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Sunday, March 27, 2005
 
Shooting For Three - Part II
The Big Ten has some serious bragging rights to hold over its naysayers after Illinois, Michigan State, and Wisconsin won their first three tournament games. The field gets cut in half again this weekend, and those left standing advance to the Final Four in Saint Louis.

Getting three Big Ten teams into the Elite Eight wasn't all that astounding, considering some of the teams that fell before they could face their Big Ten foe. Illinois faced UW-Milwaukee instead of Alabama or Boston College; Wisconsin should send Christmas cards to both Bucknell and NC State, as they allowed the Badgers to avoid Kansas and Connecticut; Vermont took care of Syracuse for Michigan State. With the exception of MSU's win over Duke on Friday, the highest seeded opponent any of these teams faced was #9 Nevada (Illinois).

So yes, the upsets definitely worked out in the Big Ten's favor. Not that I'm complaining.

Illinois rode a thrilling comeback into the Final Four, giving the Big Ten at least one team in Saint Louis. Here's a peek at the teams trying to join them.

Michigan State vs. Kentucky
I'm just going to use the same format I used for most of my recent previews of Iowa games.
Possessions per game and efficiency data are from Ken Pomeroy's Stats Page.

Team Offense
............................Poss/G....Off Eff.....adjFG%.....TO/poss.....Oreb Rt.....FTM/FGA....3A/FGA
Mich State.............68............119..........0.553.........0.207.........0.383...........0.290............0.323
Kentucky...............68............111..........0.521.........0.199.........0.356...........0.249............0.329

Michigan State and Kentucky actually get to the line at a nearly identical rate (on a per field goal attempt basis), but MSU kills them in FTM/FGA because they make so many more of their opportunities (78% to 66%). That could make a big difference in this game, as the offenses are fairly even otherwise. Michigan State, as I've said here often, is a good offensive rebounding team. Not quite North Carolina or Cincinnati good, but they get the job done nonetheless.

Edge : Michigan State

Team Defense
............................Def Eff........adjFG%......TO/poss......Dreb Rt......FTA/FGA......3Pt%
Mich State..............92...............0.484...........0.230..........0.716..........0.385.........0.355
Kentucky................86...............0.463...........0.262..........0.661..........0.312.........0.324

Kentucky's defense has been excellent this year - they're ranked third in Ken's points allowed per possession. They force a ton of turnovers (0.220 is average for turnovers per possession), led by steals machine Rajon Rondo, who gets a steal on over 6% of the possessions he plays, which is one of the better rates of anyone in the tournament. In addition, they don't give up a lot of points to free throws, which contrasts nicely with MSU's ability to get to the line.

You might remember my analysis of Michigan State's defense before Iowa played them in the BTT - I concluded that defensive rebounding was their only real strength. I'll stand by that now - while they excel at defensive rebounding, led in large part by Paul Davis, the rest of MSU's defense is right around average.

Edge : Kentucky

This makes for another exciting Regional Final matchup - one of the country's best offenses against one of its best defenses.

Individuals

Michigan State
Player..................MPG....Off Rt....%poss....Pass....FTA/FGA....TO/poss......Oreb%....Dreb%....Reb%
Alan Anderson......26.4.......132.......21.9%...11.3..........0.48..............0.17.........9.1%......16.5%....13.0%
Maurice Ager........25.8.......120.......23.8%...11.3..........0.41..............0.19.........5.4%......12.5%......9.1%
Paul Davis...........26.2........116.......23.4%...10.1..........0.41..............0.19.......12.8%......23.2%....18.3%
Shannon Brown...24.6.......110.......22.4%....12.3.........0.34...............0.19........6.0%......10.0%......8.1%
Kelvin Torbert......22.4.......126.......18.2%....11.5.........0.38...............0.17.........4.7%......11.1%......8.1%
Chris Hill..............24.2.......123.......20.1%....32.7.........0.19...............0.18.........1.9%........7.4%.....4.8%
Drew Neitzel........16.5........98........17.4%....35.0.........0.18...............0.30.........1.3%........3.7%.....2.6%
Delco Rowley......10.1........98........14.1%......5.8.........0.50...............0.31........13.4%.....16.1%....14.8%
Matt Trannon........11.2......107........12.5%......6.6.........0.83...............0.32........13.2%.....24.7%...19.2%

Kentucky
Player..................MPG....Off Rt....%poss....Pass....FTA/FGA....TO/poss......Oreb%....Dreb%....Reb%
K. Azubuike..........29.0.......116.......23.8%......7.3..........0.31............0.15..........6.9%.......12.1%....9.5%
Patrick Sparks......27.9.......111.......21.2%....21.2.........0.18.............0.19..........1.2%.........7.5%....4.4%
Chuck Hayes........29.1.......114.......21.2%....13.1.........0.41.............0.18........12.4%.......18.9%..15.7%
R'dolph Morris......19.3.......114.......21.7%......5.9..........0.71............0.14...........9.1%......16.3%...12.7%
Rajon Rondo........25.1.......107.......19.8%.....24.8.........0.52.............0.24..........2.6%......10.3%....6.5%
Ramel Bradley.....12.1.........97........24.0%....16.6.........0.31.............0.25...........4.7%......11.8%....8.3%
Ravi Moss............11.6........117........17.0%...11.9.........0.52.............0.22...........7.9%......10.6%....9.3%
Bobby Perry.........11.2.........99.........17.9%.....2.5.........0.23.............0.15...........9.8%......11.5%..10.7%
Joe Crawford.......11.0.........92.........17.7%.....5.1.........0.28.............0.21...........6.4%......11.9%....9.2%


I'm impressed with the job Chris Hill has done at PG for MSU this year - he's produced a very good pass rating while maintaining a very low turnover rate. Neitzel has been the starter for a while, but his turnover rate is a lot higher (though some of that is due to Hill shooting more than Neitzel). It should be interesting to see how Neitzel handles Kentucky's turnover-inducing pressure, and to see if Hill does a better job with it. I haven't seen a lot of MSU this year, but I'm guessing Neitzel must be very good at distributing the ball, because he provides little else. His shooting is poor, he's usually overmatched on defense, and he doesn't rebound (though that's basically irrelevant on this team). His pass rating seems to agree with that assessment.

Rajon Rondo is looking like a solid point guard this year, at least by the numbers. His 25 pass rating is solid, his TO/poss of 25% is very reasonable for a freshman point guard, he plays great defense (from what everyone says anyway), and he gets to the free throw line often. He'll be a great player when he learns to knock down those freebies, as he's only hitting 59% so far.

The one or two times I saw Patrick Sparks play this year, he had the big games where he hit 5-6 threes. Now I see that his overall numbers don't match up with the perception I have of him in my head. He's been inefficient (only 37% on threes), he doesn't get to the free throw line (0.18 FTA/FGA), and he's absent on the glass. At least he's a decent passer. Most of MSU's losses have come to teams that were hot from downtown, so Sparks's performance will go a long way toward determining Kentucky's fate.

As a Big Ten fan, I got a little annoyed by everyone labelling Paul Davis as "soft" because he only gets 7.7 rebounds a game. Here's the real story - Davis is very solid on the glass. Let's see how many rebounds anybody else would rack up playing only 26 mpg for a team that actually makes half its shots. Davis was the Big Ten's best rebounder, among guys with regular playing time, as evidenced by his 18.3 Reb%. His 23.2 Dreb% is impressive too.

Thoughts
I've compared Michigan State to Cincinnati in the past, as both teams get to the line a lot and rebound well. Kentucky handled Cincy in Round 2 by bottling up the post and forcing their guards to take shots (Maxiell and Hicks took 18 shots, while Williams and Muhammed took 29). A similar approach probably wouldn't work with MSU, because they have guards who can shoot the three, or get to the line if the shot isn't going.

Kentucky's defensive strength lies in forcing turnovers, but Michigan State's guards are all capable of taking care of the ball. With that out of the way, and assuming they can contain Sparks's shooting, MSU's strong edge in rebounding should give them the advantage they need to win this game. I like the Big Ten's chances to get two teams to the Final Four.

Props to KenPom and my buddy Chris - both guys picked MSU to get this far. I'll keep my fingers crossed that both were right in selecting the Spartans to travel to Saint Louis.
Comments:
Thanks for the E-mail.

We'll be sure to include these two posts in our roundup. And if you get anything up after the games let us know.

Great stuff.
 
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