As the Spartans lick their wounds from a 61-58 loss to Ohio State there is no reason for the Spartan Nation to panic. MSU will be rewarded with probably a three seed and they will open the tournament at the Palace of Auburn Hills. With dreams of another Final Four ahead of the Spartans there remain lessons they can learn from yesterday’s loss.
I have great respect for Thad Matta and his staff. They pointed when they beat the Spartans in Columbus earlier this year some key points on tape that they could exploit and did. So I asked the Buckeyes after their win about what stood out on the game planning side of their victory.
Of course Aaron Craft had another career day, but if you watched that game, his success came in a completely different way than how he dominated the Spartans in Columbus. Crafts 20 points and nine assists show versatility from one of the nation’s elite players.
I asked Craft after the game about the game plan. “We definitely knew they were going to try to change the way they guarded the ball screens in general, obviously with the number of layups that we were able to get in the second game. We just tried to do a better job of spacing and getting them to move side to side and getting them out of those gaps. And we were able to get inside of them.”
I thought Craft’s answer was telling. Trying to get the Spartans to have to make quick decisions on switching with their complicated defensive system was eye popping and to be honest something I had not seen this year.
I asked Thad Matta the OSU head coach to follow up on my question about scheming for the Spartans. “Well, I’ll tell you, with the quick turnaround we had, it was transition defense, rebounding, and having a flow to our offense. They were switching a lot, we wanted to try to make them make decisions, and that was — there were other little things through the scouting. But we had to rebound, get them back in transition, not give them anything easy and be precise in what we were trying to do offensively.”
I asked Branden Dawson after the game if the Spartans quick decisions defensively, in the OSU flow of their offense was a big deal as they prepped? He didn’t think so. “I’d say that really wasn’t something we were concerned about, because after the Iowa game we were definitely prepared for them. We played them twice, and we just went back to what we always worked on and walked through it on the switching. So I would say that definitely wasn’t a concern. It was just miscommunication on certain plays, but we could have been better.”
Izzo pondered my question for Branden Dawson. The great game planning by Ohio State was a big key. “We’ve never had trouble switching, and we did today. Branden politely answered it, and we had a few miscommunications. I think we got caught up in personal battles a little bit, and you can’t do that in these games.”
Head coaches get a lot of blame and praise. That is fair they are paid millions, but in this game if there was an MVP it was Thad Matta’s assistant and rising young coaching star Jeff Boals. It was Boals who identified making the Spartans be forced to make quick decisions with their switches on defense as the key.
It wasn’t that MSU was struggling with switches, but Boals wisely identified it as something the Buckeyes could take advantage of and exploit. Boals wasn’t on the court to execute obviously, but Matta is one of the best in the nation and he trusts this rising star. Ohio State is playing for a championship today because of Boals keen sense of coaching and it is why he will be the head man on a Big Ten bench one day.
What Matta and Boals did will also help Michigan State in the dance. Izzo is at his best in the Big Dance. He thinks and rethinks everything. After thinking about Ohio State’s plan he said, “I’m going to use this a lot, and hopefully it’ll pay some dividends.”
Izzo summed up the Spartans loss in real simple, straightforward and truthful terms. “I still think the toughest teams survive, and we weren’t the toughest team today. We played hard, got no problem with that. I didn’t think we were quite as tough as we normally are. We had some loose balls that where we really needed them we didn’t get, even though we out rebounded them. But today one of the weird things is we were not the smartest, and they were. They got what they deserve.”