This week's Project Defensive Score Sheet takes a look at a pair of Michigan State victories: An 83-58 win against Purdue this past weekend and a 68-52 triumph vs. Minnesota. Again, if you're into a traditional box score then this isn't the place for you. This breakdown will evaluate each MSU player's defense against the Boilermakers and Golden Gophers, respectively.
Despite the excuse Purdue had a "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" kind of trip to East Lansing and the fact Minnesota has been without its best player all season, exceptional defense was the key to the pair of emphatic blowout victories.
A QUICK REVIEW
The first step is to collect data. Reviewing game film has been made much easier thanks to ESPN3 and DVR technology.
Typical box scores focus on offensive highlights because, frankly, that's what most people care about. However, outside of blocks and steals, no defensive assertions can be made with fact-based evidence. Sure, you could assume that if Team A's point guard had a terrible shooting game that Team B's point guard did a nice job on defense. That might be true, but it ignores switches on screens, traps and the fact Team A's point guard might have just missed some easy shots.
For a thorough review of the process itself, you can check out this previous post which chronicled Michigan State's first five conference games of the 2011-12 season. You could also browse David Hess' Audacity of Hoops page as he kick started the project.
MICHIGAN STATE VS. PURDUE (1.21.12)
MICHIGAN STATE VS. MINNESOTA (1.25.12)
Defensive Charting Definitions
1. Draymond Green should get more than just token consideration for First-Team All America. While the Spartans were dominant as a team in both games, Green was outstanding. He was 13.5 points better against Purdue and 10.6 points better against Minnesota compared to the team average. A mere five-point difference is noteworthy; Green's performance in both games is to defense what Oscar Robertson was to offense.
2. It probably isn't a coincidence that when the trio of Green, Adrian Payne and Branden Dawson have great games the Spartans win fairly easily. Green not only plays solid man-to-man defense but also dominates the glass nightly. Payne is a shot blocker and shot-alterer type. When he's engaged in the game (not always the case), he controls the paint as he did against both the Boilermakers and Golden Gophers. Dawson didn't allow a made field goal in both games. Digest that for a minute: Dawson played a combined 46 minutes and not once allowed a player to score on him. He did commit a foul which resulted in Minnesota's Joe Coleman splitting a pair of free throws. it's been said that Dawson could guard a man on an island and it is becoming more apparent exactly how true that is. Against Minnesota, Dawson blocked four shots and played do well many might have mistaken him for Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. Athletically, Dawson is a freak; when he's such a menace on the defensive end it is a nightmare for opponents.
3. Derrick Nix's defense isn't that important. This isn't to say Nix is irrelevant on the defensive end, just that he's very susceptible to a player driving by him. In one instance against Minnesota, Ralph Sampson was fed the ball and immediately spun toward the baseline for a reverse layup before Nix could move. What Nix has improved is his ability to body a guy up and help clean up the glass. If Nix forces players like Sampson to shoot the mid-range jumper by sagging off, both he and MSU will be better for it.
4. Brandan Kearney is vastly underrated. Kearney plays anywhere from 8-15 minutes a game in MSU's deep rotation. As a freshman, he is really the team's third-string point guard but has given valuable blows to Keith Appling and Travis Trice throughout the season. Defensively, he's improving daily. His 6-foot-5 frame makes him a tough matchup for smaller guards and it showed against Purdue's quick-but-undersized Lewis Jackson. In nine minutes against Minnesota he was used on more than 43 percent of defensive possessions and held his own like a true defensive stopper.
5. Travis Trice is a defensive liability. The Purdue game is pretty typical of Trice's performances this season. He plays defense with his hands and lacks the quickness to stay with faster guards. If Izzo can get productive backup point guard minutes from Kearney, Trice might find himself on the bench more than he expected. He'll play if healthy (he didn't play against Minnesota with a hip injury), but he might play closer to 6-8 minutes a game rather than the 15 he was recording earlier in the season.