Spartans' Achilles Heel: Kalin Lucas Out for the Tournament

Kevin BergerCorrespondent IMarch 23, 2010

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 21:  Kalin Lucas #1 of the Michigan State Spartans reacts after a teammate scored against the Maryland Terrapins during the second round of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Spokane Arena on March 21, 2010 in Spokane, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

In a Greek tragedy sort of way, isn’t it fitting that the leader of Sparta would have an Achilles injury? Or was Achilles a Trojan, which would make Carson Palmer’s injury make more sense? I’m confused. My apologies to Zeus.

The bottom line is that Tom Izzo’s club just lost the one player it couldn’t afford to lose in lead guard Kalin Lucas. To make matters worse, guard Chris Allen played just four minutes against Maryland due to a sprained arch, Delvon Roe is nursing a surgically repaired knee, and Raymar Morgan is missing a tooth.

Great Caesar’s ghost!

But here’s why this injury is so devastating to Michigan State’s chances in the tournament. The Spartans are so dependent on set plays that once a set play breaks down, whether it’s caused by a player missing a screen, a ball getting deflected, or an Athenian arrow, MSU needs someone to create instant offense for himself or for other players as the shot clock winds down.

The need for creators to ad lib is true of all teams regardless of the style of offense but it’s especially important to Michigan State. The problem is that Kalin is the only player on the roster that can create consistently and efficiently. He’s first on the team in assists, points, field goals made, and minutes. So it’s obvious that Lucas’ production and ability to create on offense will leave a huge void on this Spartan club.

What’s not so obvious is the fact that now Michigan State is vulnerable to pressure, especially pressure of the full-court variety. Don’t believe me? Watch the last two minutes of the Maryland game where Sparty nearly threw away certain victory, literally, with five crucial turnovers.

Kalin Lucas is a one-man press breaker with Mercury-like speed on the dribble. You take his ball handling out of the equation, and now a combo guard by trade, Korie Lucious, with little experience running a team, much less breaking a press, is on a full-court hot seat if opponents choose to put him there.

The good news is that the Spartans open the round of 16 with Northern Iowa, a system-oriented team that’s unlikely to get outside of its comfort area and press. The bad news is that if Michigan State advances, they’ll face the winner of Ohio State and Tennessee. These two teams can pressure.

Tennessee plays a full-court pressure style that can turn over a Lucas-less team. In the half court, they attack the perimeter like few teams in the tournament do. Bruce Pearl may be Ares the God of War himself in that respect after what his team did to Ohio’s talented guard duo of Cooper and Bassett.

If it’s the Buckeyes, State can count on some three-quarter court pressure from Ohio State to slow down the Spartans and test their ability handle the ball.

I’d also bet on some zone from the Buckeyes. Most likely it will be active on the perimeter and designed to take away State’s sets, forcing the Spartan ball-handlers to create with the dribble and find teammates.

Tennessee’s full-court pressure or the Buckeyes three-quarter court trap and fall back into an active zone can exploit State’s lack of guard play. These defensive looks put a premium on players adept at creative ball handling and decision making on the fly.

Unfortunately for the Spartans, they may not have even one of those types of players on the roster after their Herculean point guard was felled by Hector’s arrow. Or was that Greivis Vasquez?

To find favor with the basketball gods, perhaps Spartan nation should sacrifice a Mateen Cleaves bobble head.

Adam Biggers discusses the Lucas news at Sparty On .

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Kevin writes the leading college hoops blog   March To March

Follow him on Twitter:    @MarchToMarch

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