There are two ways to view yesterday’s debacle at Michigan State, and both depend on interpretation.
The first interpretation relies on the notion that IU has some hand in everything that happens to them on the basketball court. As a rule, this is true, but there are exceptions — a team gets inconceivably hot, for example. Which is what happened Sunday. The second interpretation is that, for at least one day, Michigan State became an unbeatable, impossible foe, caught in a shooting flurry that took off in the first minute and lasted until the 40th. This requires the idea that no matter what IU team showed up yesterday, even one performing at the 99th percentile of the Hoosiers’ ability, Michigan State would have trounced them.
As antithetical as that idea is, it was hard to watch yesterday and think it wasn’t true. Observe:
Both teams took the same number of shots, but look at the outcome: Michigan State made 37 while IU made 27. Michigan State shot a 71.3 effective field goal percentage, which is insane for anyone, let alone for a team that averages 53 percent a game. IU shot 50 percent. On 70 possessions, MSU scored 104 points, a rate of 1.5 points per possession. The Hoosiers scored 1.1. By all offensive measures, IU performed to its season averages. Michigan State performed out of this effing world. What, exactly, can be done about that?
— Better defense would be a good start, of course. Something to consider here is that Dan Dakich has said he’s leaving the offense alone, but plans on tinkering with the defense. No amount of “tinkering” is going to be responsible for giving up 1.5 ppp, but at the same time IU seemed to be peaking defensively a few weeks ago. If the last few games are any indication — especially that shootout with, of all teams, Northwestern — the defense is now regressing.
Even against a really hot shooting team, the defense was exposed yesterday. Transition buckets came way too easily. Dunks were too frequent. Pick and rolls were defended so unsoundly, I was reminded of the team’s first few games this season. Michigan State outran IU, out schemed them, and made the Hoosiers’ defense look as bad as it has all year. Let’s hope the defensive ugliness is an aberration, and not the rule under Dakich. Because 1.5 ppp against is the fastest possible way to get sent home in March.
— Still, it feels like there isn’t much to write about this game, because it was an aberration. It was. It had to be. Think about it: After the end of the first half, Michigan State was on pace for 120 points. 120! In a 40 minute basketball game. To over analyze this, or proclaim this team dead, would be to ignore just how ridiculous yesterday was. If it happens again, fine. Call the season. But in the meantime, the wise approach here is to laugh this game off, suck up the likelihood that the Big Ten crown isn’t headed our way (and really, who cares that much about winning the Big Ten?), and refocus for March. One torrential Michigan State performance, no matter how off the charts, doesn’t automatically spell doom. Not yet, anyway.