Make no mistake, defense won this game. The Spartans Weblog does an excellent statstical breakdown, but MSU just got beat. Almost every single great play on the offensive end was set up by a hustle play on the other end. As usual, Chris Kramer got things going at the start of both halves. First, it was a taken charge less than two minutes in. He followed that with an out and out thievery and fast break layup to start the second half. To me though, the most defining defensive play of the night came from Marcus Green. After missing a layup a Michigan State player came down with the strong rebound. Green, visibly frustrated for the miss, physically ripped the ball out of the dude's arms with both hands (not even touching anything other than the ball) and laid it in. It almost looked like a superhuman display of strength because that was a secured rebound, yet Green took it from him like he was a child.
Defense does indeed live here.
Positives from the Michigan State game:
Defense - Well, duh.
Michigan State looked lost in this one as a direct result of our defense. 22 turnovers is an absurd number for the #5 team in the nation. It could have been more too as we batted the ball away numerous times. We also added eight blocked shots officially, though there were more that JaJuan swatted safely away after fouls that don't count, but they prevent a potential 3-point play from happening. I think the most telling thing about our defense is that it never lets up. In a half court set the point guard often takes a second or two out by the ten second line to hold up and call a play out. Last night we didn't even give Michigan State that luxury. As soon as Lucas or someone else stopped and held up a hand to begin a play call he was immediately met by a Boilermaker trying to take advantage of the lapse to cause a steal.
After facing this all night it had to be especially suffocating. I lost count of how many times a Michigan State payer started to call a play, but was immediately forced to stop and defend the ball as a Purdue player got up in his face. This further disrupts opposing offenses. Sometimes simply disrupting a team's communication can be more damaging than any steal or blocked shot because it doesn't even let them set an offense. It's no wonder this led to 22 turnover and numerous poor passes out of bounds.
JaJuan Johnson – I'd like to see him rebound better, but last night there was no answer for him on the offensive end. He had a beautiful pick and roll with LewJack in the second half that led to everyone's favorite play: the two handed thunderdunk. I'd kill to be able to dunk like that on a regulation goal just once even if no one was around. Who wouldn't? It just looks like fun to beat a defense so badly that you get to sky like that and flush it with both hands over a guy scrambling to get back into the play. You have to add the yell too, and JaJuan obliged.
Seriously though, when we needed a basket JaJuan was there. As a big man he is going to get fouled a lot and he is learning to cash in at the free throw line. Last night in the final 10 minutes we recognized this and just kept feeding him the ball. He either scored or got to the line. There was no answer for him.
Marcus Green – Welcome back! Marcus was back doing the little things last night. He was rebounding, forcing steals, and both baskets were the result of hard work and hustle plays. Last night was exactly the type of game we need from him. When he plays like that and does all the little things it makes everyone else better.
Robbie Hummel – I think we look better with Robbie on the court not just because of his play, but because he forces other teams to commit someone to him. This freed up E'Twaun for some key early baskets and later allowed JaJuan to dominate. If we bring JaJuan out in the high post it leaves the lane wide open for guys like Robbie and E'Twaun to drive, plus it sets up JaJuan for the roll back to the basket. Having Robbie allows JaJuan to do this much easier. We may not have him 100% until next year, but even a slightly injured Robbie Hummel improves our team exponentially.
Lewis Jackson – I know some people hate him and he is still making some freshman mistakes, but his quickness gives us a dimension we were missing last year. Just as our defense didn't allow them to set anything up offensively, Jackson pushing the tempo does not allow defenses to set up against us. He's also improving as a defensive player as his steal led to Green's breakaway dunk. LewJack is going to have his good and bad games, but as long as last night was an average game for him we will be a very good basketball team.
Chris Kramer – What more can you say about this kid? As we were walking back to the parking garage last night an older gentleman made a great comment at the corner of Stadium and University. He said, "If Chris Kramer doesn't win defensive player of the year in the Big Ten there needs to be an investigation." Other teams don't like him because of his defense, but there is no rule that say you have to play off of a guy and let him call a play. It's almost like Chris' mantra is," do not let the other guy breath if he has the ball". He is everything we want in a leader. He plays hard and he plays hurt. As I said before, Chris Kramer is going to play unless he's dead, and even then he would just be downgraded to "questionable".
The crowd – This crowd wasn't quite as jacked as it was before the Duke game, but it really got into it when we had reason to cheer. I especially loved the standing ovation at the final TV timeout. The Paint Crew was on it as usual. As an alumnus t is quite a site to walk into Mackey Arena and see the students stretch from floor to ceiling, all in black, for multiple sections. I was a member of the first Gene Pool and we were lucky to fill the lower section alone above the current "Defense Lives Here" banner. I just love everything about this group, from that banner to the Bosnian flags that come out for Chally. You guys have done a great job all year and it would be awesome if the Paint Crew could do the entire 5k race en masse that I mentioned yesterday.
Negatives from the Michigan State game:
Officiating – It didn't affect the game, but the officiating was awful both ways. One second these guys would call a foul with very little contact, the next someone would crash to the floor with no call. High tower seemed especially concerned with making sure the fouls were even at a couple of points, but we got away with some calls too. I am not asking for expert judgment, but some consistency would be nice. As someone in front of me at the game said last night, "It's a good thing we're here to ref for you, Ed."
Rebounding – I know Michigan State is the best rebounding team in the country, but I felt we allowed too many offensive rebounds. It just really annoys me when teams don't box out, especially on free throws. This is an area we must improve on for the rematch in East Lansing because Michigan State is not going have as poor of a game up there.
This was a great win. If our place in the NCAA Tournament wasn't solidified before it certainly is now. I would be shocked to see us not be a lock when tomorrow's Bubble Watch comes out. We're also back in this Big Ten race. We are more than capable of winning the final five games and taking at least a share of this conference title, especially if Robbie Hummel is as healthy as he says he is. It won't be easy. Ohio State is a nasty home game and I don't like playing at Michigan, but if we go into that final game in East Lansing with a chance that is all we can ask for after the season we have had.
Last night we played like one of the best teams in the nation. I have said all along that I don't care about how we play early as long as we're playing our best basketball at the end of the season. If we play at the level we did last night there are few teams in this country that can beat us.
Now we get Indiana. I haven't commented much about the Hoosiers because I don't believe in talking a lot about teams that really aren't that relevant at the moment. The GBI boards have been in full swing for a long time talking about what a beating we're going to hand down. I don't participate because I realize that Indiana is not going to be awful forever. They do play hard and Saturday is going to be their season for them. We're coming off of an emotional win over the conference leader. They have nothing to lose and would love nothing more than to ruin the season of their bitter rivals. I expect to win, but I would be surprised if it is the 30+ point blowout everyone wants.
I know our place in this series. Yes, we control the overall series by a lot, but I do respect that they have five national titles to our (debatable) one. That is a fact you cannot deny. It wasn't that long ago (2002) that they played for a sixth. They are one of the best programs historically and nationally we will be thought of as behind them until we start winning titles of our own.
That said, those banners will not help them on Saturday.
400th post gift
This post marks the 400th post in the history of Off the Tracks. It has been a pleasure to be here and I look forward to 400 more once we move over to Hammer and Rails at SB Nation. I still have not been given a set date for the move, but things are moving in that direction. As a gift I present to you a glimpse of the new logo. Tell me what you think!