Michigan State Exposed in Loss To North Carolina...Again

Daniel MuthSenior Analyst IDecember 2, 2009

DETROIT - APRIL 06:  Kalin Lucas #1 of the Michigan State Spartans reacts in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2009 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Ford Field on April 6, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images




If the sound was a musical note, then the Michigan State Spartans where writing somewhat of a symphony in their 89-82 loss to the young North Carolina Tar Heels in the marquee matchup of the Big 10/ACC Challenge.

Chris Allen led the band with a 0-6 night from beyond the arc, while first chairs Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious added 0-3 and 0-5 performances to complete the brick-fest sonata.

All told, the Spartans went 2-20 from beyond the arc, a measly 10 percent, with the two makes belonging to Durrell Summers, who showed some spirit in the second half to bring the Spartans back within striking distance despite their dismal night shooting.

Carolina started the game hot behind the inside presence of Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, and a litany of other big bodies, exposing Michigan State's inability to guard the interior that also plagued them in their close affair with Gonzaga. 

More and more it appears that the loss of Goran Suton from last year's Final Four squad is something they are ill-prepared to handle, particularly on the defensive end, where the Spartans were simply unable to contest shots and unable to win the battle of the boards.

Though few teams in the nation can boast the type of size and skill that Carolina can, coach Tom Izzo is going to have to find a way to shut down the interior play of the longer teams in the league if these Spartans are going to make any noise in the NCAA tournament this year.

Though he's a coach that prides himself on tough man-to-man defense, this particular Spartan team will almost certainly have to play some zone, as the Tar Heels shot an impressive 58 percent, largely on the strength of their interior game.

Carolina forward Ed Davis went 8-10 from the field for 22 points, and his counterpart Deon Thompson added 14. They also caused enough havoc inside to foul out both Delvon Roe and Draymond Green, which left MSU's short-handed front line even shorter.

Though North Carolina only marginally won the rebounding battle 36-34, they seemed to out-compete the Spartans on the boards at key moments, particularly late in the game after missed free-throws and errant shots. It often fell to guard Durrell Summers to try to box out players over half of a foot taller.

Surprisingly, though this was touted as a matchup of MSU's great backcourt vs. UNC's great frontcourt, the best guard on the floor was clearly Carolina's Larry Drew Jr., who scored 18 points on excellent 6-7 shooting while handing out six assists.

Michigan State's Kalin Lucas finished with a 6-17 night with four assists, scoring most of his points late when Carolina was guarding the three and allowing penetration. During the first half and early second, Lucas found dribble penetration against the tough Carolina defense to be slow-going, and was challenged by their length when he actually made it to the basket.

All this said, Michigan State had their chances in this game.

After an initial shooting clinic put on by the Tar Heels that allowed them to enter halftime with a 16-point lead, Carolina cooled off from the field and started turning the ball over.

As far down as 19 and facing a hostile crowd, the Spartans chipped away at the lead, getting their fast break offense in gear and scoring some easy layups as a result.

Unfortunately, when left in their half-court sets they were startlingly inept. 

They played with little urgency, often using the entire shot clock just to get a poor shot, passing up open looks for contested ones, and more or less seeming confused about were to go with the basketball at times.

Credit North Carolina's defense for much of this, as their length on the exterior also caused troubles for the Spartans who appeared to doubt their ability to get off a shot.

Typical of a Tom Izzo-coached team, the Spartans never gave up, and it's a testament to their resilience that they lost by only single digits in a game that they were mostly dominated. If a couple of the wide-open threes had gone down late, they may have actually stolen this one.

In that sense this can be a valuable loss for the Spartans if they take some positives away from it and learn how they need to play.

They are not going to win many games against good teams with the type of shooting performance that they put up tonight, and we can only hope that this trend gets righted over the course of the season. 

So far, shooting has been their Achilles heal.

The one bright spot against North Carolina was Raymar Morgan, who shot 7-10 from the field for a solid 18 points.

Still, they need to see a vast improvement in their interior defense.

Delvon Roe needs to improve his positioning and not go for every head fake, 6'10" freshman Garrick Sherman needs to improve his footwork and stay between his man and the basket, and Draymond Green needs to keep up his great body position without slapping down at the ball.

He and Roe both picked up some cheap fouls in this game.

So the Spartans are a work in progress, which to me is not particularly surprising as, unlike many Sparty fans, I thought they were ranked a little high and wondered how they were going to replace Suton in the middle.

Honestly, their shooting should improve, and their interior defense will undoubtedly get better. 

Carolina is a very good team stacked with a lot of young talent that made for a great early season test for the Spartans.

Only time will tell if they learned their lesson, but hopefully they are quick studies.

Because if they sing that "chorus of clang" as a Christmas carol against No. 2 Texas later in the month, they'll probably be given the hook.