Onward and forward, eh?
2:00 Sunday. The Breslin Center. CBS.
I’m going to dispense with the tempo-free breakdown of the Hoosiers, since we did this just two weeks ago. Not a lot has changed for IU since then, other than, you know, getting a new coach. Gordon and White are still the two best players in the conference–by a wide, chasm-like margin. Indiana still scores very efficiently and rebounds the ball on defense better than anyone else in the conference.
Instead, let’s focus on a couple bright spots: MSU’s home court record and the careers of the two Drews.
Holding Court at Home
It’s MSU’s final home game of the season. Their home record stands at 16-0 this season. Going back the last four seasons, MSU’s cumulative home record is 60-4. We used to take immense pride in our home court dominance. Now we take it for granted. In the midst of our angst about MSU’s road performance, we shouldn’t lose sight of how good they’ve been at the Breslin Center.
On a related note, The Hoosier Report has the following very-hard-to-believe stat: Indiana has not won a game in East Lansing since 1991. They’ve lost 13 games at the Breslin Center over the 17-year period since that win.
Kenpom predicts a 69-67 win for MSU on Sunday. My brain and gut have now flip flopped positions. The numbers and the home court history say MSU will win. My gut worries MSU may be out of resiliency to bounce back from another dispiriting road loss.
After last night’s game recap and today’s rant, I’m going to censor any remaining opinions I may have about what MSU needs to do to perform well. So the Spartans Weblog Key to the Game is left in your hands. What needs to happen for Michigan State to close out an undefeated home season on Sunday?
Senior Day for the Drews
As noted early in this blog’s existence, I’ve been a Drew Neitzel fan for a long time, going back to his exploits for my high school alma mater. Neitzel came into MSU as the reigning Mr. Basketball for the state of Michigan. But he was a somewhat maligned Mr. Basketball. Don’t even get me started on what Drew Sharp had to say about him at the time. Seriously.
Despite his prolific high school statistics, skeptics questioned whether Neitzel had the athleticism to become a consistent scorer at the college level. He was not a McDonald’s All-American. And, as I recall, he was ranked toward the middle of most analysts’ top 100 recruiting lists.
Well, here’s what Mr. Neitzel has accomplished over his four seasons in East Lansing:
SEASON MIN PTS REB AST TO A/T STL FG% FT% 3PT% 2004-2005 16.4 3.5 0.7 2.9 1.4 2.06 0.5 0.381 0.650 0.327 2005-2006 32.9 8.3 2.0 5.6 1.9 2.86 0.6 0.408 0.932 0.404 2006-2007 35.7 18.1 2.8 4.3 2.3 1.84 0.8 0.426 0.879 0.412 2007-2008 31.2 13.4 2.7 4.3 1.3 3.24 1.1 0.410 0.824 0.394
The current focus is on the drop-off in his production from last season to this season. But let it not be forgotten how dramatically his production increased the previous year. Let’s create a hypothetical world where Neitzel’s production as a junior was the average of his sophomore and senior stats:
SEASON MIN PTS REB AST TO A/T STL FG% FT% 3PT% 2004-2005 16.4 3.5 0.7 2.9 1.4 2.06 0.5 0.381 0.650 0.327 2005-2006 32.9 8.3 2.0 5.6 1.9 2.86 0.6 0.408 0.932 0.404 2006-2007 32.1 10.9 2.4 5.0 1.6 3.05 0.9 0.409 0.878 0.399 2007-2008 31.2 13.4 2.7 4.3 1.3 3.24 1.1 0.410 0.824 0.394
My guess is that if Neitzel had put up those stats for his career, he’d be getting praised for the steady progression in his career to become an efficient and productive player as a senior.
So it’s that junior season that defines Neitzel’s career. Let us not forget how great that season was. Going into the 2006-07 season, there was every reason to think Izzo’s NCAA tournament appearance streak could finally end. Shannon Brown had bolted for the NBA, depriving MSU of its one potential returning offensive star. Beyond Neitzel’s 8.3 points per game, MSU’s top returning scorers were Marquise Gray and Goran Suton, each of whom had averaged 3.0 points per game as freshmen.
Neitzel stepped up beyond anyone’s expectations, leading the team in scoring in 23 of 35 games. He nearly single-handedly kept them in all four games against conference (and national) powerhouses Ohio State and Wisconsin, including the victory over the then-number-one-ranked Badgers in East Lansing. And the Spartans advanced to the NCAA tournament, beat Marquette, and played with #1 seed UNC for the better part of 40 minutes.
I may be even more biased than I normally am when evaluating Spartan players in this case, but my opinion is that last season’s performance was enough to place Neitzel in the pantheon of great Spartan guards: From Magic to Skiles to Smith to Respert to Cleaves to Bell to Ager to Neitzel.
As for the other Drew, I’ll keep the recap of his career to a more concise length. But after the 417 minutes, 65 points, and 19 blocked shots he put up over his first three seasons on campus (the third of which was ended after 7 games due to recurring shoulder problems), did anyone think this man would become MSU’s career leader in blocked shots and unofficial defensive captain as a senior? As I’ve commented previously, the most remarkable thing about Naymick’s blocks are that most of them come against the player he’s responsible for, not against players he’s switch on to, leaving his own player unguarded. I really hope Izzo brings him back as an assistant one day, just for the purpose of teaching big men how to play defense.
So three cheers for the Drews. The Spartans Weblog salutes you. May the basketball gods smile upon you and grant you a decisive victory in your final home appearance.