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Report card breakdown: Men's basketball

About halfway through the season, the men's basketball team is looking good

February 12, 2009

MSU head coach Tom Izzo peers back at his bench after the Spartans took the lead in the second half on Jan. 25 at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio.

Photo by Jason Chiou | The State News

With the best Big Ten start in school history, an undefeated road record and the moxie to rise above an array of injures and illnesses, the MSU men’s basketball team looks to be in prime position to win its first Big Ten Championship since 2001. Even with all of their success thus far, nobody’s perfect and the No. 9 Spartans (20-4 overall, 10-2 Big Ten) have had their share of breakdowns. Here’s how they stack up with six games remaining:

Overall: A-

Despite several setbacks, the Spartans have established themselves as the clear frontrunner in the Big Ten. Since being routed by North Carolina, MSU has elevated its play to new heights, losing just two games and boasting a perfect road record in conference play. Led by a balanced scoring attack that features sophomore Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Kalin Lucas, the Spartans lead the nation in rebounding margin and have received significant contributions from the bench. If the Spartans get by Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. on Tuesday, they can start fitting their fingers for Big Ten Championship rings.

Defense: B

Allowing 63.5 points per game, MSU ranks second to last in the Big Ten in scoring defense. But sometimes, numbers can be deceiving, and this is one of those instances. MSU’s turbo-charged offense typically leads to more field goal attempts for other teams, making their offensive production appear much better than it actually is. MSU’s 41.4 percent field goal percentage defense (fifth in Big Ten) and 32.5 percent 3-point field goal percentage defense (fourth in Big Ten) paint a better picture of where the Spartans stand defensively. Individually, senior Travis Walton is making a strong campaign for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

Intangibles: A

Two months into the season the Spartans had already faced more adversity than some teams face in an entire season, and that was before junior forward Raymar Morgan developed his ever-changing sickness. In August, freshman forward Delvon Roe underwent his second knee surgery in nine months, which still limits his jaw-dropping athleticism. In November, senior center Goran Suton also had knee problems, missing six straight games early on. Throw in Morgan’s upper respiratory disorder/walking pneumonia/mononucleosis and it’s amazing the Spartans ranked are No. 9 with a 20-4 overall record and in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten at 10-2. Plus, MSU is 6-0 on the road in Big Ten play, winning at “The Barn” in Minnesota, fighting off a furious comeback attempt at Penn State and in tough environments at Ohio State and Michigan.

Bench: B-

In Morgan’s absence, sophomore guard Durrell Summers as stepped up big time, scoring 20 or more points three times. Likewise, freshman forward Draymond Green came out of nowhere against Indiana to post his first career double-double. Still even with Summers’ exploits and Green’s day in the sun, the MSU bench is capable of so much more. Senior forward Marquise Gray has held true to his up-and-down career this season, only seeing the court for an average of 11.8 minutes a game. Sophomore guard Chris Allen has surprisingly struggled with his shot for much of the conference season, and freshman guard Korie Lucious has made MSU head coach Tom Izzo both smile and roll his eyes, though the latter has been happening much more often. There’s talent here, to be sure, but as Izzo has said countless times: There have too many inconsistencies.

Backcourt: A-

After an under whelming opening month, Lucas has emerged into a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate. The sophomore point guard is averaging 17.3 points and 3.5 assists in conference play, and has added an impressive jump shot to his repertoire. Walton continues to play pesky defense against the opposition’s best guard, shutting down Texas’ A.J. Abrams, Ohio State’s Jon Diebler, and Michigan’s Manny Harris among several others. Swingmen Summers and Allen have provided outstanding depth, averaging 9.6 and 9.3 points per game respectively, while Lucious (2.7 points per game) has carved a niche as a spark plug off the bench. This group will get even better when Morgan returns from his illness, and allows Summers to slide back into his natural position at shooting guard.

Frontcourt: B+

Given everything this unit has had to deal with, the results have been awfully impressive. All three starters — Suton, Morgan and Roe — have suffered health issues that have forced head coach Tom Izzo to use makeshift lineups and prevented the trio from gelling together, but each have shined individually. Still knocking the rust of his surgically-repaired knees, Suton has given the Spartans an added dimension in the low-post, averaging nearly a double-double (10.1 points, 9.9 rebounds) in conference play. Before getting smitten with Mono, Morgan was arguably MSU’s most valuable player, as he led the Spartans in scoring, and according to Izzo, was one of its most valuable defenders. Roe, who’s worked tirelessly all season to battle back from knee surgery, is finally peaking. He’s averaged 9.3 points and 6.3 rebounds his last four games.

Coaching: B+

Questions still linger about the way Izzo handled Morgan’s illness, but other than that, Izzo has done a terrific job at getting the most out of his injury-riddled team. Throughout the season, Izzo and his staff have been forced to shuffle MSU’s rotation like a 52-card deck, and most the combinations they’ve created have worked to perfection. Furthermore, Izzo has done a great job at utilizing his bench, devising game plans to neutralize the opposition’s best player and making halftime adjustments. Most importantly, he has the respect and trust of his team, which lays it on the line for him every game.

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