Sunday, February 23, 2014

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan 79, Michigan State 70

Russell Byrd's matador defense late in the first half proved costly
for the Spartans as the U-M stole momentum and never looked back. (AP)
It's always an interesting game within a game: The Turning Point.

Listen to commentators for forty minutes and by the final buzzer there will have been at least a half dozen turning points that lead to Team X defeating Team Y. (Of course, some of those turning points had Team Y beating Team X but were negated when something else happened).

Pick the turning point from Michigan's 79-70 win against Michigan State - a win that makes this the first Wolverines senior class to have a winning record vs. the Spartans (6-2) since the 1996-99 seniors:

  • Option A - 1H, 9:57 (MSU 22, Michigan 11): Michigan goes into a 1-3-1 zone. Keith Appling drives and kicks to Gary Harris who hits a 3-pointers...except Appling is called for an offensive foul - his second - and sits the rest of the half. Michigan proceeds to go on a 10-0 run over the next four minutes.
  • Option B - 1H, 2:18-0:39 (MSU 31, Michigan 24): Russell Byrd checks in to give Alvin Ellis III a blow. Byrd proceeds to play his worst defense of the year. First, Caris LeVert breaks Byrd down on a jump shot. Next, Glenn Robinson, sensing a mismatch, takes Byrd to the hole for an And-1 (he missed the free throw). Lastly, LeVert takes Byrd to the rim, makes a basket and gets fouled. He converts the 3-point play.
  • Option C - 1H, 0:01 (MSU 36, Michigan 31): After MSU's Gary Harris hits a jumper with five seconds left in the half, Caris LeVert beats MSU's defense down the court and hits a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
  • Option D - 2H, 14:17 (MSU 48, Michigan 43): The Nik Stauskas show really begins heating up with a 3-pointer. Stauskas had already scored five points in the half, but it was this triple that started a stretch where Stauskas alone went on a 11-4 run. MSU never led after Stauskas' 3-pointer at the 10:04 mark to give U-M a 54-52 lead.

Defensive Score Sheets - Duke & Syracuse, Rounds 1 and 2

Jim Boeheim: "I just thought it was the worst call of the year, that's all." (AP)

  • Is Jabari Parker really not as bad defensively as people make him out to be (like most impressions of him in the loss to North Carolina)?
  • How valuable will be Marshall Plumlee come tournament time?
  • Andre Dawkins seems to have trouble defensively against Syracuse, no?
  • C.J. Fair, not Tyler Ennis, is Syracuse's best and most valuable player.

Those are some basic impressions looking at a two-pack of defensive score sheets from America's newest favorite rivalry: Duke vs. Syracuse. Here are the defensive box scores from the team's two meetings (so far?) in 2014. Draw your own conclusions.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Defensive Score Sheet - North Carolina 74, Duke 66

The look on Jabari Parker's (1) face was how many viewers felt
about his individual defensive performance vs. the Tar Heels. (AP)

As Doug Gottlieb was pointing out with video evidence this morning on Twitter (via Instagram), Duke's Jabari Parker really had a horrific defensive game. Worried about early foul trouble Parker did his best work on help-side defensive players. When it came to one-on-one it was painful to watch. He consistently turned his shoulders the wrong way when pressuring a ball handler and occasionally his defense could best be described as "ole-style."

Still, despite Parker's obvious struggles against UNC's quicker guards and wings, the country's best freshman was Duke's second-best defender based on the numbers.

How so?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Defensive Score Sheet - Michigan 70, Ohio State 60

Just like he did in a road win at Michigan State Michigan's Derrick
Walton Jr., was the catalyst in leading U-M to a win at OSU. (AP)

It hasn't even been a full season of Derrick Walton's college career and he's already being put on a pedestal next to Trey Burke. Burke, of course, led Michigan to last year's NCAA Championship game as a sophomore and has had a solid rookie year for the NBA's Utah Jazz this season.

While I wouldn't put Walton in the same neighborhood as Burke I can see why people are quick to make the comparisons. Walton seems to have a great handle on the speed of the game and his hesitation dribbles and pick-and-roll sets and in Michigan's two biggest road games - at Michigan State and at Ohio State - it was Walton who led his team to victory down the stretch.

His defense is coming around as well. Not only did he record a double-double in Tuesday's 70-60 win over the Buckeyes (nine of his 10 rebounds were defensive boards) but the way he boxed out and defended all game was terrific. It should be noted the final basket he allowed was a basic ole with Michigan up by double digits in the closing seconds.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bracketology - Florida finally climbs to No. 1 line; MSU falls to No. 2

There isn't much movement from our opening projections last week, nor should there be from one week to another in February. The biggest change is some shifting on the top line. Kansas recovered well from its thumping at Texas to not only stay on the top line but shift into the Midwest Region. Florida, which continues to streak, is a new No. 1 seed in the South Region as Michigan State is now on the No. 2 line.

There comes a point that injuries can't be an excuse for seeding anymore. The Spartans may never be healthy so there isn't a reason to hold out hope in terms of seeding. Now, if MSU - healthy or not - can win the Big Ten outright and make noise in the conference tournament and even win it then a No. 1 seed in a lock. Until then, the Spartans look like a solid No. 2 seed, banged up and all.

I still believe Wichita State will get a No. 1 seed if it finishes the regular season undefeated and wins the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament. At some point undefeated has to mean something, even if the schedule is weak. Will the Shockers be one of the four best teams? I highly doubt it, but 34-0 would be 34-0.

I think San Diego State has an outside chance at a No. 1 seed but would really need two things to happen: Arizona would need to falter a bit without Brandon Ashley making the committee very nervous about considering the 21-0 start with him too heavily as well as a Wichita State loss. If both those things happen and the Aztecs finish with only two losses I could very well see Steve Fisher's club on the No. 1 line.

Here's our second projection of 2014 (through Sunday, February 9th's games):

Defensive Score Sheet: Wisconsin 60, Michigan State 58

Traevon Jackson (12) hits the game-winning jumper with 2.1
seconds to play to give Wisconsin a 60-58 win over MSU. (AP)

Another Michigan State-Wisconsin game, another instant classic to file in the Rivalry of Love story.

Playing without Keith Appling and Branden Dawson the Spartans withstood numerous spurts that nearly put Wisconsin on the edge of a blowout. Still, despite trailing 58-53 with 28 seconds to play the Spartans executed back-to-back out-of-bounds plays to perfection (a 20-foot jumper from Gary Harris and a 3-pointer from Adreian Payne) sandwiched around a missed front end of a 1-and-1 free throw (by 94 percent free throw shooter Ben Brust no less) to tie the game at 58 with 8.7 seconds to play.

Despite being blanketed by Gary Harris, Traevon Jackson hit a running jumper with 2.1 seconds left to give Wisconsin the 60-58 win. (Travis Trice did ever-so-slightly miss a half-court heave at the buzzer to seal the Badgers' win).

Monday, February 3, 2014

Bracketology - Syracuse, Arizona, MSU, Kansas are No. 1 seeds

The first Deuce2Sports 2014 bracket projection is here. It really does seem fairly pointless to mess with projections any earlier than early January, about the time the nonconference schedule ends. However, even then you see cases of teams with softer schedules that put up gaudy records (I'm looking at you, Ohio State) appear not only far from the once suspected Final Four lock but closer to a 7/8/9 seed when the conference slate starts.

It seems February is a great time to really break down potential seedings as its about six weeks from Selection Sunday and, while things are cut and dry, things are much clearer than they were a month ago.

Here's our first 2014 bracket: