Of course, I have to talk about MSU-Duke. Of course I do. But first, I would just like to give a big shout-out to all the Big Ten teams that were victorious in their games this week! This is a completely biased opinion, but I feel like the Big Ten as a whole doesn't get much respect. I really, truly believe that they are the best conference in the country right now and it seems like certain media members are still trying to talk about how great the Big East is. And yes, it is a good conference and there are several talented teams. But it is not the toughest...I disgress...back to the game.
I think it's pretty obvious that going into this game, Duke was CLEARLY the better team. Their dismantling of a very good Kansas State team showed that they are clicking right now in a way that most other teams aren't. Michigan State on the other hand, was experiencing the standard doubt from people because they lost to Connecticut and struggled with Washington. They have the standard Spartan problems...turnovers, players returning from injuries, free throws (more on all those things later). And did I mention they were playing at Cameron?
Most articles have focused on how amazing Kyrie Irving played (and that is true, he did...the kid is GOOD) or how Duke is SOOO amazing (and again, they are a great team and deserved to win that game). But, I would like to focus on a few things about MSU's performance (I know, SHOCKING)..some good, some bad, some unsung.
Dick Vitale and Dan Shulman seemed addicted to the fact that Durrell Summers and Kalin Lucas barely scored (this was mentioned sometime in the 4.3 minutes they actually bothered to talk about Michigan State--as they spent most of the 2 hour broadcast talking about how Duke is clearly the most masterful team that has ever played basketball in the history of the universe and don't worry...they talked about UNC too, just for good measure. Because, you know, they can't be biased). And to be fair, MSU needs their top 2 guys to deliver consistently in order to win a championship. There is no doubt about that. But I think there are a few key things being overlooked here:
1.) Kalin Lucas is just getting back to himself. He wasn't going to walk onto the court in November/December after not playing for 6 months and immediately return to fighting form. Combine that with the fact that defenses key in on him, there are clearly some adjustments that need to be made in terms of how he moves both with and without the ball.
2.) Durrell Summers is just now being talked about as a serious scoring threat. Last year, defenses focused mostly on Lucas and Morgan. Because of his awesome performance in the tournament last year, everyone has seen what Summers is capable of, so naturally they are making sure they know where he is at all times and tightening up on the defense. For him, that's an adjustment. It will require him to change his approach to every play and frankly, work harder to get open and get shots off.
3.) Despite those 2 struggling, they still hung with Duke the entire game and withstood a couple of big runs. That's huge! One of my favorite, favorite things about MSU that I don't feel many people talk about is the fact that at any time, other players can step up and produce. Last night, it was Lucious and Sherman. Roe has done it. Green has done it. Last season, it was Summers, occasionally Chris Allen, etc. The season before, it was Travis Walton, Goran Suton and Raymar Morgan. I think that's amazing! The more guys that can do that, the more threats they have, the harder it is for defenses to key on Lucas or Summers, thus opening up their games as well. It's a fabulous cycle.
I also loved the fact that MSU showed some really good composure. Duke had a couple runs and opened up a 10 point lead in the second half. On the road in a hostile environment, playing the #1 team in the country, the Spartans could have easily rolled over and given up or rushed and tried to force the ball....but that didn't happen. Of course, there were some bad passes and a couple of questionable shots that made me yell, "WHY DID YOU DO THAT!?!"...but for the most part, it felt like the team took a deep breath and said, let's just play. They calmed down, made some shots, drove agressively to the basket and tightened up their defense. And interestingly, it looked like Duke was a little shaken up by that--when they usually open up a lead like that, they put teams away. When it didn't happen, you could see the "oh crap" look in their eyes. Now, I'm not saying they were scared, because obviously, they held on to win the game, but it just seemed like it wasn't something they were expecting.
And now, on to the bad...
WHAT IS WITH THE TURNOVERS?!? I seriously cannot take it anymore. 20 turnovers per game?!! You've GOT to be kidding me. It has been a problem the last few years and it clearly isn't changing anytime soon. I read all these articles with players saying, "yes, we need to take care of the ball." "Yes, we know it is a problem." "Yes, we need to stop doing that." BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH....I see you talking...I see the words coming out of your mouth...but it's funny, because THE SAME THING KEEPS HAPPENING. For all the talking they are doing about how they're so concerned, I don't believe they actually believe that.
I mean, last night to a certain extent, Duke didn't beat MSU...MSU beat THEMSELVES by giving the ball away. For a team that is so smart, I just don't get it. Actions speak louder than words. Stop telling everyone you're going to do it better and just do it better! It's ridiculous and extremely irritating.
That said, I came away from that game feeling extremely positive about the future of the season. I know that State will improve a lot between now and March. They will learn from this game and if Duke appears again, I think it would be a different game. I can't wait to see what the next few months have in store...GO GREEN!