The Killer Instinct

Dylan Burkhardt

Note: Thanks to some free tickets, I had the chance to watch the MSU/Gonzaga game in person. Here are some thoughts on the Spartans and their closer than expected early season test.

roe-zags morgan-zags summres

Michigan State just knows how to close games. A text from a friend midway through the second half put it bluntly, “State doesn’t lose these games.” It seems so obvious, but it’s also so true. Nowadays it’s called swagger and Michigan State has it.

Gonzaga marched into the Breslin Center and punched Michigan State square in the mouth. They outplayed Michigan State at their own game for most of the 40 minutes. They pounded the ball inside and scored consistently while holding their own on the glass. They held onto the ball and led the game for around 35 minutes but, sadly, they boarded a plane back to Spokane empty handed.

That was a Gonzaga team that is much better than most expected. Their young big men (including former Michigan target, freshman Kelly Olynyk) battled admirably against the always physical Michigan State frontline. It’s probably foolish to make a judgment based on one game but by my eyes, Gonzaga appeared to be a top 25 team that should make plenty of noise this March.

But let’s go back to Michigan State. They played poorly; they didn’t shoot it well and they turned it over. But they hung in the game despite Gonzaga holding them off time and again. The Izzone waited patiently, ready to explode when Michigan State took the lead, and Durrell Summers and Kalin Lucas gave them the opportunity, coming alive down the stretch.

lucas-pos-layupIf I need one basket to win a game, I’m giving the ball to Kalin Lucas. The great Izzo teams have always had that guy who just makes the biggest plays. Before it was Mateen Cleaves or Drew Neitzel, now it’s Kalin Lucas.

Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers are the guys that will determine how far this team goes. There are plenty of question marks that came to mind watching them play. They need more secondary scorers, Lucas and Summers are great but they lack a true post scoring threat. Raymar Morgan has the ability to play like he did last night, but he is also injury prone and disappears for long stretches.

Michigan State Player Bullets:

  • Kalin Lucas – The best player in the Big Ten. He’s a playmaker at heart and just knows how to make the big play. State fans should pray that he stays in school as long as possible.
  • Durrell Summers – Summers is the guy who determines how good this Michigan State team can be. They are going to lean on him a lot. He’s the best athlete, best three point shooter, best slasher, and best defender on the team. They need him to score the ball and lock down the opposition’s best player. He did that versus Gonzaga, with 21 points (8-9 shooting), 11 rebounds while playing great defense on Gonzaga’s guards who shot a combined 8 of 29 from the field.
  • Raymar Morgan – Raymar obviously has proven that he is talented enough to be a star in this league. The problem is that he has become not only injury prone but inconsistent. Michigan State needs him to be the consistent Raymar Morgan from his sophomore year.
  • Derrick Nix – I was not a fan of his game in high school but he has continued to work hard on his body and you can see the results. Nix is the perfect MSU big man; he’s a big, strong brawler.
  • Chris Allen – A guy with no confidence in his shot. He’s supposed to be Michigan State’s three point shooter but he hesitated and passed up several open three point looks and also got two three point shots blocked. He’s athletic on defense but he’s hurting Michigan State with his offense.
  • Korie Lucious – Didn’t have a good game or play much. Can make the right pass and push the ball but I don’t think he’s much of a scoring threat from the field. I also don’t think Izzo was comfortable playing Kalin and Korie with the size that Gonzaga has in the backcourt.
  • Delvon Roe – I know he’s recovering from a concussion but man, 12 minutes, 0 points, 5 rebounds, 4 turnovers, and 5 fouls is brutal. I thought Delvon Roe was poised for a breakout season but early returns have been underwhelming.
  • Draymond Green – He’s Michigan State’s Zack Novak. He’s a different type of player but he’s the glue guy that makes everything work. He hustles, rebounds, and has a tremendous basketball IQ.
  • Garrick Sherman – Did he even play in the second half? Not sure why Izzo went away from him for good.

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  • Ryan F

    The real question, Dylan, is what colors did you wear to this game?=)

  • The rest of the Big Ten was sitting around waiting for Durrell Summers to finally live up to the hype, happy that he hadn’t yet. Last night he did. His emergence makes MSU an infinitely more dangerous team. If he can keep it going they are going to be scary good. Either him or Kalin can take over a game in an instant.

    Back to Michigan though, I can’t wait for the Old Spice tourney. Seeing how our young, but talented team plays against quality opponents will be a great way to gauge real expectations for this year.

  • AG2

    I have to admit, I too never doubted that MSU would win that game. Gonzaga frustrated MSU, but they never made MSU feel like they couldn’t win.

  • Tony

    Was Green Man there?

  • mich man

    “Kalin Lucas – The best player in the Big Ten”. I have to disagree with you on this one dylan.. I think Turner and Harris are better then Lucas and if it wasnt for michigan st. success last year, he would not have won POY in the big ten. Michigan st. was less than impressing to me against a decent Gonzaga team at home. I was hesitant to say that michigan would win 1 against michigan st. this year now it looks more promising at least at home for michigan to take a game.. Go Blue!!!

  • AG2

    And for the record, I’m calling the upset: Northwestern WILL beat Butler.

  • maxwell’s demon

    Dylan – What’s your criteria for best player?

  • This is what I was wearing.

    But, Lucas being the best player I think if I was going to build a team around one guy it would be him.

  • Michigan Basketball

    No. 2 Spartans escape Gonzaga’s upset bid!!!!!!!! was the game i was watching not sure what everyone else was.. Michigan st. was supposed to win this game and they hardly escaped.. Michigan st. not #2 in the country.. Kalin Lucas was hardly a factor for most of the game, not very impressed with him..

  • Tweeter

    I dont know if State is the number 2 team in the country right now, but I am equally not sure who else is a top team. Kansas, the number 1 team, struggled mightily against a Memphis team that had zero offense. These early games are all about surviving and improving and that is what State did. We will not know until mid January who all the top teams are.

    As far as Lucas being the top player, maybe. Its a tough call. He made a ton of big shots in the second half last night. But I disagree about who I would take if I was building a team around one guy. I would rather have Turner or Harris just because they can do so many different things. I think you can put them out there with 4 stiffs and still be competitive. I dont know that you can do that with Lucas.

  • JB

    I also gotta disagree with you dylan, I’d take Turner or Harris over Lucas, no doubt. nothing against lucas.

  • maxwell’s demon

    Fair enough.

  • maxwell’s demon

    Mich Basketball – So should KU not be #1 because they struggled with Memphis? Don’t read too much into November games. State probably won’t have a game (or certainly not many) that sloppy on offense for the rest of the year.

    I’m not sure who I’d build a team around but if I wanted the ball in someone’s hands at the end of the game it would certainly be Lucas.

  • Adam

    Lucas is no doubt the best player on the best team.. and he is the best PG in the Big Ten and one of the best in the nation… however, Manny and Evan Turner can flat out do it all.. they can score with anyone in the country, they can rebound, and they create for their teammates.. the whole offense goes through these 2 guys

    I guarantee you put Lucas on Michigan’s team and they likely do not make the tourney last season and are not as good as they are with Harris.. or as good as OSU is with Evan Turner… Lucas is awesome, don’t get me wrong.. but starting a team I’d take Harris and Turner any day over almost anybody in the country

    Harris has been the man given the torch to bring Michigan basketball back to prominence.. Lucas may have just been another Daniel Horton if he came to Michigan. I’ll take Harris 10 times out of 10 for building a program.. Lucas is the guy I want on my team if I already have a program because he can facilitate the offense and get the good players around him into the action.

  • Alex

    State winning that type of game is one of the reasons I think they should be ranked highly. They win, even when they don’t play well. Gonzaga looked like the better team for three quarters of the game and yet State can still grind it out. Much like the Kansas game, it was close but you always felt like MSU/KU were going to pull it out. That’s what the good teams do. I’m excited to have those kind of teams on the schedule and to be looking forward to the games rather than dreading them and wondering how many points will we be blown out by this year (e.g. Duke games early aughts)…

  • mich man

    Adam- you couldnt have said it better.. I totally agree with you and was think about posting something similar.. Harris is all around a way better basketball player.. There would be only 1 catagory that i would put Lucas ahead of Harris and that is ball-handling. Harris can rebound, assit, and score better than Lucas.. Just look at Harris overall numbers last year on a michigan team that was sub-par(played 2 walk-ons) and overachived. Harris did it all with little, Lucas did some with alot. Harris over Lucas anyday.

  • Jalen Rose

    Better way to put it…Lucas is “One of the best players in the big ten” not “The best player in the big ten”. Bold statement in a young season.. My boy manny fresh will do his thing this year… Watch out.. Blue for life..

  • Fred

    Great game. MSU had 20 turnovers in two of their last 3 games. Sloppy, Izzo. Sloppy.

  • BlimpyBlue

    I think Lucas is the best player in the Big Ten, but only by the slimmest of margins over Harris and Turner. However, that doesn’t mean that Manny isn’t a better player for Michigan. If you were to swap Lucas for Harris I think that both teams would be worse off — each player is a really good fit for what their teams do.

  • JimC

    I H-A-T-E Sparty.
    But i will say Durrel Summers is a stud.
    When he dunked on Stanley Robinson in the Final 4. Wow, for that split second, I was a Sparty fan.

  • Ken in Vegas

    I think Zach Novak is the best player in the Big Ten.

  • Tweeter

    well clearly Ken. I was under the impression that he was excluded from the conversation, so that there would actually be a conversation.

  • Adam

    hahaha duh, but everyone knows that ken.. we are trying to have a subject matter for debate.. saying Novak is the best player in the big ten is like saying Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer.. everyone knows he is the best, it’s really just a debate for who is #2

  • steve

    Durrell Summers is sick. It’s too bad Beliein wasn’t here when he was in high school. He would fit our system PERFECT. I’m hoping for good years from Kalin and Summers, get them to the league ASAP. State will need to reload if they lose Lucas, Summers, and Morgan this year. No doubt they’ll restock but that’s a tough 3 to lose and it will take some time.
    I thought Gonzaga looked pretty good, but they needed to keep pounding it in to Sacre, that dude is a monster. It’s crazy the Zags had 9 freshmen. Anyone know how many of them are on schollies?

    Always tough to pull one out at the Breslin. Good thing we’re there during State’s spring break!

    GO BLUE!

  • Nick

    I’m ashamed that you guys only think Novak is the best in the Big Ten…don’t sell the kid short. National player of the year, baby!

  • Mike

    Appling is a dawg though. He will be tough. I expect Lucas to leave. I expect he will be the only underclassman to leave. We have to face it as wolverine fans. It’s not going to be easy to win this conference in the near future but i like our chances if the conference continues to be really solid at the top with teams beating each other up. I can easily see a four of five way tie for the conference title in the next two-three years with all the great classes coming in from teams. MSU, ILL, OSU for sure but Michigan is right up there with the other teams in recruiting as well. Painter has slipped lately on the recruiting trail.

  • Sam

    Yeah, I think we all knew that Michigan State would pull the game out, along with Kansas, and it is a good test for them early on, but I would hesitate to say that State is a better team because of it or to praise them for it. This is a Gonzaga team that, yes, was good last year, but not great, and lost four starters. They have (as mentioned earlier) 9 freshmen. Matt Bouldin is their best player. A team that is losing to them for almost the whole game only to pull it out at the end, is, in my opinion, not a top team. Say all you want about Gonzaga being better than expected, but it was really State that made them look good. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. State is overrated this year. I will guarantee that they do not make the Final Four.

  • JayRich

    I guess I agree with a lot of things posted, but if I was to start a team, I would take Turner. (as much as I hate OSU, especially this week) He just has the combination of skills as everyone has mentioned but he also has the SIZE. If you could take Manny and put him in Turner’s body, I’ll take Harris but there are some things you can’t teach. Turner is a legit 6’7 215ish player compared to Manny’s 6’5ish, 185ish. Turner is one of those players that doesn’t even try and he fills up the stat sheet. I hate him and his team but kid has skills.

    As far as MSU, I think they deserve to be ranked around 10 and move up from there since their front court is so young and inexperienced. They will improve as the season goes on but I have said before, losing Goran Suton was a lot bigger loss than most people realize.

  • bentley

    The one thing I think Manny has on Turner is shooting. I truly expect Manny to shoot near 40% from 3 this year. His shot looked so pure Saturday night.

  • intrpdtrvlr

    Uh, Michigan Basketball, Kalin “non-factor” Lucas had 19 pts and 5 assists and ran ice water in his veins down the stretch. C’mon, man.

  • spartyAA

    Most State fans don’t think we are a top 5 team right now either. We usually lose a couple early ones for some reason, including the NC team in 99-00. Kalin didn’t play well at all last night and he still had 19 points and the basket that really put the game away. Considering his numbers were basically the same as Harris’s last year, I’d take the guy who can lead his team to within one win of a national championship.

  • Chris in NC

    You’re right on that SpartyAA. MSU usually loses a couple early because Izzo schedules the toughest people he can face. He loses to them in the non-conference so he can learn how to beat them in the tourney. It’s why he does so well in March. I remember when the Cleaves crew won their title. All I heard was how either Florida or UNC would run MSU out of the stadium because MSU had played and lost to so many big teams including UNC (whose basketball fans are just as bad as OSU football fans). I tried to tell them that was Izzo’s plan but they didn’t believe me until they saw it.

  • AveryQueenIsAstud

    Novak is a homeless man’s Green, at best. If there was a more striking analogy here, I’d use it. I see the idea behind your point – but it’s not even close

    Also, Roe is recovering from a concussion. He hasn’t been himself the first two games, and will be fine.

    As for most of the comments, they’re pretty amusing. Good luck to Umich hoops – but you guys are need to actually accomplish something before you’ll be taken seriously. Finishing 4th in the big ten this year probably won’t be enough to do that…

  • Dave

    Don’t sell Gonzaga short. They will definitely be ranked by the spring and we will get a good idea of their mettle after games against Wake, Duke and Oklahoma.

  • JayRich

    ugh…MSU fans, Lucas didn’t lead you to the championship game…your whole roster is 4 and 5 star recruits

  • TMadison25

    Two of the keys to last year’s Spartan team, Goran Suton and Travis Walton, were 3-star recruits according to Scout.

    Best player in the big ten is certainly an interesting discussion, but I understand why people would pick Turner or Harris over Lucas. Seems like a three-player race for Big Ten POY. Hummel could contend, depending on that back injury.

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