Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spartans Sweet 16 (here we go)

It’s that time of year…it’s March…and the Spartans are playing in the Sweet 16.

In fact, the Spartans have been there so many times (10 of the past 15 seasons) that it seems like a rite (or right) of Spring

But the Tournament…also known as the “second” season transcends athleticism. At this level, each team is matching wits with other players…and other coaches who have come this far mostly on the wings of guts, guile and steely nerves as athleticism. This isn’t about X’s & O’s…this is playing Poker and not blinking!

And so it seems fitting that Rick Pitino, a wily veteran who has stitched together his resume in college and pro’s… is pitted against Tom Izzo, a Tournament tested coach who has built his resume almost exclusively on the Tournament trail.

But when you get this far…after more than 30 games…over the past 4 months…I would be remiss to overlook the stats…so let’s take a look, starting with Offensive stats:

Scoring Offense
68.6 PPG
72.4 PPG

If the Spartans have an Offensive weaknesses, it would be FT shooting and TO’s. But lo and behold, the Cardinals are slightly weaker in each category. From my perspective, for two teams who expend a lot of energy on the Defensive side of the ball…it would be fair to say…a fair number of Personal Fouls will be committed, especially in crunch time.

If this contest comes down to Free Throws in crunch time…hold on because neither team claims an advantage.

But Defense is a bigger story!

In tournament time…Jump Shooting is a fickle friend so more than likely, this game will be decided on the Defensive side…in the paint…so let’s take a look at those stats:

Scoring Defense
61.1 PPG
59.4 PPG
Defensive FG%
Rebound Margin

On the Defensive side of the equation, both teams have good ‘on ball’ Defense and I think it’s interesting that both teams allow their opponents to shoot a miserly 37.9% from the field. In fact, the stats are so close that based upon National Rankings, the Spartans rank #2 while the Cardinals rank #3…with the difference being determined by ‘splitting hairs’.  

As it relates to Scoring Defense, the Spartans only allow 59.4 PPG which ranks #17 Nationally…while the Cardinals rank #35, allowing 61.1 PPG.

As it relates to Blocks and Steals it is essentially a trade off…but as you might imagine…the strength of every Tom Izzo team is rebounding so it should be no surprise, the Spartans enjoy a decided advantage as it relates to Rebound Margin where the Spartans rank # 5 Nationally (+8)…to an unremarkable +1 for Louisville which ranks #124.

Louisville may get a share of rebounds on Jump Shots but they will assuredly lose the battle of rebounds in the Paint.

So, what is the bottom line?

I have said as long as anyone cares to listen…the deeper the tournament goes…the Spartans Center Tandem of Derrick Nix (6’9” & 270#) and Adreian Payne (6’10” & 240#) are unmatched as a tandem and they become the ‘X’ factor.

Nix and Payne combine for 15.4 Points…and 8.1 Rebounds per game and while the numbers may seem modest…there isn’t a stat for physically wearing down an opponent.

The Spartans enjoy the luxury of rotating Payne and Nix at 4 minute intervals so the opposing center may be able to hold on for the first 30 to 35 minutes but when it comes to crunch time…the Spartans win that battle. Ask Jared Sullinger? And, oh by the way, the Spartans dynamic duo are probably the best passing inside tandem in the game with a combined 40 assists.

What does that mean? If an opponent plays off Nix & Payne…they take it to the rack. If an opponent collapses on Nix & Payne…they pass for a ‘back door’ layup.

All in all…this game will be a battle…a major battle…and neither coach will blink…and the players won’t blink…so this may become an Instant Classic.

My take?

At the expense of being a ‘homer’…I called the Spartans Special as early as December 29…so there is no reason to change my opinion now.

In a test of wills…the Spartans move on to the Elite 8!

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