Some really good things and some really (and naggingly consistent) bad ones on display tonight in a 9 point loss. Some quick thoughts…
– The game was lost in that 2 minute and change sequence where it went from tied to Duke up 11. That was it…I think it never got closer than 6 and never larger than 14 after that, so that was the ballgame. Yes, MSU got hit with at least two HORRENDOUS calls during that stretch (the Ward offensive interference was egregious enough that it should result in the official making that call getting a reprimand IMO…just awful, not even close) but here’s the thing…this is going to happen again somewhere down the line. You will see terrible calls go against you in certain Big Ten venues, it is a certainty. The trick is, good teams, contending teams, find a way to make plays to get past it and don’t let a bad call or two spiral into something much worse. Tonight, that’s what MSU did. A bad shot here and there, a bad defensive sequence, Miles and Cassius blowing a fairly non-descript inbound…blink and you’re down double digits when you do those things, and none of them were directly caused by bad calls.
So, hopefully a young team learned a lesson tonight. I think Miles in particular was really frustrated by the whistle (the foul called on him when he was lying on the ground was another beauty) and he can’t let that happen. Young players need to go through these experiences. We’re not used to counting on them as much as MSU is right now, so it stands out more and has a greater impact than it did say when Gary Harris or Denzel had freshman moments. They’ll learn and they’ll get better.
– One big, big positive to me was the way MSU attacked the rim all game long. Only 14 FTA but MSU also just converted a lot on penetration for points as well, so the FTA don’t tell the whole story. That’s how I think this team needs to play. They were 5-16 from three and honestly, somewhere between 15 and 20 3 point attempts strikes me as a better number than what we’ve been seeing in some of these games early on. I thought Eron and Matt were particularly, noticeably more aggressive in this game and that needs to continue.
– Turnovers are obviously another big part of the story and they’ve been an issue all year long. MSU had a team wide problem. Some of it is a result of playing fast and trying to do too much too quickly. Some of it is losing focus just long enough to walk into a problem. A *lot* of it is that you’re looking at a young team still learning how to play together and they haven’t had much practice time. We’ve seen this movie before, it’s nothing new. Therefore, I give this coaching staff and a group I *know* has the necessary talent the benefit of the doubt that they will improve.
– MSU outrebounded Duke overall by 6 but perhaps the single biggest difference in this game was in the second chance points category. When Duke got offensive boards, they generally made them count and MSU really didn’t do very much with their opportunities. I thought Kenny was a little better tonight (5 boards) but he needs to be better still for this team to compete.
– MSU’s transition game was the best it’s been all year. Cassius Winston had a bunch of freshmen moments but he also had 3 incredible passes for easy buckets in transition (the one to Harris in the first half was stunning). I liked the way MSU ran and kept running in this game, even when it was decided in the last couple of minutes. Guys like Nick Ward and Kenny Goins can do a lot of damage if they just run the floor with purpose, because these guards WILL find them.
– Was surprised to see MSU going under picks but I think Jay Bilas missed the boat on this one (with his constant harping on MSU not going over the top), as the consistency of it tells me it was a strategic decision by Izzo. I get it…I think he figured Duke hasn’t shot it *great* so far this year from 3 (and they were terrible tonight…27%) and going under meant MSU had a better shot to defend penetration and avoid foul trouble. For the most part, I think that worked. Duke “only” shot 20 FT (15 in the second half, though) but that’s about 6 fewer than they average per game, so it did work to an extent.
They’re now through the nightmare part of the schedule. That doesn’t mean they won’t be challenged or can just cruise until Big Ten play starts, but the fact is they don’t face anyone they shouldn’t handle and they’re going to have a lot more time to practice and rest, and this team needs plenty of both. Overall, I think this group has grown over the course of this month. They’ve gotten better in some areas and they’ve learned a ton of valuable lessons…so we’ll see what they can do with all that as the next 4 months unfold.