In the past 11 seasons, Tom Izzo has been to 11 NCAA Tournaments, 5 Final Fours, and is now on the brink of winning what would be his second NCAA title in that span. There are not many coaches that can get more out of a player than Izzo gets out of the kids he coaches, and I challenge you to find someone that can put together a game-plan better than this guy.
He proved that again last night.
The difference in last night's game between the Spartans and the Huskies wasn't talent; most people would probably say UConn was the more talented team. It wasn't effort, because the Huskies left their hearts on the court.
It was effort. It was preparation. It was execution.
It was coaching.
I hate the term second-half team. I do not believe there to be such a thing as a "second-half" team. The players are not going to be any different. You are still the same squad playing the same opponent.
What makes a team a proverbial second-half team is that they are, in fact, a better team - they are able to execute offensively down the stretch while simultaneously getting stops on the defensive end.
What makes a team better able to execute and get stops?
Preparation by the coaching staff.
That is exactly what happened last night. Michigan State was able to get stops because they knew what UConn wanted to do on the offensive end, and they didn't let them do it. They were able to score because they knew what would be effective against the Husky defense.
UConn's offense revolves around the ability of AJ Price to get by his defender and into the paint, either to score or to find someone for a dunk. The Spartans countered by putting Travis Walton, who might be the best on-ball defender in the country, on him. The results? Price never got going until the game was already decided.
UConn's defense centers around their big fella in the middle. It works because Thabeet guard the other team's center and is thus able to protect the rim against all penetration. Since UConn's guards know this, they pressure ball-handlers, and force them to try and get all the way to the rim. Usually, this results is a ton of blocks and changed shots.
The Spartans key to battling Thabeet was that Goran Suton can knock down perimeter jumpers, which would have forced Thabeet to come away from the rim. But Thabeet didn't cover Suton. He was on Delvon Roe most of the game, while Adrien was the one that chased Suton around the perimeter. About midway through the second half, Izzo made a chance, playing Raymar Morgan as the four, which forced Thabeet to have to cover Suton. This opened up the paint for penetration, and UConn could not get big stops during the last 10 minutes of the game.
This also allowed Michigan State's transition game to flourish. They did a pretty good job of beating the Huskies down the floor with two bigs on the court, but with four perimeter players out there, the Huskies didn't stand a chance. It was this transition game that eventually did in the Huskies.
So while you laud the ability of Kalin Lucas, who scored 21 points; credit Raymar Morgan for battling through injuries and illnesses to go for 18 points and 9 boards; and drop your jaw at the athletic ability of Durrell Summers, remember this:
If it were not for Izzo's coaching, the Spartans may not have been in a situation where they could be this successful.