Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ralph's Coming Out Party?

You know how if you have to do some unpleasant task or there is some kind of problem and if you just ignore it sometimes it will go away?  If we all collectively agree to just ignore this game against Michigan State maybe it will just go away and we won't have to watch it.  No?  Fine, but I'm going to back to that five question style of preview I did for the Purdue game that everyone raved about.

1.  How do the Gophers match up?  It's not good.  The Spartans only go seven deep, but they cover just about everything:  big bruisers (Draymond Green), long and athletic forwards (Delvon Roe), guards who can penetrate (Kalin Lucas, Korey Lucious) and guards who can knock it down from outside (Chris Allen), all-around scorers (Raymar Morgan - although moreso his sophomore year) and hyper athletes (Durrell Summers).  Pretty much the only thing they are missing is a big-time center, and that might be a pretty big key (more on this later).

The Spartans are very balanced, with five players scoring in double-digits and four players averaging four boards or better per game.  They rank in the top 15 in offensive efficiency and top 40 in defensive efficiency.  They are a very good and very talented team who shares the ball extremely well and have a lot of guys who can hurt you at any time, and I don't think the Gophers have answers for Summers, Roe, or Green.  Yes, I'm worried.       

2.  What do we think of Blake now?  I have to say Blake is winning me over and last game against Ohio State where he put up 27 points might have been the biggest tipping point for me.  The Buckeyes are the exact type of team I expect to shut Blake down - super athletic, quick, and able to get around the perimeter in a hurry.  But he proved me wrong - he can find the space and opportunity to get his shot off against anybody (other than Purdue, apparently) with that lightning quick release.  As long as he stays hot (and please stay hot) the Gophers can play with anyone - although he is still a terrible defender and I have no clue who he is going to guard in this game.

3.  What's going on with Kalin Lucas?  Lucas, a popular pick for Big Ten Player of the Year, has had some issues with coach Tom Izzo this year, culminating in his being sent home from practice and then held out of the starting lineup for a game at the end of December due to, what Izzo called, "a lack of leadership."  Apparently on last year's team, which is nearly identical to this year's, the unquestionable leader was Travis Walton, and with him gone Izzo is looking for Lucas to fill that role and he hasn't delivered.  In the three games since the benching, Lucas has averaged 15.0 points, 3.0 assists, and 3.7 turnovers per game while shooting 44% - numbers that are all worse than his full season averages to this point.  Some of that can be attributed to those three games all being conference games and therefore tougher, but is Izzo's message getting through?  If I had to bet money, I'd guess that everything is and will be fine between Lucas and Izzo, but it's interesting to think about.

4.  Who is the key to the game?  The key to tomorrow night's game is Ralph Sampson.  Yes, you heard me.  As I mentioned above, Michigan State doesn't really have a center.  Without a key player bigger than 6-8, Michigan State is going to have to cover Ralph with either a freshman who averages eight minutes per game (Garrick Sherman) or cover him with a smaller player like Green or Roe.  I'm not including Colton here, because although I think he can be a factor on the boards - and will have to be - I do think his offensive output can be neutralized, but IF Ralph asserts himself and IF he wants it and IF the team looks for him, he could be huge.

Looking at MSU's games this season, the player I think is closest to Ralph is Robert Sacre, the center from Gonzaga.  He put up 17 on 7-12 versus a season average of 12 despite playing just 19 minutes due to foul trouble.  Sampson will need to do something similar and look to control this game.  And if he has success on the block and/or high post it's going to open up a lot of shots for Blake (and Westy and Devoe). 

5.  So are the Spartans beatable?  Actually yes, more beatable than I expected them to be when I started this preview.  Yes, they are ranked 7th and have a nice 13-3 record, but who have they beaten?  Looking at Ken Pomeroy's rankings they have only beaten two top 50 teams - Wisconsin at #5 and Gonzaga at #50 - the same amount of top 50 wins the Gophers have.  Two of Michigan State's losses are to Florida (#45) and North Carolina (#42) - both who rank worse than Texas A&M (#40).

It's interesting.  Despite having watched the Spartans dismantle a respectable Northwestern team, I have a weird feeling here.  If the Spartans have one weakness on the offensive end it's that they turn the ball over too much - which plays right into the Gopher defense's hands.  They also don't turn teams over much on the defensive end and I expect the Gophers to get many of the same looks they did against Purdue, except this time they almost have to fall.

In the end, the Spartans are probably way too good on the boards at both ends, have more talent, are extra tough at the Breslin Center, and Ralph probably isn't quite there yet where he can carry the team, so this one should be tough and down to the wire with Sparty pulling it out in the end.

But I've just got a weird feeling.

Minnesota 62, Michigan State 60.

Welcome to the National Map, Ralph.


Dawg said...

I think that Bostick, Carter and Rodney will be the keys to the game. Ralphy and Colton will not be able to keep up with MSU's frenzied run and gun pace. Rodney and Carter seemed to excel in the Purdue game which also had an incredibly fast pace.

Last year MSU blew us off the court in the first few minutes with easy transition baskets. Hopefully the boys are ready this time and get their asses back after made baskets or rebounds.

rghrbek said...

I think Dawg makes a good point in his analysis.

Our press has to work and be dominant at times, in order for us to hang. When they beat our press it will result in easy baskets, as it did last year.

Iverson and Ralphie don't bring much to the table in those situations.

We have to hit 3's, and lots of them, or we lose, since our half court offense is extinct.

I hope Ralphie is a factor, meaning 8 points, 8 rebounds, but I highly doubt it. He's not bad, but he's not very good.

Gophers lose by 15 on the road. I hope I'm wrong.

J.Kerry said...

WWWW you ready to flip back to OSU's defense after taking it to Purdue yesterday? Or will you abandon them like you did R.Sampson in your college fantasy only to have him excel since said abandonment?