great to see him back. Though he was foul plagued, when he was on the court, you saw glimpses of what he can bring. That move for the And One is exactly the stuff we were seeing in Italy and in the preseason…improved body control and sense of space led to a really pretty spin move and finish in traffic (and through contact as well). He also blocked a shot nicely and had 3 boards in limited minutes.

4. Depth – It’s a “problem” which just doesn’t appear to be going away for Izzo. Hell, with Gav back, it seems as if it’s getting “worse” for him to try and pare down a rotation. The good news is that everyone who saw the floor today made good contributions and Izzo seemed to think MSU’s freshness wore down Northeastern in this game. I’d agree with that.

I don’t know how Izzo is going to get down to 10 guys…not when a kid like Kenny Goins plays the way he did today. Who do you take out of the rotation? As I see it, MSU has 11 guys who absolutely merit regular rotation turns.

THE BAD AND THE UGLY

1. Early energy – MSU was flat. Not surprising…I mentioned it as a possibility in the preview. Coming off finals, traveling, not having familiarity with the opponent…not valid excuses but simply a statement of the issues at hand. To their credit, I thought MSU’s seniors were the guys who got them going. Bryn and Zel both hit the deck and showed some fight for loose balls at a point where Northeastern was simply playing harder than MSU was.

2. Defensive rebounding – A mess. Better over the last 30 minutes but still not great even then. Will be a point of emphasis in practice, you’d better believe it. Izzo’s not going to tolerate slippage in an area MSU has generally excelled in this year.

MSU has now matched the best start in program history at 12-0. They’ll face Oakland at the Palace next week to try to set the all time record and head into conference play unbeaten.