Why does Sparty have trouble against Bucky on the hardwood?

Bo Ryan's teams have given Michigan State fits during conference play.

Tom Izzo has a winning record against most Big Ten teams during his tenure at East Lansing. But there is one guy who seems to baffle his teams repeatedly during conference play … Bo Ryan. Can we find any logical reason why State has trouble against Wisconsin?

Thoughts by DJ

One program has been the poster child for Big Ten on the National Stage over the last ten years. Six Final fours since 1999 isn’t too shabby. Tom Izzo tries to win the toughest non-conference schedule award every year and the strategy prepares them for March albeit, ending up with a fairly poor record over the last few seasons. But the success in March hasn’t been replicated during the conference play by Michigan State. Especially because the road to Big Ten championships on the hardwood goes through Madison ever since Bo Ryan took over in the early ‘00s.

Ryan unlike Izzo dominates regular season play. He racks up 23-25 wins in a season consistently but hasn’t made a deep run in March since heading to Madison from Platteville. The Badgers do well in the postseason but could use a Final Four one of these years to add to their conference play.

It isn’t a complete co-incidence that Tom Izzo’s teams haven’t dominated Big Ten play since Ryan’s coaching regime started in Madison. Bo has dominated head to head against Michigan State since 2002. He won five out of his first six games against MSU. The “rivalry” continues to sparkle during the Big Ten season every year but Michigan State’s struggles against Wisconsin are a bit confusing. My research may be a little off but if memory serves right, Izzo has a winning record against most teams during conference play but his record against Bucky isn’t even close to winning.

Wisconsin has won 12 out of the last 19 games against MSU.

Does Michigan State have less talent than the Badgers?? No way. State racks up a fairly decent class every year, mostly top 40 per the scouts. Their post-season record proves that they can hang with great talent across the country.

Do these teams have contrasting styles? So much that their matchups have been lopsided since Ryan’s system was put in place? Not really. Wisconsin plays a different style than the other Big Ten teams but it is still confusing as to why Izzo’s teams can’t figure them out. Let’s look at some numbers, courtesy of Kenpom.com to decipher why Michigan State finds Wisconsin – for a lack of a better word, pesky.

Michigan State likes to control the tempo of the game

This is a trademark of Tom Izzo teams – they control the tempo of the game. They push it when they need to, they slow it down when they need to. Izzo’s excellent game plan especially in March can ensure a tempo that Michigan State can handle. In games where they play out of their comfort zone, they usually get smoked. All those ugly losses during the non-conference games are usually a result of tempo getting out of their hands.

Let’s examine this year’s losses – UNC and Duke. Now both of them are in the first two games of the season but they were played at a higher tempo than the Spartans would have preferred. State averages about 68 possessions per game but UNC’s game had 74 and the Duke game resulted in 70. Did they lose every game that resulted in a slower or a faster tempo than 68 possessions?? No, usually their talent level can pull them through during most games; but against legit teams they need to control the tempo.

Any college basketball fanatic is well aware that Wisconsin LOVES to milk the shot clock and plays at the slowest pace possible. 59 possessions per game … that’s how many Bo’s team has averaged this season. The difference in tempo is NOT the reason why Izzo has trouble with Bo … it is because Wisconsin is one of the best in the country to ASSERT their own style on the opponent. Just as good as Michigan State USED to be when they ripped three straight Final Fours and a Championship in the early ‘00s.

Here is a list of their matchups over the past four seasons along with the # of possessions per game by Michigan State:


L 57 – 42 (52 possessions)
L 65 – 63 (62 possessions)

2009 (Final Four)

W 61 – 50 (59 possessions)

2010 (Final Four)

W 54 – 47 (59 possessions)
L 67 – 49 (55 possessions)


W 64 – 61 OT (63 possessions)
L 82 – 56 (54 possessions)

Four losses out of the seven games over the past four seasons. 63 possessions were the highest during any of them and that came in OT!! Guess whom Michigan State lost to in the Final Four in 2009?? Butler and the number of possessions in that game? 52!

Control is very key for the Spartans and they have trouble against teams such as Wisconsin who make them play faster or slower or both during the game. It isn’t so much a question about fast or slow … as long as State can control it and even more important, prepare for it.

These teams faced each other a couple nights ago and Sparty pulled a tough win at Kohl Center in OT. The number of possessions in that game?? 66 … much closer to Michigan State’s average for the year.

Draymond Green is the most recent of MSU forwards that make their bones in the paint.

Wisconsin neutralizes State’s best attribute – Offensive Rebounding

Offensive Rebounding has been a specialty of Izzo coached teams for about a decade now. Rumor is that he holds practices in pads sometimes during the season to toughen up his players. Guards hit the glass hard in his system.

Offensive Rebounding % factors in the opponents defensive rebounding % into the calculation. The specific calculation is …

MSU ORebs / (MSU O Rebs + Opponent’s D Rebs)

State’s OR % for this season is 39 and as expected they are in the top 25 amongst the Division I basketball programs. Most possessions don’t end on a single shot for them b/c of their ability to hit the glass … all five players do it practically on every possession. But guess who is in the top 25 to limit the opponent’s offensive rebounding abilities??

(Drumroll … )

That’s right … Wisconsin only lets up 29% for the season amongst their opponent’s OR %. That’s in the top 25 of the Division I teams as well. Once again … similar styles between these two teams in terms of toughness but Wisconsin usually asserts themselves better than Michigan State in their games. Similar to the guards from East Lansing, the point guards that go through Madison hit the boards fairly well. Toughness isn’t just a patent that belongs to The Green but also The Big Red (obviously not referring to Nebraska basketball here!)

If Draymond Green and Adrien Payne can control the offensive boards, the outside shooting issues can be covered up. State traditionally isn’t a great outside shooting team. One three-point specialist (e.g. Durrell Summers) is on the floor but most of their points come from driving to the hoop and the offensive glass. This season is no exception. Keith Appling can hit the 3 but most of the guards would prefer to get their points in the paint. Green is a great outside shooter but that’s not his first preference.

If State can play their normal game and hit the offensive glass, they can hold their own against Bucky and keep it close. What happened two nights ago??

State pulled in 12 offensive boards and Jordan Taylor’s gang grabbed 18 defensive rebounds. Complicated addition and division results in an OR % of …. 40!

And Michigan State’s preferred OR % this season is? 39.1! Draymond’s crew controlled the offensive glass and that resulted in a win … ON THE ROAD!

Thanks to Kenpom.com, these statistics are available to dissect these teams and their historical matchups. But the truth is that Ryan and Izzo are hands down, the two best coaches in the Big Ten conference. Despite Ryan’s shortcomings in the postseason, his planning for the games is legendary. Izzo is a mastermind in turning around a game plan during March given only about 40 hours to prepare. This rivalry has taken all shapes but has been classy and great for the conference. Sparty might have all the postseason banners and accolades but during the cold Midwest winters every year – they better show up to play Wisconsin otherwise it can get ugly … fast.

2 Comments to “Why does Sparty have trouble against Bucky on the hardwood?”

  1. Wisconsin lives for beating MSU.

    MSU plays Wisconsin on the way to competing for Final Fours.

  2. I suppose that’s one way to look at it but MSU needs to beat Wiscy in order to take the Big Ten title. This might be their year b/c Wisconsin is having a rough time without a 2nd scoring option.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: