Spartans Dominate, Suffocate and Infuriate Their Victims In Auburn Hills, Channeling the Bad Boys In the Home of the Pistons
Palace of Auburn Hills
Auburn Hills, MI
The Michigan State Spartans played in the home of the NBA Detroit Pistons this weekend. They channeled those Bad Boys of old as they dominated, suffocated and infuriated their victims. They won both games by a margin of 16 ½ points and had a rebounding advantage of +46 for the weekend. They dominated.
A frustrated Memphis coach, Josh Pastner said it best after his team lost. “I mean, they got a plus 46 in two games in the NCAA tournament on rebounding, plus 46. That’s their game. I mean, they’re terrific at that. They’re probably the best in the country at offensive boards.”
He is right. It was a dominating performance that was charged by suffocating defense. Here is a stat that will astound you. Memphis won 31 games. They are no slouch. MSU had 18 turnovers and STILL won by 22. That just shouldn’t happen and it did. Why? The Spartans suffocated the Tigers.
I asked Pastner after the game if it was Memphis just missing shots or was it that suffocating Spartan attack? He said, “Well, I want to give all credit to Michigan State, and they deserved to win the basketball game. They’re good enough to win the whole national championship. I mean, I think any coach will tell you, I mean shall Michigan State did a great job defensively.”
Here is something that I still can’t stop thinking about. Michigan State dominated and suffocated two very good teams. The Spartans still didn’t play their best game. In both games they had some guys struggle. In both games they weren’t great and they still haven’t peaked.
After the game Pastner said it best, “It’s a great basketball team. They’ve got a lot of good players. They’re big. They’re physical. I mean, they’re a very, very good basketball team. So got to give full credit to Michigan State and Coach Izzo and his staff.”
Izzo is a glass half empty guy, but even he had to take a moment to pause and acknowledge they still haven’t played great. He said, “So we did a hell of a job in about a 12-minute stretch defensively, and for some reason, we rebounded the ball awfully well. It’s never easy for us. It’s just the way our team is, and I’m just happy to get away with a win against a good team.” Get away? The lauded Tigers offense didn’t even score a basket for the last 5:39 of the game. ASTOUNDING!
The Spartans infuriated their opponents, when they simply couldn’t key on one player. Against Memphis Gary Harris had foul issues and Keith Appling had his shoulder pop out. Was that going to be the chance for Memphis to make a move? Those two stars were out for a long stretch. You would think that was when Memphis would make a run. The Memphis optimism went to being infuriation, and infighting ensued as backups Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine stepped up on center stage.
Izzo is not one to brag on players, but couldn’t resist. “Well, those two guys had a tough job. You know, Trav, I think you saw the one time where his weight or lack thereof because of the summer he went through, you know, hurt him. But those are some strong, physical guards, those big guys, and they were like linebackers.”
Valentine had six rebounds, six assists and nine points in 25 big minutes. Trice had three rebounds and four points in 13 minutes.
Izzo went on to talk about Valentine, “You know, I thought Denzel, you know, he hung in there too and handled it. You know, we just — sometimes I think we got guys that want to do a little bit too much for what they’re ready for, and yet those two guys did a hell of a job under the circumstances they were placed in, no Gary and no Keith for a long time. And Gary had been playing so well. So now you don’t have to guard a Gary Harris and that makes it even more difficult. So I thought they did a hell of a job.”
How infuriated were the Tigers? They came in according to their players after the game keying on Derrick Nix. Harris had been struggling. Nix had 13 points and eight boards, but Gary Harris lit them up. Harris had 16 points in 17 minutes of the first half. He finished with 23 points in 25 minutes. Izzo said about Harris struggling and somehow turning a light on today.
“Big heart. Big heart. A lot of guts. He’s a tough kid. I think he shines — you know, he wants to play in the big games, I think the big stage. You know, he’s had his moments when I think he had the deer in the headlights, but I addressed it, I told him what I thought of it, and he was honest about it, you know. And I think that’s what’s been great about him. He accepts things. He tries to change them. You know there’s no question, boy, and, yet, he was right. Give our guys credit. They gave him some step-in three-point shots. I mean, just about every shot he took was a great assist usually from inside somewhere, whether it be Keith, whether it be Trav. B. J. gave him one. A.P. gave him one. Nix gave him two. You know, that was big for us.”
So the Spartans survive and advance. What is stunning is that you can point out five or six areas they could have played better this weekend and yet they still dominated. They still suffocated teams with amazing defense and they still infuriated their opponents who couldn’t get things going.
Valpo shot 35% and Memphis shot 29%. They key to this weekend wasn’t one player. It was one purpose and one mind. This team determined that they owned the boards and that they were going to play defense. Those things aren’t sexy, but in the home of the Detroit Pistons, they followed the mantra that the Bad Boy’s Pistons teams did to win titles.
If they keep playing the way they did this weekend, Michigan State will hang another title banner. They aren’t sexy, but they do dominate, suffocate and infuriate. The rest of the nation may not like the Spartans style, but that is because it is hard to beat.
They walked into the Palace on Wednesday a #3 seed. They enter the second weekend of this tournament the team that no one wants to play.