Death From Above: Michigan State

Submitted by Brian on January 17th, 2012 at 12:46 PM



A quality Michigan State team is brutalist architecture, all extruded concrete and towering bureaucracy. There is a rebounding tax for every possession. There is a paint tax. There is a three-point tax. There is never, ever a refund and you must get that basket stamped in triplicate.

This has transpired this year. The next section has all the numbers, but rest assured that this is a team that will brutalize you on the boards and pound you on the interior on both ends of the floor. Hope you like Blake McLimans, because Jordan Morgan will have two fouls in the first five minutes.

Anyway. The MSU offense runs through senior point-forward-type-guy Draymond Green and sophomore PG Keith Appling, who is currently in the midst of a Morris-like second-year leap. You probably know about Green: he's a roly-poly shortish post with great range (41% from three) and court vision. He is a monster rebounder, grabbing 25% of opponent misses when he's on the floor and 9% of his team's whiffs.

Appling has been a revelation after a freshman year during which he was mostly a defensive specialist. He's shooting 52% from two, gets to the line, and has an excellent assist rate; while his turnovers are a bit of a problem he adds up to an efficient, high-usage player on the whole.

There is no clear third banana a la Smotrycz. Instead there is a horde of six players averaging at least 45% of MSU's minutes who are not the stars. They are:

  • Valpo grad-year transfer Brandon Wood. Kind of sucks for Valpo that they lose the best player in their league before his senior season; Wood is a good three point shooter who is also hitting nearly 60% from within the arc; he has a solid assist rate, low turnovers, and cracks the top 100 in Kenpom O-rating.
  • Derrick Nix and Adriean Payne, the two-headed center. Collectively they rebound 12% of MSU misses, which is a lot. Their offense is Morgan-like: high efficiency shots someone else gets them or they generate with offensive rebounds. Straight post-ups are more frequent than they are in the Michigan offense. They are still not frequent.
  • Freshman burlywing Branden Dawson, another punishing offensive rebounder with low usage outside of putbacks. He's not Green—he does not shoot 3s and is hitting 59% of his FTs—but he's just a freshman.
  • Freshman Travis Trice, a combo guard who is MSU's best three-point shooter but has struggled inside the line.
  • Senior gritty gritterson Austin Thornton. Low usage, bad shooting, inexplicably high FT rate.

MSU's steady diet of putbacks evens out usage numbers into a great flat plain after Green, FWIW.

So, yeah. This is a large team that crashes all of the boards and has great eFG numbers on both ends of the floor. Surprise!


Kenpom loves MSU almost as much as Wisconsin and for the same reasons: pounding blowouts of bad teams. MSU against low majors has equaled 35, 22, 32, 42, 20, 14, and 35-point wins. That's not quite as dominant but MSU hasn't started the Big Ten slate off 3-3, so people aren't asking Pomeroy annoying questions about them.

Their four factors are so Izzo:

Stat Offense(Rk) Defense(Rk) NCAA avg
Effective FG%: 52.7 (48) 43.5 (23) 48.9
Turnover %: 20.0 (134) 21.3 (143) 20.8
Off. Reb. %: 39.4 (13) 27.0 (16) 32.5
FTA/FGA: 39.8 (97) 35.3 (147) 36.6

Crawl a bit deeper and you get even further down the Izzo hole: a block percentage of 14% places them in the top 30; they are shooting just 27% of their shots from 3. They yield a ton of low-quality long shots because going inside… eh… not the best idea.


State has bounced back from their disappointing season of a year ago, whipping off a 15-game win streak after opening the season with a noncompetitive loss to North Carolina (ON A BOAT) and a five-point loss to Duke that wasn't much more competitive than Michigan's. Then they waded into the usual array of teams starting a one-armed Prussian who died in 1894 at center, and crushed them all.

Amongst the Prussians were two quality teams. MSU whipped FSU at home in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge and won by seven at Gonzaga. Those teams are 28th and 29th in the Kenpom rankings, FWIW; Michigan is 35th.

In conference, MSU has home wins over Iowa (by a ton) and Indiana (by 15), road wins against Nebraska and Wisconsin (the latter in OT). Their most recent outing was a seven-point loss to Northwestern that made Michigan fans feel a lot better about the usual debacle that transpires whenever Michigan visits Carver-Hawkeye.



Yeah, that's basically [SCREW YOUR FIRST NAME SPELLING ARGH] Payne.

For the love of God, rebound. Obscured in the Morris get-off-my-flooring last year was the fact that MSU—surprise!—brutalized Michigan on the boards. At Crisler, State rebounded 38% of their misses while allowing M just 12% of theirs. While things were considerably more even in East Lansing, MSU still had a 26%-22% edge.

Now that MSU has repaired the horrendous backcourt situation that turned last year into a struggle, there is no way in the thousand hells Craig James is destined for that Michigan wins the game if they are blown out like the last time these two teams met at Crisler.

The good news for Michigan is they're suddenly a quality defensive rebounding team… as long as Smotrycz is on the floor. About that…

For the love of God, stay out of foul trouble. With Horford out the only backup with any size is Blake McLimans. While he's been serviceable in short bursts lately, his usage is minuscule and Michigan often goes small with Smotrycz at the five when Morgan gets in trouble (or Smotrycz gets in trouble). I can't imagine that's an option against MSU's extruded concrete. The over/under on McLimans minutes in this game is 15. I'm betting on the over.

If Smotrycz is the guy who's out that either puts Novak on Green—actually more plausible than most Novak-PF matchups—or forces McLimans and Morgan on the court simultaneously, whereupon one of them will pick up three fouls in ten seconds. Either of these things seems to be asking for it.

Find a way to generate shots off of something other than the pick and roll. Curl screens for Hardaway, Burke driving to the bucket to dish, Smotrycz shooting over the smaller Green, Morgan… uh… watching other people generate shots… something. Because MSU will hedge just as hard as everyone else has and then it's one-armed backwards three-pointer time.

Tim Hardaway, Jr.: go to the basket. Wot it says on the tin. Also, if you could rebound like a mofo that would be good.


State by four.

BONUS heebie-jeebies: this may be the effect of the last couple games overriding reason but, man, I am not confident here. I think the matchups overrule the numbers and Michigan's shooting from the interior will be ugly, which means three-point shooters can be covered with impunity, and… like… the boards. The boards after the inevitable big man foul trouble. /cowers

Etc: UMHoops preview and chat with TOC; the return post over at TOC.


French West Indian

January 17th, 2012 at 3:11 PM ^

The photo on the left is of Trellick Tower in North Kensington, London.  It is actually a residential tower (with flats starting at £ 250,000 for one bedroom) and probably not the best choice of "towering bureacracy."


The Marcel Breuer designed tower in Cleveland might have be more fitting.  Although it was originally designed for Ameritrust, at last check it was owned by Cuyahoga County and was supposed to be used for government offices but will (maybe) be torn down instead.  It is also at the center of a corruption scandal involving contractor kickbacks.


(photo via


January 17th, 2012 at 3:48 PM ^

but for my money, paul rudolph will always be the hallmark of the style. when architecure students set fire and urinate on a buildng, you know you have done something worthwhile.

that haircut!

the architect of the building in brian's picture is, not kidding, Erno Goldfinger

French West Indian

January 18th, 2012 at 1:01 PM ^

Paul Rudolph is a personal favorite and I think of him as the epitome of the style.  Unfortunately, he doesn't really have any buildings that fit the descriptions of both "towering bureacracy" and brutalist.  His Government Service Center in Boston is a good example of bureacracy but they never built the tower of the original proposal.  Here is a picture via the UMass-Dartmouth Library:


Now that is some sexy concrete !!!

With respect to Erno Goldfinger and Trellick Tower, here is a nice article explaining the up & down history of the building via the Guardian.

At any rate, it is surprisingly difficult to find an example of a brutalist tower that isn't housing.  That is why I suggested the Breuer Ameritrust Tower in Cleveland.  A tall and beautifully dark building of imposing stature.  Another picture via




January 17th, 2012 at 1:12 PM ^

"Where's Novak? If I'm going in a fight, you're the first guy I'm taking with me." -Cazzie's pre-game speech to the team. Look for Novak tonight.


January 17th, 2012 at 1:19 PM ^

It seems like he's been getting down on himself during games and letting his inability to hit shots affect his overall performance.  The outcome of this game could ride in large part on his ability to hit a few early. 


January 17th, 2012 at 1:26 PM ^

shots always seem to come by chance, he ends up open after a scramble for the ball or off an offensive rebound.  I think he needs to become more of a focal point of the offense through mutiple screens, etc.  I actually think he can do a few more things than we think, even off the dribble.  He needs to emerge as a consistent scorer but he needs to be put in places where he can be.


January 17th, 2012 at 1:25 PM ^

But on the court Izzo's teams definitely play with a MANBALL "toughness".  You "hear" basketball when they're playing. It's just time to start making some noise of our own.


January 18th, 2012 at 3:46 PM ^

(Though I notice no one was brave enough to slam Brian).

But I was right though. We didn't beat them because we had a sweet stroke, or worked an offensive thing of beauty....they pride themselves on toughness, and we out toughed them.  When they were getting "tired", we never stopped fighting.  It's Novak ball.  We played MSU's game better than they did, and even not playing that great, we won.