Let me start by typing that Tom Izzo has a dilemma.
He's about to face one of the truly dynamic basketball teams in the nation and he's bringing a team that I doubt he's very comfortable with at this point in the season.
Why? Well because they're not Michigan State physical. There aren't any bangers on this Spartan club, and quite frankly, I'm not sure if Tom is coping with that fact very well. Look no further than their December 1st game in Chapel Hill where halfway through the first half Izzo had forsaken the very fiber of his coaching being by scrapping his classic man-to-man roots in favor of...GASP...a matchup zone. Zone? The hell you say, Sparty.
But honestly it's tough to blame Izzo for such tomfoolery as the Spartans were getting absolutely bludgeoned by UNC's two headed monster of Ed Davis and Deon Thompson. Which isn't surprising in and of itself considering, because as Shooter Fly would say about Michigan State, "they got no head toppers". So enter a Jim Valvano-esque matchup zone designed to get MSU's talented 3 guard look on the floor while still being able to defend the paint. In the college basketball world, an MSU junk defense is akin to offering colonics at a taqueria. In a word, let's call it uncomfortable. But this is a different Tom Izzo club and certainly not your typical physical Spartan squad.
So what does that mean going into Tuesday night? What it means is, if Dexter Pittman is the rock, then the bevy of Longhorn perimeter witches is the hard place for Izzo. He can play his band of merry midgets and hope to run with the Horns which gives him a shooter's chance in the ball game. Hell, he doesn't even need to pack his triangle and 2 or amoeba for that. Texas will provide the necessary personnel matchups with its own 3 guard personnel. Or, Izzo can go back to basics with a traditional big frontcourt of Morgan, Green, and Sherman and hope to win a halfcourt grinder against Dexter Pittman, a player that Sparty really doesn't have a defensive answer for. On to MSU's personnel.
On the perimeter, this is one of Izzo's most talented teams. Kalin Lucas is a blur who can go by virtually every guard in college basketball. Our guards must give Lucas space and entice him to shoot the ball until he proves he can hit a couple. If we allow him to penetrate, Pittman's likely to get in foul trouble. Make no mistake though, Lucas has really improved as a shooter, but he's yet to put on a shooting exhibition against a quality opponent so if I'm coaching I make him prove it first. The two guard Chris Allen is a different story. We need to chase him off his jumper and force him to put the ball on the floor. Barnes can simply hand over a copy of the Marcus Ginyard scouting report to Avery Bradley for this assignment. The other guard Durrell Summers is a solid shooter but he butters his bread getting to the goal and drawing fouls. If he's in the game in the three guard look, I'd actually prefer Bradley on him with Brown, Hamilton, or Mason on Allen. The wildcard at the position is Korie Lucious. They'll bring him in to get Lucas off the ball. Lucious can flat out go, and he'll give Balbay fits because he's a quick little shit. Dogus and even Bradley need to give him a cushion because with Lucious' lack of size, either Longhorn defender has the athletic ability and size to get to Korie's jumpshot and contest appropriately. Penetration, on the other hand, is exactly what Lucious is looking to do. When he's in the game along with Lucas, they may be the quickest backcourt in America.
In the interest of Dexter Pittman, let's start at the center position. Michigan State doesn't have one. They play 6-10 freshman Garrick Sherman for about 10 minutes per game just as a body to steal minutes, but he's nowhere near ready to take on a force like Pittman. That leaves undersized banger 6-6 235 pound tree stump Draymond Green as the player most likely to draw the Pittman cover. Do you understand my rock and a hard place comment now? On the other end, Green is a terrific cover for Dex in that he's not the most mobile guy out there and doesn't have a faceup game. Raymar Morgan is a talented hybrid 3 man that reminds most folks of our own Damion James. He's not the shooter that James is, but he can put the ball on the deck much better. On defense, Raymar won't have the same problems that the Carolina bigs had in chasing James around on the perimeter. 6-8 forward Delvon Roe is another athletic forward and he probably has the most skill and talent on this Michigan State club. He'll pose some matchup problems for us when the Spartans go big. We can counter with James at the 4 but we'll likely have to bring in Johnson or Hamilton to play Morgan.
3 Keys to the Game
1) Handling Pittman. The way Izzo gameplans to handle Dexter Pittman will determine the pace of the game. If Izzo elects to go big and pack the paint to help to the mismatch, Texas will have to play patient basketball and use good ball movement and shot selection to punish the Spartans. Our 4 out look makes it difficult to sag the block and still contest the perimeter especially when James is floating around as our 4. It also makes the matchup zone MSU ran vs. Carolina damn near impossible to play because your interior helpside might be playing 30 feet from the goal. MSU could run the matchup against UNC because Carolina runs a double post triangle look so you always have two bigs near the paint.
The other option Izzo has is to make Texas adjust to his personnel by going small and pushing pace. The problem with that is Pittman will get his 25 productive minutes and kill you. And then when Texas goes small the other 15 minutes, they'll likely run you out of the gym.
2) Officiating. This will sound funny especially considering the opponent, but if the game is officiated like a typical Big 10 scrum where they let you bump and bang, MSU has little if any chance. If Texas is allowed to push and shove and negate the position rebounding style MSU employs, Texas is likely able to duplicate the dominance on the glass they displayed Saturday. If you see an over the back whistle or two early on, buckle your seat belt. Same holds true on the perimeter where Brown, Balbay, and Bradley would like to be physical with Lucas and Lucious.
3) Texas Shot Selection. Sure you want to take good shots in every game, but this component of the game is even more important against a team that doesn't turn the ball over and has to have good position to be able to compete on the glass. Now if Izzo decides to push tempo, shot selection isn't as important, but if Tom turns the game into a grinder, Texas has to take good shots. When you move the ball, make a defense rotate, and take a good shot, you're more likely to catch the defense in poor rebounding position. When you come down, make one pass and then jack a bad shot, you're playing right into the hands of team that's going to put a body on you before going to the glass. Rotate the ball, make the Michigan State defense help and recover to the various mismatches on the floor, and then reap the rewards on the offensive glass.
I'm guessing Izzo knows the score and therefore will ask his guards to control tempo and slow down the pace. They have better backcourt talent than UNC and a coach that's certainly willing to play a grinder so if I'm Barnes I expect a slower game. It's doubtful the Horns can artificially speed up Michigan State with pressure because Lucas and Lucious handle so well. If Texas takes good shots they win handily. If Texas defends Michigan State so well and controls the defensive glass leading to multiple break opportunities they win handily. Fast pace or slow pace it won't matter. The wildcard is Izzo's ability to turn this into an ugly game. If Texas is willing to participate with dumb shots and sloppy turnovers, MSU has a chance.