Even though I’m still waiting to see a single pundit pick Louisville over Florida (exactly zero picked them over Mich State) I guess I’ll link up some national storylines after the Cards historic defensive performance last night in Phoenix.
- Eamonn Brennan of ESPN was on hand for last night’s game and he talks about the defensive domination:
That plan couldn’t have worked out better for Pitino and his team. The Cardinals’ pressure was never overwhelming on any specific occasion, and more often than not the Spartans were able to get into the half court with minimal issue. But the constant pressure clearly made Michigan State uncomfortable.
The Spartans finished the game with a 24.7 percent turnover rate. But it was their shooting — a 33.7 percent effective field-goal percentage, a 5-for-21 mark beyond the 3-point arc (and how many of those shots missed even the rim?) and a staggeringly low 22.2 percent offensive rebounding rate — that truly caused a team averaging nearly 1.17 points per possession this season to score just 0.72 on Thursday night.
Indeed, it wasn’t just the pressure, or a matter of winning the purported size-vs.-speed matchup. It was all-court defensive solidity, usually by way of a stifling 2-3 zone. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Cardinals played zone on 45 of Michigan State’s 48 possessions, holding Draymond Green & Co. to a mere 22.2 percent shooting in the zone.
It came from everywhere. Dieng’s shot-blocking and interior defense utterly erased MSU big men Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix from the game. (Nix’s constant combinations of head fakes never remotely fooled Dieng. He stood, waited and repelled Nix with ease.) Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and Chris Smith applied the perimeter pressure.
- CBSSports.com says that Louisville’s D was simply too much for Gang Green:
The Cardinals (29-9) relied on 3-point shooting in the first half and moved inside in the second to befuddle the Spartans.
Their defense gave Michigan State fits all night.
Instead of trapping like it normally does, Louisville played a bait-and-switch game with the Spartans and Green, their multitalented forward. The idea was to jump out on screens and to make the Spartans work on every possession and, hopefully, wear them out.
It worked, in large part because Dieng was in the back to clean things up.
Tent-pole thin when he arrived at Louisville, the Senegalese center worked hard on his body and his game, developing into the one player the Cardinals had to have on the floor during his sophomore season. When he got in foul trouble, Louisville labored, so one of the key parts of coach Rick Pitino’s game plan was to make sure the Cardinals protected him.
- CBS’ Dennis Dodd writes a solid piece on the teacher-pupil match-up between Pitino and Donovan tomorrow. Over / Under on how many mentions this storyline gets throughout the next 24 hours? I’m gonna say 1.2 million.
Here we go again – eight years later – as Florida’s Billy Donovan faces Louisville’s Rick Pitino Saturday in the West Regional final. They’re separated by 13 years – Pitino is 59 – but they are linked forever.
Donovan was the heart-and-soul of the 1987 Providence Final Four team coached by Pitino. Both are headed for the Hall of Fame. It is basketball lore wrapped in basketball history surrounded by basketball heaven.
“He is,” Donovan said, “the most influential person in my life.”
Now we’ve got our storyline for the West Regional final, maybe the storyline of the Elite Eight. The two have met six times. Donovan has never won. Between them, they’ve got eight Final Fours and three national championships.
- Wanna see Rick Pitino’s emotional pregame speech? Check it out right here.
- Dan Hanner of Real GM Basketball takes a look at last night’s win and the Big East vs the Big 10.
And as Louisville showed in the Big East tournament, they are quite content to play any of these styles. They ran with Marquette and won, and played a brutal defensive game with Cincinnati and won. After over 30 years, there isn’t a style Pitino is afraid to play. Yes, Michigan St. had a physical imposing front line. But Louisville had seen that before. And all Gorgui Dieng did was respond with 7 blocks on the interior.
Conversely Michigan St. has not exactly seen a lot of full-court pressure in the Big Ten this year. (And I’m not just talking about picking players up full-court, I’m talking about players jumping out on passes near half-court.) Louisville forced a couple of key turnovers halfway through the second half that brought the margin to 11 points and those full-court opportunities essentially sealed the game.
- Kelli Anderson of Sports Illustrated looks at Pitino’s perfect record in the Sweet 16 and breaks down how Louisville outlasted the Spartans.
“It was film, film, film,” said Louisville sophomore guard Russ Smith, recounting the team’s sojourn in the desert since the Cardinals arrived from Portland on Sunday. “The day we landed, our ‘off’ day? That was film. Then it was film that night. Got up for breakfast. Film. After practice, film. Then we ate and we watched more film. Film for dinner, it was film, film, film.”All the preparation distilled down to three main goals: limit Michigan State’s three-point shooting, beat them on the glass, and keep Dieng, who has been prone to foul trouble, in the game to make Michigan State’s All-America Draymond Green think twice about driving the lane. Done, done and done. The Spartans hit just 5-of-21 shots from beyond the arc, for 23.8 percent; Louisville was plus three on the glass and Dieng had just three fouls. Meanwhile Green had 13 points and 16 rebounds but hit just 5-of-16 shots from the field.
This also happens to be the first time that Michigan State failed to make the Final Four as a one seed in Izzo’s tenure, winning the national title in 2000 and reaching the Final Four in 1999 and 2001. When heading into the tournament as a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed, Michigan State has never lost to a team seeded lower than a two.
In fact, there may be an argument that this loss was the biggest upset of Tom Izzo’s tournament career, unless you consider their loss as a No. 6 seed to No. 11 George Mason in 2006, the year the Patriots made it to the Final Four, a bigger upset. Izzo has made it to the NCAA tournament 14 times as the head coach of Michigan State. He’s lost to a team that made the Final Four ten of those trips.
In a way, this loss highlighted how much Michigan State overachieved. Game after game, the whole was better than the sum of the parts. Louisville’s zone forced the individual parts to produce, and they couldn’t. Michigan State won a lot of games playing an inside-out game — the Spartans thrived on passes from Green and Derrick Nix out to open shooters in the right spot. Louisville took that away, and MSU had no counterpunch.
“That is the hard part about having a team that has to play at such a high level and can never really have an average game and win,” Izzo said. “When you’re not as talented, you can’t have average games. We looked a little mentally and physically beat-up at the end.”