Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Brooklyn has good pizza, but what about hoops? — Previewing MSU's 'second round' matchup

It was Yoda who said that fear leads to the dark side, via the transitive property.

Despite no No. 16 seed ever having won an NCAA Tournament game, there is no fear in Long Island-Brooklyn.

In typical New York fashion, the Blackbirds have ton of confidence. LIU won the Northeast Conference Tournament for the second straight season and has won 20 of its last 22 games. A year ago, the No. 15 seed Blackbirds were within 10 points of North Carolina midway through the second half in Charlotte. But for as well as LIU can score, they give up a ton of points. The Tar Heels won the game 102-87.

The Blackbirds said they were surprised they were given a No. 16 seed this season. As for MSU, senior guard Michael Culpo told the New York Post, "Michigan State, I feel, is one of the weaker 1s, if that’s even possible, but I think it’ll be a game.” Culpo also has let people know that he has packed for the entire weekend.

I don't think this the same case as New Mexico State in 2010, when players said they didn't know who Kalin Lucas was. I don't think LIU is playing the disrespect card toward MSU, I think it's more demanding their own respect.

Still, the Blackbirds have done what they can to make sure the Spartans don't overlook them.

The West Region is full of teams who look to run and have as many possessions as possible, and no team in the NCAA Tournament has a higher adjusted tempo than LIU, per KenPom. For some reason, a lot of national pundits don't seem to think MSU likes to speed up the game, as I mentioned yesterday.

In reality, this is going to be a welcome sight for Keith Appling, who is much, much better on the break than he is against the halfcourt defenses of the Big Ten. Plus, with Travis Trice back and fairly healthy, Appling can continue to get rest during the game. Brandon Wood has been playing really well in the transition game and I think Brandan Kearney could thrive at that speed as well (and don't forget Draymond Green's knack for hitting the three as the trailer).

The players who are hurt by the up-and-down tempo obviously will be centers Adriean Payne and Derrick Nix. The pair played excellent in the Big Ten Tournament, but are more suited toward a halfcourt game. They'll still get plenty of playing time. Don't expect MSU to try to get into a track meet with the Blackbirds. MSU can run, but the Spartans also can slow the game down, and that's when they'll go inside to Nix and Payne. MSU's ability to adapt to different speeds is a trademark of Tom Izzo teams, and is the reason MSU has been so successful in the NCAA Tournament.

You might see some lineups where Green is playing center. LIU doesn't have a player over 6-foot-7, although the Blackbirds' two leading scorers are forwards — Julian Boyd (17.4 pts, 9.5 rebs) and Jamal Olasewere (16.8 pts, 7.5 rebs).

When a team tries to increase possessions in a game, there are always problems that come with that. The Blackbirds average 16.2 turnovers per game and their 21.6 turnover percentage is ranked 252nd in the country. They also give up 77.3 points per game and adjusted defensive efficiency is ranked 271st in the country. While LIU grabs almost 35 percent of its misses, its opponents grab about 34 percent of theirs.

Without Dawson, MSU wasn't the same rebounding team in the Big Ten Tournament. They only grabbed more than 24 percent of their misses in one game, Iowa, which is the most similar team to LIU in terms of style. Down the road in the tournament, it could be an issue for MSU.

On the other side of the ball, the feverish style of LIU gets them to the free-throw line at a high rate, averaging 28 free-throw attempts per game and shooting nearly one free throw per two shot attempts. More than one quarter of their points come at the line. If Keith Appling picks up early fouls on the fast-break defense, as he is prone to do sometimes, then the Blackbirds could be sticking around longer than Izzo would like. But the Spartans have depth, and can overcome foul issues for the most part.

I expect MSU to mix up speeds on offense and force a lot of turnovers on defense en route to a fairly easy victory. This would have been a really, really fun game to see Dawson play in. If MSU keeps shooting like it did in Indianapolis (53 percent from the floor, 48 percent from three), there's a good chance the Spartans could score 100 in this thing.

Prediction: MSU 95, LIU 75

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