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Don't Forget the Importance of Experience

#1 vs. #2

G Gary Harris and G Keith Appling led the way in #2 Michigan State’s 78-74 win over #1 Kentucky. Appling scored 22 points on 8-14 shooting while Harris followed right behind with 20 points on 7-14 shooting. C Adreian Payne scored 15 with 5-9 shooting but would’ve had much more if not for his disappearances in the second half. Michigan State landed on all fronts in the first half and took a 44-32 lead into halftime. One of Michigan State’s strongest points in this game was their movement around the paint. Their drives to the basket were unmatched by Kentucky’s big men in the first half and the Spartans made them pay because of it. The Spartans also did a great job of moving the ball around to find the open shot. This willingness to get the ball around not only spread the floor to give the Spartans more field goal opportunities, but also confused the Wildcat defense in the process.

A fumbling offense by the Wildcats in the first half led to a high efficiency transition offense for the Spartans. In particular, Appling and Harris made good use of these transition opportunities.  These two also created opportunities for others by getting the ball around instead of taking too many challenged shots from the perimeter. Strong offensive rebounding led to a high number of second chance opportunities for the Spartan offense. During these second chance opportunities, Harris set back up the offense instead of players rushing to get that second chance at scoring.

The second half for the Spartans looked grim as they had trouble dealing with F Julius Randle’s fired up intensity. The Spartans gave up too many paint opportunities for Randle to use his physical dominance in the post.  In the final minutes, Harris and Appling found the shots needed to secure the win for the Spartans and show fans that experience can still reign supreme.

 For the Wildcats, F Julius Randle scored 27 on 9-14 shooting followed by G James Young with 19 points on 7-16 shooting. Much of Kentucky’s offensive drive came in the second half.  The first half for the Wildcats was as poor a showing as their first round loss to Robert Morris in last year’s NIT tournament. Too many fumbled passes and an overall bad court vision by perimeter players kept the Wildcats from setting up their offensive scheme and finding a rhythm. Randle looked confused in his defensive assignments and seemed overwhelmed when the Spartans guards drove the lane. Their defense looked frustrated by the slow start which led to careless fouls, resulting in easy points for Michigan State. Free-throw shooting was another frustration for the Wildcats as they went 20-36 from the line. This type of free throw shooting leaves too many points on the floor and gives too many offensive opportunities for the opposing team.

In the second half, they came out with a new found intensity. Their offensive scheme improved from tight man-to-man defense which kept Harris and Appling out of the paint for the first part of the second half. Rebounding from Randle led to second chance opportunities that were not seen in the first half. Poor offensive schemes from Michigan State led to transition opportunities for Kentucky to tie it up at 66 in the second half. The second half saw a lot of back and forth that made it hard to pick a winner. Both teams were executing offensive and defensive schemes that gave their team the edge. However, despite their comeback, Kentucky did not have what it took in this matchup to handle the experience of the Spartans and the mastermind coaching of Tom Izzo.