Sunday, April 5, 2009

On the Other Hand

So, to my great surprise Michigan State went on to win in spite of the foul/freethrow disparity. Only a late flurry of intentional fouling by UConn to stop the clock brought the total foul count to within 10 (MSU 25 to 18 for UConn) and the freethrows to within 20 (MSU 20, UConn 33). The gap in both categories was much wider with 3 minutes to go. UConn had one guy, a backup guard, with 4 fouls.

Contrast this with the beatdown North Carolina put on Villanova. At the end of the first half, the fouls and freethrows were essentially even. Eventually Nova had to foul a lot to try to get back in the game and got blown out at the freethrow line (37 to 16, 20 fouls for UNC to 26 for Nova). But Carolina had three of its four starters with 4 fouls. Until Nova got desperate in the second half, this was a fairly evenly officiated game.

Frankly, Connecticut really choked in terms of their offensive execution. Handing out 8 assists versus committing 16 turnovers, going 21 from 33 at the FT line, making 2 of 6 3PT shots, and giving up 16 offensive rebounds to a much smaller front line translated into 13 more FG attempts for MSU than for UConn, more than making up for the extra 7 points the Huskies got from the charity stripe.

But I'll look forward to watching Thabeet get dunked on and muscled out of the paint in the pros as he tries to replicate Manute Bol's career, Robinson sitting at the end of somebody's bench with a bored expression, and Adrien playing out his string in the NBDL. I'd be surprised to see any of the Spartans doing much in the pros--Suton might fit into a team like Milkwaukee, Utah, or San Antonio as a bench guy, while Walton could be a defensive-minded backup point guard for someone. But then, they didn't get the hype of the Huskies, who managed to be unlikeable, arrogant underachievers once again.

As for the title game, I think the dangers faced by the Tarheels are (a) their bench seems much weaker to me if the starters get in foul trouble [the bench scored 5 points in 54 minutes in a game UNC dominated]; (b) their FT shooting was terrible; (c) they will forget to play defense at some point in the game. If Villanova could have made a 3PT shot or hit a pull-up jumper at any point in the 2nd half they could have made a game of it, but they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.

This game comes down to two things: 3PT shooting and offensive rebounds. The secret of UNC's tourney success hasn't been much of a secret--they're defending the 3PT shot well while hitting a good percentage of their own threes.

Here's the 3PT shooting comparisons for the Tarheels' last four games: Villanova 5-27 (19%] vs. UNC 11-22 [50%]; Oklahoma 2-19 [11%] vs. UNC 5-14 [35%]; Gonzaga 7-23 [30%] vs. UNC 11-19 [58%]; LSU 9-22 [40%] vs. UNC 6-13 [43%].

Note that in their double-digit wins, Carolina has basically a 20% or better edge in 3PT shooting percentage, scoring more points with fewer shots from deep, making their offense much more efficient. In the one close game against LSU, the figures are pretty even. So the first key for the Spartans is to not get killed from the three-point line. They can do this either by shooting a solid percentage themselves and/or limiting Carolina's percentage. They don't need to win the war necessarily, just keep it close in terms of efficiency. If they can't, they'll lose by double digits.

The second key is the offensive glass. Carolina gave up 19 offensive rebounds to Villanova, 10 to Oklahoma, 3 to Gonzaga, and 14 to LSU. They only won the rebounding battle overall in one of those four games. Michigan State grabbed 16 offensive boards against UConn, 12 against Louisville, 11 against Kansas, and 10 against USC. Consistent success against tough rebounding opponents.

Based on these trends, I expect MSU to grab double-digit offensive boards against Carolina as well--the question is, can the Spartans protect their own defensive glass from Tarheel putbacks? Because UConn and Kansas basically matched MSU in that area. If MSU gets an advantage here, along with limiting the 3PT % gap, I think this is a real ball game.

The final x-factor for me is not so much the home court aspect for Michigan State so much as the fact that the Spartans played a MUCH tougher trio of opponents in the past few weeks than the Tarheels. Kansas is better than Gonzaga, Louisville is better than Oklahoma, and Connecticut is better than Villanova. USC vs. LSU is probably a wash. So the Spartans have come much closer to seeing opponents on par with UNC than the Tarheels have come to facing an opponent as tough as MSU is right now.

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