|AP Photo/David J. Phillip|
There are many ways you can categorize the worst* NCAA Tournament loss in Tom Izzo's 20-year reign at Michigan State.
Disappointing would be fitting, if only because it seemed as if the Spartans played so tentative from the 15:00 minute mark of the first half to the 5:00 mark of the second half; those 30 minutes in between killed any chances for a win let alone a close game.
Surprising would be another, if only because MSU teams, despite talent disadvantages, typically fight to the end. This game was seemingly over early in the second half.
Remarkable might be the most fitting, if only because Duke highlighted every flaw this Michigan State team had (one that most Spartan fans saw all season in losses to teams like Texas Southern and Nebraska) yet this same MSU team beat Virginia, Oklahoma and Louisville - Nos. 2, 3, and 4 seeds, respectively and pre-tournament top 15 teams.
*Worst is always a subjective word. Points-wise, this was the worst loss in Izzo's 64 NCAA Tournament games, however many would argue (with evidence, of course) that MSU's 2009 NCAA Championship game loss to North Carolina (89-72), its 2008 Sweet Sixteen loss to Memphis (92-74), or it's 2001 Final Four loss to Arizona (80-61) were much bigger blowouts even if the score didn't indicate as much.
This was Tom Izzo's seventh Final Four. This author's subjectivity would rank the talent of his Final Four teams as follows:
- 1. 2000 (NCAA Champions)
- 2. 2009 (NCAA Runner-up)
- 3. 1999 (Final Four)
- 4. 2001 (Final Four)
- 5. 2005 (Final Four)
- 6. 2010 (Final Four)
- 7. 2015 (Final Four)
There isn't much debate (unless you consider the 2010 vs. 2015 teams a big debate) that this was Izzo's least expected and least heralded Final Four team. Talent-wise, this team lost a lot from last year and was "rebuilding." To take this team to Indianapolis via the route it took was incredible.
In the 70-possession game, Duke's defense was smothering. MSU's .878 PPP was, by far, its worst in the tournament. Duke's 1.155, on the other hand, was MSU's worst defensive effort. Here's the defensive score sheet for the game:
- In his swan song game, Branden Dawson was MSU's best defender and it wasn't close. He blocked two shots and helped alter a few others. This could have been a 30-point whooping without Dawson's heroics. His offensive deficiencies were obvious but he absolutely matched Duke's defensive intensity on an individual level.
- The numbers don't quite do Colby Wollenman the justice he deserves, but he was, by far, MSU's best defender on Jahlil Okafor. Wollenman was in late due to foul trouble (Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling both had four), but when the game was out of reach it was Wollenman who had earned the right to stay on the floor. It's not as if the Costello/Schilling duo was terrible, but while Wollenman didn't force a miss, he did force Okafor to become a passer out of the post. That was a win for the Spartans.
- Justise Winslow is one guy who Spartans (and most other teams) will be happy to see in the NBA next season. There are few players who improved as much as Winslow this season - on both ends of the floor. He was tremendous against Dawson and whatever other Spartan he guarded, forcing 8 of MSU's 33 misses.
- If there's one weakness in Jahlil Okafor's game it's defense. Okafor is a decent defender, but much more so when helping from the weak side. If MSU had one of it's solid post players of yesteryear (Adreian Payne, Derrick Nix, Goran Suton, Paul Davis, etc.) it would have attacked Okafor from the opening tip. The results could have been foul trouble or some paint buckets. Okafor was Duke's second-worst defender and it wasn't surprising. He only forced 1.5 misses (one was a tremendous block) but he didn't have to guard a serious post threat.
The Defensive Score Sheet Project's initial explanation is here. More concise explanations are in this post, but here is a short rundown:
- Min - Minutes played
- DREB - Defensive Rebounds
- FM - Forced field goal miss (includes blocks)
- FTO - Forced Turnover (steals, charges taken)
- FFTA - Forced missed Free Throw Attempt
- DFGM - Allowed Defensive Field Goal Made
- DFTM - Allowed Free Throw Made
- DRtg - Defensive Rating (Gives players credit for stops and scoring possessions)
*The DRtg is most important part of a defensive score sheet as it is the analog of an offensive rating. If a player was on the floor for 100 of his team's defensive possessions, the DRtg calculates the number of points the opposition would score.