Big Ten Wonk
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Tangled up in Drew at Michigan State
Today I continue my alphabetically sensitive preseason walk-arounds of each Big Ten team with some thoughts on the suddenly enigmatic band of who-dats from East Lansing, proud members of the Big Ten since 1949.

Last year
22-12 overall, 8-8 in conference. Lost in NCAA first round to George Mason, 75-65.

Drew Neitzel (8.3 PPG, 1.08 PPWS, 3.8 reb. pct., 10.2 assists per 100 possessions, 3.6 TOs per 100 possessions)
Marquise Gray (3.0 PPG)
Goran Suton (3.0 PPG)
Travis Walton (1.8 PPG)
Maurice Joseph (0.7 PPG)

Raymar Morgan (6-7 F, Canton, OH)
Drew Naymick (6-10 C, medical redshirt--1.5 PPG as sophomore in 2004-05)
Isaiah Dahlman (6-6 G, Braham, MN)
Tom Herzog (7-0 C, Flint)

Matt Trannon (4.6 PPG, 1.13 PPWS, 11.9 reb. pct., 3.7 A/100 poss., 2.0 TO/100 poss.) Trannon has eligibility; whether he will focus solely on his football aspirations or choose to play basketball remains to be seen.

Mo Ager (19.3 PPG, 1.15 PPWS, 7.3 reb. pct., 4.3 A/100 poss., 4.5 TO/100 poss.)
Paul Davis (17.5 PPG, 1.28 PPWS, 18.3 reb. pct., 3.2 A/100 poss., 4.8 TO/100 poss.)
Shannon Brown (17.2 PPG, 1.17 PPWS, 7.8 reb. pct., 4.7 A/100 poss., 4.3 TO/100 poss.)

Official motto for 2006-07
"Green indeed."

What we think we know in November (read the warning label)
We don’t know what we’ll see with the Spartans this year, of course. Youth raises too many questions. (Actual headline: "Izzo relishes opportunities he'll get to teach.") And ignore articles talking about how a more vocal Drew Neitzel is going to make this "his team" and score more. He will score more--likely a good deal more--because he’ll get many more shots. But Tom Izzo knows he won’t go very far solely on the scoring prowess of a single player.

So just remember this when speaking of Michigan State:

Last year was odd. There was never really a moment to dwell on just how odd--you lose a game in the tournament and you go home. But think about what we saw in 2006....

The Spartans, blessed though they were with three of the ensuing NBA draft’s first 34 picks (Shannon Brown, Mo Ager, and Paul Davis), were in effect the only team in the Big Ten that was significantly worse on both sides of the ball versus 2005. Illinois, of course, was clearly but a shadow of their 2005 selves—but their defense last season was only a hair worse than the year before. And Purdue, while also taking a step back on both sides of the ball, had the equivalent of a note from their parents: they lost their entire projected starting five to injuries and suspensions. Michigan State was thus unique last year: despite having a (relatively) healthy roster, they suffered a pronounced decline on both offense and defense.

So what the heck happened? Were Alan Anderson, Kelvin Torbert, and Chris Hill more vital than we knew?

There's depth. Then there's Izzo depth.
One of the more curious aspects of last year was hearing Izzo repeatedly cite what he termed a lack of depth as a reason for his team's unexpected struggles--this on a team with multiple NBA draft picks. Izzo's laments must have sounded strange at the time in places like Evanston and (especially) West Lafayette.

But, in a way, the numbers do indeed bear Izzo out--there was a big difference between how the coach was able to deploy his talent from year to year....

Percentage of minutes played, 2005-06 (all games)
1. Shannon Brown (86.0)
2. Mo Ager (84.2)
3. Drew Neitzel (80.5)
4. Paul Davis (73.2)
5. Travis Walton (45.7)
6. Matt Trannon (35.2)
7. Goran Suton (32.9)

Way back in 2005, on the other hand, the numbers looked like this for Izzo's top seven:

Percentage of minutes played, 2004-05 (all games)
1. Alan Anderson (65.7)
2. Mo Ager (64.9)
3. Paul Davis (64.5)
4. Shannon Brown (62.1)
5. Chris Hill (59.6)
6. Kelvin Torbert (55.8)
7. Drew Neitzel (40.5)

Let's define "Izzo depth" as seven players each getting between about 40 and 70 percent of the minutes. As seen here, the 2005 team had Izzo depth. The 2006 team--while featuring three demonstrably more talented players than any member of the 2005 team--did not. The first went to the Final Four. The second lost in the first round. And there you have a neat little parable on talent vs. team. (Note to high school coaches everywhere: feel free to use this. And tell the kids to read up on their Big Ten Wonk.)

When Izzo has seven or eight players he trusts--whether by virtue of their experience or talent--he can both demand human-wave effort (including and especially on the boards) and parcel out minutes in a way to make said effort continuous and overwhelming to the opponent. (This is a particular stylistic preference of Izzo's, mind you, not an immutable law of hoops. Illinois in 2005, to cite but one example, went 37-2 with a minutes distribution that looked a lot like MSU's in 2006.) And that, of course, suggests some hopeful possibilities for this season, even with a relative lack of experience. But first the reality....

The 2007 Spartans: likely not pretty, but possibly effective
Barring only a Florida-style run of precociously hot shooting by hitherto who-dat youngsters, MSU's offense will not be as good as last year's. Neitzel is apparently going to get a good deal of minutes functioning as a 2-guard, running off screens and launching threes. Which is fine--he's a 40 percent three-point shooter--but, in line with the notion of Izzo-depth advanced above, it will be essential that Izzo find other scoring options. First, Neitzel simply can't do it all alone when he's on the floor. (No one can. Ask Carl Landry about 2005 sometime.) And, second, there will be times when Neitzel's off the floor--ideally about 30 percent of the time. So watch along with me for these other scoring options to emerge. In the end, State's offensive efficiency (likely burdened with a healthy share of turnovers) will be determined by these non-Neitzels.

As for the D, your guess is as good as mine but if this year's Spartans achieve Izzo-depth then there should be fewer points allowed per possession than last year, thanks to fresh legs and a consistent level of effort on the defensive end. Michigan State's shtick the past couple years has been to rely on supremacy on the defensive glass. Judging from performance to date, Marquise Gray would appear to be far and away Izzo's best defensive rebounder. If he gets some help from Goran Suton and Drew Naymick, an over/under of one point per possession for conference opponents would seem reasonable. As with Indiana, then, defense will be vital for Michigan State this season. Izzo and the rest of the coaching staff do not suffer from DAD, trust me.

Forecast: lots of misses
Drew Neitzel might want to give Dee Brown a call. Brown can tell him in graphic detail what happens to one's scoring efficiency when you lose multiple teammates to the NBA and defenses suddenly converge on you. Indeed, the potential exists here for some pretty ugly numbers. Neitzel's PPWS last year was a vanilla 1.08 (almost exactly the Big Ten average)--and that was with three NBA draft picks on the floor with him. Meaning Neitzel could well lead the Big Ten in scoring this year but, like Alando Tucker last year, it will take something on the order of a Redickulous 500 shots from the field to make this happen.

BONUS pro bono scouting note for ten other teams! Make Neitzel put the ball on the floor but don't double him. His assist rate is astounding but his 2FG pct. is horrific.

The Graying of East Lansing
Marquise Gray arrived at MSU as a highly touted recruit two years ago, redshirted in 2005, and struggled with injuries in 2006. Now he says he's ready. In limited action last season Gray gave hints of being outstanding on the boards, promising offensively, and catastrophic from the line.

First in line for Izzo's football-style rebounding drills
Goran Suton did not get many boards last year, posting a mere 11.9 rebound percentage. (By comparison, the much shorter and much busier-on-offense Geary Claxton put up a 13.1 rebound pct. last year. The area around 12 on this particular stat's an interesting realm, usually populated by underachieving bigs and overachieving little guys.) I fully expect that number to improve this season, now that Suton has more Izzo time under his belt. And, on the plus side, Suton already possesses a jump shot and takes prodigiously good care of the ball. Both traits may place him among an important minority in East Lansing this year.

The non-Neitzel Neitzel
Travis Walton turned the ball over seven times in 24 minutes the other night in an exhibition against Northern Michigan. If I thought exhibitions were indicative of real life, that would give me pause. But I don't, so I can say that Walton last year showed that he's got a good handle. With Neitzel looking to function as more of a 2, ball-handling minutes are available.

"Yes, Coach, now that you mention it, I can see that I do suck!"
Sophomore guard Maurice Joseph on offseason talks with Izzo concerning Joseph's attitude: "I didn't feel that way at first, but when he brought it to light, I found it was a problem."

Raymar Morgan's getting the raves, having come back from a sprained right shoulder. Marquise Gray says Morgan has "Shannon Brown strength with Mo Ager hang time." Izzo says Morgan will be "a 30-minute-a-game guy."

Drew Naymick actually started the first seven games last year and then redshirted after suffering an injured shoulder.

Idong Ibok: "I want us to win the Big Ten championship this year [and] hopefully get to a Final Four." Congenital optimist Idong Ibok, Wonk salutes you!

In today's less Wonk-ish venues....
Michigan State opens the regular season tonight against Brown in East Lansing as host of the loquaciously titled "2K Sports College Hoops Classic benefiting Coaches Vs. Cancer." Marquise Gray says of this season: "We're gonna surprise a lot of people."

Purdue plays Wisconsin-Platteville tonight in an exhibition game in West Lafayette. Profile of Boilermaker guard Tarrance Crump here.

Illinois plays Division II Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in an exhibition game tonight in Champaign and Bruce Weber says Brian Randle won't play. Randle is recovering from a strained groin.

Michigan coach Tommy Amaker says Dion Harris knows "that he's going to play both [point guard and shooting guard]....We've always seen him as a guard. He's played a lot off the ball. He's been one of those players, an old-school throwback where he just plays the backcourt."...Profile of Lester Abram here. (Same link: Ron Coleman "specializes in rebounding"? Hauling in just 8.1 percent of the available boards while he was on the floor last season, Coleman ranked 36th in the Big Ten last year in his specialty. Bold epistemological innovators of the Detroit News, Wonk salutes you!)

Profile of Wisconsin freshman and potential redshirt J.P. Gavinski here.

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Big Ten Wonk: where the errors are at the top
Yesterday's Michigan preview perhaps set a new record for fewest words before an error. The post's very first sentence yesterday read as follows:

Today I continue my alphabetically sensitive preseason walk-arounds of each Big Ten team with some thoughts on the hitherto defenseless and turnover-prone young men from Ann Arbor, proud members of the Big Ten since its founding in 1896.

The readers respond!

Hey, Wonk,

Love the blog. I thought I'd point out that Michigan has not been a proud member of the Big Ten since 1896. In fact Michigan left the Big Ten in protest in 1907 and rejoined in 1916.

James J.

Egad! James is correct! (Cursory reference to Michigan's nine-year Babylonian captivity here.)

Thanks for the gratis proofreading, James!

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