Thursday, December 9, 2021

NCAA Tournament time for point guards to take over

March 11, 2002
Sophomore guard Marcus Taylor blows past Ohio State guard Brian Brown on his way to the basket Tuesday night at Value City Arena. Taylor was the high scorer of the game with 32 points. —

As the No. 10 seed MSU men’s basketball team tries to rally in the NCAA Tournament, it will look to its point guard for a spark - a position teams traditionally turn to in March.

Great point guards have typically led the teams that make runs in the tournament’s history. That list includes former Spartan, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, former Indiana Hoosier Isiah Thomas and former Duke standout Bobby Hurley.

More recent members of that list include former Spartan Mateen Cleaves and Gonzaga’s Dan Dickau, who has led his team to three consecutive Sweet 16’s.

ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale said point guards are so valuable in March because the burden to take over a game in crunch time normally falls on their shoulders.

“You have to have a great point guard,” Vitale said. “You’re not going to win big unless your point guard can really take control of a game.”

CBS college basketball analyst Billy Packer said that’s because they usually dictate the offense more than anyone else on the court.

“The man handling the ball, whether it’s the point guard or the shooting guard is absolutely critical in March,” Packer said.

And since the formula of riding a point guard in the Big Dance has proven to be a potent one, the Spartans should be in good shape, even though starting point guard Marcus Taylor stumbled off of the postseason’s starting block.

Despite scoring 20 points in MSU’s second-round exit of the Big Ten Tournament on Friday at Conseco Fieldhouse, Taylor committed six turnovers with only two assists.

Taylor said he wasn’t able to dominate in the 67-56 loss to Indiana like he did down the stretch of the regular season, because the Hoosiers keyed in on him defensively.

“I’m just going to be a lot tougher because they’re playing different defenses on me now,” Taylor said. “I just have to make sure I stay aggressive and try to get guys in the game.”

Even though he didn’t dominate in Indianapolis, Vitale said Taylor should be able to pick up where he left off late in the season.

“I don’t think that’s a problem,” Vitale said. “Kids are so resilient, he’s got momentum going his way. In his case he’s more than just a distributor, he has flat-out scoring ability as you saw in the last few games.”

In the final week of the season, Taylor hit Ohio State for a career-high 32 points. Four days later he dropped 34 on Iowa for a new career high. Those back-to-back 30-point performances earned Taylor Big Ten Player of the Week honors.“

Taylor has certainly come on really strong,” Vitale said. “He’s playing outstanding. He’s playing like the young guy that was labeled so high coming out of Lansing. He had such a big-time reputation. Now he really seems to have momentum and he’s really playing brilliant basketball.”

That late-season surge propelled Taylor to win both the Big Ten scoring and assists titles. In the final week of the season, Taylor shot 61 percent from the field, 67 percent from three-point range and averaged six assists per game.

More important than Taylor’s raw numbers in the final weeks of the season was his ability to take tight games into his own hands. That trend began in MSU’s 57-54 win against Indiana on Feb. 24.

During a late timeout in that game, MSU head coach Tom Izzo told Taylor to “take the game over.” He responded with eight points and three assists in the final 3:21, as MSU overcame a 16-point deficit.

Junior forward Adam Ballinger said Izzo’s challenge was the defining moment in Taylor’s regular season.

“He was trying to put us on his shoulders and right there he realized as long as he does that we’re going to win,” Ballinger said. “It makes it a lot easier for us if he just takes over, we’re a lot better team if he does. He has got so much pressure on him, but that’s what team leaders do.”

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