The Spartans snapped a 3-game losing streak to intra-state rival Michigan last weekend thanks in large part to another superb defensive effort. It marked the fourth-straight game Michigan State held its opponent under 60 points.
Swollen knee and all, Draymond Green was almost as good as a player could be defensively. He allowed some baskets by the taller Jordan Morgan as well as some free throws resulting from his fouls, but his 14 defensive rebounds and help-side defense all game was pivotal in bottling up everything Michigan wanted to do.
In fact, Green's rebounding total (16) matched Michigan's entire team total. In doing so, Green became the fourth player in Big Ten history since the 1996-97 season to match an opposing team's rebounding numbers.
One player who can't be overlooked was Brandan Kearney. As mentioned in previous stories, Kearney's 6-foot-5 frame is bound to give smaller guards like Stu Douglass, Trey Burke and others around the conference and country problems. In limited minutes, Kearney forced three missed shots and one turnover. It's that kind of defense in spelling Keith Appling and/or Travis Trice that MSU needs daily.
Branden Dawson continues to improve as well. Dawson isn't quite Jon Henson, but he's becoming a shot-altering factor for MSU. The Spartans haven't had a player like Dawson since... well, there really isn't a player in the Tom Izzo era that he reminds me of.
The bright spot for Michigan was two bench players - Matt Vogrich and Evan Smotrycz - were the team's best defenders. If Jon Beilein can get great defensive games from one or both of those players every night out, it'll really help the starters when rest is needed.
Check out the Defensive Score Sheet below for both teams. (For a recap on what the numbers mean and how they're calculated, read this previous post).
5 Takeaways from Michigan State 64, Michigan 54
1. Derrick Nix is a valuable asset - on offense. I've said it a dozen times: Nix is a important on the offensive side of the ball but his defensive downfalls don't affect the Spartans that much (see Note No. 3). Losing weight has helped him jump better but his great footwork is only "great" when he's in control. He's beaten off the dribble constantly, especially on the baseline. MSU might want to make sure when Nix is guarding a quicker post player (Jared Sullinger comes to mind), a help defender should be near by.
2. Dawson was sensational, again. MSU's "Diaper Dandy" is really blossoming on both ends of the floor. Dawson smothered Tim Hardaway Jr. all night. Hardaway was invisible and seemed disinterested for much of the game. Some credit has to go to Dawson blanketing him most of the day. Starting 0-for-6 shooting will do that to a player.
3. Zack Novak played better than his numbers would indicate. Novak was responsible for Green most of the game and even bodying up and playing tight defense, Green made some incredible contested jump shots. Granted, Novak's size (6-4) wouldn't be a disadvantage if he played the 2 or 3 position. However, Michigan's offense usually has Novak playing the 4 and that's a mismatch on most nights. Novak is at his best when he's a help-side defender, usually drawing charges or forcing turnovers. When he needs to defend a scorer one-on-one, as he was asked to do against Green, his numerous flaws and deficiencies are exposed.
4. Even when Tim Hardaway Jr. is struggling on offense, his defense is still pretty solid. Hardaway didn't have a great game (his 108.4 DRtg was 0.2 higher than Michigan's team DRtg), but he is becoming the kind of player that can find solace in having a great defensive game when his offense has vanished for 40 minutes. Hardaway defended Appling and Dawson most of the game. There aren't any big statistical numbers on his line (2 1/2 forced field goal misses, 2 field goal makes) but that highlights the fact Hardaway didn't allow many shots. This can only be credited to Hardaway's maturity as the freshman Hardaway would let his slumping offense affect his defense. Apparently, that's not the case anymore.
5. Both teams look to have Sweet 16 floors in the NCAA Tournament. Both Michigan State (113.9 offensive efficiency) and Michigan (112.3 offensive efficiency) have solid offenses, ranking 13th and 26th at KenPom.com. MSU's defense is superior (85.2, 4th) while Michigan's (92.7, 42nd) is above average. These teams are so familiar with each other that it can be problematic to equate one or both teams' performance in this game to potential NCAA Tournament stays. However, what the numbers do show is that both teams can lock down the opposition if need be while scoring enough to win.