Michigan State’s top-level defense and other observations from PK80 Invitational title run

If playing in a tournament atmosphere is a skill, Michigan State looked well-practiced this week.

No. 4 Michigan State shut down DePaul (73-51) on Thursday, UConn (77-57) on Friday and No. 9 North Carolina (63-45) in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Ore., to win the tournament’s Victory Bracket. The Spartans won’t have a lot of time to celebrate before facing No. 13 Notre Dame on Thursday, but before that, let’s reflect on what happened out West and what we learned about this team.

1. Michigan State is defending at a championship level.

After allowing 71 points to Stony Brook one week ago, Michigan State arrived in Portland and proceeded to hold three teams below 60 points. The Spartans’ opponents shot 36 for 113 (31.9 percent) on 2-pointers and 12 for 56 (21.4 percent) on 3-pointers and looked wholly uncomfortable trying to run offense. On the perimeter, Miles Bridges, Matt McQuaid and Josh Langford did well to stay in front of drivers. Jaren Jackson Jr. bothered opponents with his length, and Nick Ward got stronger throughout the tournament both in rim protection and in ball-screen defense.

More than anything, the Spartans just seemed to be dialed in and on the same page defensively. They didn’t force an inordinate amount of turnovers, but they kept playing tough in the face of foul trouble and forced tough shot after tough shot. If they can continue to play at this level, it takes a lot of pressure off the offense.

2. Its offense will have to catch up.

To preface this section, Bridges did not play in the first game of this tournament and only scored 17 points in the latter two as he regained his footing following a sprained ankle. That certainly played a part in Michigan State’s rhythm offensively. But the Spartans still left plenty to be desired. They turned the ball over 47 times in three games largely because of the continued issue of trying to do too much 1-on-1. When the tempo gets turned up, as Michigan State often likes it to be, this group often tries to make the home-run play instead of the smart one.

Additionally, Ward only played 17 minutes per game in the tournament. The sophomore big man will surely see more playing time as Spartans coach Tom Izzo grows more satisfied with his defense. And it will show. This group looks exponentially better offensively when Ward, who has shot 71.4 percent from the field on the season, is in the game.

3. Josh Langford is a game changer.

When Cassius Winston looks for his shot, when Ward defends, when Jackson Jr. stays out of foul trouble and when Bridges gets into the lane, Michigan State benefits. But when Langford is on, it all comes together for Michigan State. It did on Sunday. He got loose in transition, hitting from outside before North Carolina’s defense was set, en route to a career-high 23 points. And it led to stellar defense as well. When Langford plays well in one area, it seems to affect the rest of his game, too.

“I think all great players, they know how to kind of get lost in the game,” Langford said last week after scoring a previous career-high 19 against Stony Brook. “So, once you’re doing your job, it’s so easy for you to do your job on defense, easy for you to do your job on offense.”

The post Michigan State’s top-level defense and other observations from PK80 Invitational title run appeared first on Land of 10.

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