While fans across the country were deep into their food comas Thanksgiving evening, the Michigan State men’s basketball team took to the hardwood to face off against UCLA in their first match of the Las Vegas Invitational. The No. 11 Spartans routed the No. 17 Bruins, winning 87-67. The Spartans put a lot on display in the game, but here are three key takeaways.
The defense is getting there
After coming out slow on the defensive end to start the season against then-No. 1 Kansas, the Spartans have improved steadily on that side of the floor. Against the Jayhawks, MSU allowed 44 percent shooting from the field and 43 percent from 3-point range while giving up 92 points. There were a number of missed assignments, and the Spartans had some difficulty guarding the Kansas big men, leading to the defensive issues.
Those issues then continued against Florida Gulf Coast, as MSU gave up 82 points and allowed the Eagles to shoot 45 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range.
However, as the season has gone on, MSU has shown huge improvements on that end of the floor. In the following two games, against Louisiana-Monroe and Tennessee Tech, MSU gave up 59 and 33 points respectively while holding both to 30 percent shooting from the floor.
This all culminated in the defensive display the Spartans showed against UCLA, where they contained a talented and lengthy Bruins basketball team. The Bruins shot just 35 percent from the field and 29 percent from beyond the arc. The Spartans also did well defending UCLA freshman center Moses Brown, who came into the game hot after recording double-doubles in his first three games and putting up 19 points and 17 rebounds in his collegiate debut. Against MSU, the 7-foot-1 Brown was held to just 5 points and looked like the first year player that he is against the physical and experienced play of MSU.
Ball movement leads to great offense
With the departures of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., the Spartans have had to become a more cohesive offensive unit rather than relying on a couple of talented players.
The Spartans have excelled at moving the basketball and catching the defense out of position, keeping the ball hopping from side to side until they find an open shot. As a result of the ball constantly switching hands, the assists have been up. Looking at the last game against Tennessee Tech, the Spartans had 25 assists on 37 made baskets. Then against UCLA, the Spartans once again put on a passing clinic with 20 assists on 30 makes.
This movement has also led to a more efficient offense, with MSU shooting 51 percent from the field and 54 percent from beyond the arc against UCLA.
Experience over young talent
Against UCLA, the Spartans showed that sometimes having the more experienced players is better than having young talent. MSU rolls with a starting lineup consisting of three juniors and two seniors, while UCLA brought a lineup of two freshman, two sophomores and a lone redshirt junior.
That youth showed in the game, as the Bruins struggled to find any cohesion on offense and got pushed around all night long. Moses Brown in particular struggled, as the more experienced and physical frontcourt for MSU consistently put a body on him and kept him out of the paint. Brown did show off some of his skill set particularly in a sequence in the second half where he blocked a layup on one end and then ran the floor and scored in the low post on the other end.
With the win, the Spartans will now move on in the Las Vegas Invitational to play Texas in the championship game. MSU will have their hands full as Texas just pulled off a major upset against No. 7 North Carolina to reach the championship behind 32 points from guard Kerwin Roach II. That game is set for a 6:30 p.m. ET tip off on Friday and will be broadcasted on FOX.