January 18, 2012

What went wrong late, and what it means

Michigan State looked to be restoring order with its in-state rival at the one-third mark of the Big Ten conference season, having battled back from an 11-point deficit to take leads of 57-53 with 4:00 to play, and 59-56 with 2:32 remaining.

But the Spartans did not make a field goal in the last four-plus minutes of the game and saw a leaning 12-foot jumper by Draymond Green miss with :03 seconds remaining, and a tip-in attempt fail to drop as Michigan held off the Spartans to win 60-59, Tuesday at Crisler Center.

An analysis of the last 4:07:

  • Green blocked a shot attempt by a driving Trey Burke with 4:07 left, but Green was called for a foul with the body after the shot. Burke made one of two free throws to cut it to 57-54.

    Derrick Nix was then pulled from the game, replaced by Adreian Payne

    After the game, Izzo said he took Nix out because Nix asked to come out due to being winded. There must have been a misunderstanding. Nix said after the game he did not ask to come out. His field goal off a screen-and-roll pass from Green to put MSU up by 4 with 4:13 left would end up being MSU's last bucket of the game.

    MSU's offense from that point on:

  • Possesion 1: Charge. After Burke's free throws, Michigan played a 1-3-1 zone for the first and only time in the game. Although MSU was ready to quickly get into its zone offense, the Spartans were out of rhythm during the possession.

    Michigan prevented Green from receiving the ball in the middle of the floor against the 1-3-1. He came out near the sideline to get it, and fired a skip pass to Brandon Wood, across court. Wood gave it up to Appling.

    Green drifted to the left corner, which is often an open area versus a 1-3-1. Izzo signaled for Appling to pass to Green in the corner, but Appling didn't see him. Obviously, this was MSU's first possession of the night against a 1-3-1, and the Spartans weren't in a groove against it.

    By now, the shot clock was down to :07. Appling had to make a move. He dribbled to the foul line and tried to kick it out to Green in the corner, but Appling was called for a charging foul while doing so.

    That was Appling's fourth foul, called with 3:35 to play. He would sit until the 1:49 mark.

  • Michigan quickly cut the lead to 57-56 with 3:20 left when Tim Hardaway Jr. made a 19-footer over Austin Thornton. Hardaway sprang open after receiving a dribble handoff from Burke and then a quick ball screen from Jordan Morgan.

    Payne did a decent job of getting out on Hardaway during the screen and then retreating back to Morgan, who was rolling to the rim. Thornton went under Payne on premeditated "up-and-under" ballscreen defense. Hardaway - who has been in an awful shooting slump - just happened to nail a good shot off good, quick offensive action against decent defense.

  • Possession 2: Two Free Throws With Appling off the court, MSU ran a single-double for Wood along the baseline. The play may have appeared to look like the old catch-and-shoot "America's Play," popularized by Reggie Miller and Rip Hamilton, but this one was designed for Wood to catch and deliver an entry pass down low to Green, rather than catch and shoot.

    MSU liked the matchup of Green vs [db]Zach Novak[/db] in the post, and went to it.

    Green caught the pass on the block and read the defense. UM didn't double-team on this occasion (they had been double-teaming most of the night, but stopped doing so after MSU began countering it successfully).

    Novak overplayed Green to the middle and invited him to go baseline. When Green drop-stepped to the baseline, Morgan flashed to provide double-team help.

    When the double-team camp, Green dished to Payne for a dunk with 3:04 left, but the play was whistled dead before the dunk by a Hardaway foul. Good foul. MSU had to reset.


    After in-bounding, MSU ran an abbreviated version of the same single-double action, against with Wood sending the ball to Green in the post against Novak, this time on the right block.

    This time, Green turned and faced thought about driving against Novak, with Morgan waiting to help. Instead, Green fired a cross-court pass to Thornton.

    Thornton and then Trice looked to send entry passes to Payne in the post. Izzo called for Trice to pass to Payne, but Trice did not.

    Trice received a ball screen from Green, drove, had his shot blocked by Burke. But Thornton got the offensive rebound and was fouled.

    Thornton, playing with a bad stomach flu, made both foul shots to make it 59-56 with 2:32 left.


    Michigan's next possession lasted just :12 seconds as Hardaway beat Wood with a drive to the rim for a lay-up.

    Izzo was not happy with Wood's defense.

    MSU then called time out and put Appling back in the game.

  • Possession 3: Over And Back Turnover: MSU then committed a turnover on the ensuing in-bound play.

    On the in-bound, Thornton may have taken a little too much time looking to possibly feed the post to Green directly from the sideline. By the time Thornton decided to pass to Appling, Appling was out near the time line with a defender denying the passing lane. The defender got a hand on the pass, creating a momentary loose ball. Appling controlled it with a dribble, but the dribble went off his foot and over the time line for the backcourt violation.

    Izzo disputed the call vehemently, but when he sees the replay he will see that Appling dribbled off his own foot.


    UM's Burke then missed a 3-pointer from NBA distance with 1:37 left. Appling rebounded.

  • Possession 4: Two Missed Shots, Runout MSU then went small and ran a new look on offense. Rather than beginning its offense with a high ball screen or a side ball screen left, MSU went with a drag screen from the right wing.

    MSU went small on offense with Appling, Wood, Kearney and Green. That means MSU operated with only one pure post player. Remember this.

    Appling refused the drag screen to the middle and went right. He seemed to get a half-step lead on Burke, but Burke caught him as Hardaway sagged to help. Appling went airborne, but instead of attempting a shot that surely would have been blocked, he kicked out a wild pass into the backcourt, which was run down by Trice.

    Three passes later with MSU in a scramble situation and the shot clock down to :08, Appling launched a 3-pointer from the wing with barely drew iron. But Wood rebounded.

    Think back to the scramble situation. With :08 left on the shot clock, there was just enough time in regular circumstances for Appling to take the ball out high on top and get a ball screen from a big man and go into MSU's regular late shot clock routine.

    But MSU had only one big man on the court, and that was Green. He was camped out on the opposite low block. Green wasn't about to spend extra energy to run to the top of the key and direct a ball screen.

    Kearney and/or Thornton - whoever was playing the "four" at the time - has not been on the court enough with Appling in that situation to go into automatic ball screen mode with the shot clock running down.

    If Nix had been on the court, Nix probably would have run out to the top of the key and MSU might have had time for a ball screen play. The play might not have worked, but MSU might have looked a little more in sync than it did when Appling's desperate 3-pointer was nearly blocked and barely drew iron.

    But so what. Wood grabbed the rebound and MSU rest.

    Izzo said after the game that he didn't want to call time out at this juncture because he anticipated Michigan playing zone, and he apparently didn't want to run a play against zone.

    So MSU kept the clock running with the small lineup and called for another ball screen play, again with a new wrinkle.

    This time instead of Green setting a ball screen for Appling to operate from left to right toward the middle, the ball screen was set the opposite way, for Appling to take the screen from right to left, pointing toward the sideline/baseline corner.

    Morgan performed a straight switch on Appling. Appling crossed him over as Morgan put a hand on him to stop him, but probably not enough for a whistle. Hardaway contested Appling's 10-footer in the lane. Then Hardaway tipped the rebound out to Burke, who led a 2-on-1 fastbreak, passed to Stu Douglass for a lay-up with :31 seconds left and the eventualy game-winning points at 60-59.

  • Possession 5: Green Misses At Buzzer On MSU's final possession, MSU went back to single-double action for Wood, this time with Green setting up on the "double" side.

    Rather than carrying out the single-double to Wood on the left wing, MSU had Thornton pop out on the "double" side on the right wing. MSU set it up for Thornton to send the pass in to Green.

    If Izzo had it to do over again, he probably would have sent it to the other side for Wood to pass it in for Green on the "single" side, as MSU had done a handful of other times. But the more you show a given look, the more susceptible you are to turning it over to an anticipatory defense.

    The slight wrinkle backfired just a little bit, due to personnel.

    Michigan obviously planned to double-team Green in the post. The surprise came when it was Hardaway who doubled Green in the post, rather than the help-side center Morgan.

    Hardaway was in Green's vicinity because Hardaway had been responsible for Thornton.

    By running the post entry action on Thorton's side rather than Wood's side, Michigan felt compelled to roll the dice. Hardaway left Thornton all alone. Thornton was by himself when he fed Green in the post.

    If the play had gone to the "single" side with Wood, would his man - Douglass - have left Wood all alone on the wing in order for Douglass to double-team Green? That's highly doubtful. Douglass would have went out on Wood. The double-team would have come from Morgan, and everything would have been the norm for Green, operating against a double-team, likely making a good, smart pass or drawing a defender off-balance.

    Instead, Green was surprised by the quickness of Hardaway's harassment. Green obviously found Nix covered, as Morgan was able to stay on him. So Green fired a cross-court pass to Wood.

    "I thought he (Austin) should have taken that last shot," Izzo said. "He was wide open. He tried to get it in there (to Green). He was trying to do what was right. We ran a little wrinkle off that same play that we had scored on the last two times and it was wide open and he didn't shoot it. But I did say I'd like to punch it in (inside) if we could, so again it falls on me.

    "I thought I had a worse night than the team did, how's that?"

    Now MSU was reduced to semi-structure freelance in the final :14 seconds.

    Wood delivered a bounce entry pass to Nix which was off-target. Nix had to scramble to haul it in and prevent a turnover.

    Nix drew a double-team and kicked it back out to Appling.

    With :12 seconds left Appling drove past Burke. His 10-foot shot was blocked by Morgan, as Michigan continued to play with good angles defensively, getting hands on the ball without fouling.

    "We thought we had the ball in the right guy's hands, but poor Keith just had nothing left, he had no legs left," Izzo said. "Don't blame that on him, blame it on me. I played him to death. He had to run around a lot and do a lot and checked pretty good.

    "We didn't have enough guys do enough things right so a lot of it came down to Keith, Keith, Keith, Keith to death. I feel bad that I put him in that position."

    Wood chased down the loose ball, tried to make a between-the-legs shake move on Douglass, but again Hardaway was there to help and get a piece of the ball and thwart Wood's advance.

    Izzo thought about calling time out.

    But the ball came to Green on the right win with :05 seconds left. He checked the clock with :04 left, drove to his left around Novak, pulled up from 15 feet over Burke and missed off the glass, wide to the left. Green's tip-in attempt, which would have counted, also fell off the front of the rim.

    "I'm disappointed in some things that we did, but I'm probably as disappointed in me," Izzo said. "I did not get a good rotation in there and I've been complaining about that, so that falls on me."

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