What a weekend of basketball out in Portland, especially if you’re a fan of Michigan State.
The already great PK80 tournament was capped off on Sunday night with a huge Spartans victory over then-No. 9 North Carolina, 63-45. The win completed a 3-0 stint out west for Michigan State, with also 20+ point wins over DePaul and UConn.
Michigan State flew back to East Lansing with some hardware as the Victory bracket champions, and also knowing a little bit more about itself. Let’s take a look at a few key takeaways from this past weekend’s games.
Depth shows itself in Portland
One of the key positives of Michigan State entering this year was its depth, with as many as 12 players expected to contribute. That accusation has been proven, and the PK80 was a great example.
In all three games of the PK80, Michigan State featured different leading scorers — junior guard Matt McQuaid against DePaul, sophomore guard Cassius Winston against UConn and sophomore guard Josh Langford against North Carolina. They also set career highs in each of those respective games.
These stellar performances were piggybacking off the three-headed monster that is Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Nick Ward. At the beginning of the season those three were expected to be the top scoring threats, so it’s great news when these three other guys perform like they did in this tournament.
Overall, Michigan State currently has five players averaging 10 or more points per game. That alone shows the depth this team features, and on any given night we really don’t know who could steal the show.
Defense could be greatest strength
Most people look at this Spartans team and normally talk about the offense, but Michigan State’s top strength could be its defense.
That stifling defense was present throughout this tournament, including an incredible performance against the Tar Heels. Michigan State held North Carolina to only 45 points, forced 16 turnovers and possibly most impressive was the Tar Heels shooting a program-worst 24.6 percent from the field. Part of these horrendous numbers fall on the Tar Heels — missed some open looks and had some unforced turnovers — but overall Michigan State played a huge role in keeping North Carolina in check.
No. 4 Michigan State didn't just stifle No. 9 UNC.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 27, 2017
The Spartans made history. pic.twitter.com/wkxxwBFvH4
Michigan State also held their first two opponents to less than 60 points and 36 percent field goal shooting percentage in each game. Mix in 12 blocks and 15 steals across the three game tournament, and we have one really good defensive squad. This doesn’t mean Michigan State isn’t a great offensive team, but that the Spartans defense looks like it’ll be stifling all year long.
Bridges battling ankle injury, but should be fine
Possibly the best takeaway from this past weekend was that we shouldn’t worry about Bridges’ ankle injury too much longer.
Bridges rolled his ankle on Nov. 19 against Stony Brook, and because of that he missed the first game of the PK80. In the two games he did play — UConn and North Carolina — he averaged 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds across 21.5 minutes. Not the greatest numbers for him, but the fact that he played is what matters.
Ankle injuries can surely be nagging, and could possibly affect Bridges all season long. I’m not a doctor nor am I Mr. Bridges, so I don’t truly know how serious this injury was and how much it is still affecting him. However, I do know head coach Tom Izzo wouldn’t have played Bridges in any of these games had it been truly serious. Izzo understands how important Bridges is to this team in the long run, and it sure seems like he actually cares too much about him to jeopardize his career by playing him too soon.
So the fact that Bridges played in the final two games is a good sign moving forward. He dealt with foul trouble in both games so that is a factor in his poor numbers in the stat sheet, and it seems like he’ll be fine moving forward, which is great news for the Spartans.
This tournament really couldn’t have gone much better for Michigan State. It’s impressive any time you beat three teams in four days. It’s more impressive when you do that against major conference teams, including a top 10 opponent. And it’s even more impressive when you win each game in convincing fashion.
I don’t anticipate DePaul or UConn being great teams so if you want to dismiss those wins then that’s fine. But the way Michigan State dominated North Carolina on Sunday was truly impressive. That win should build up the confidence for the Spartans and makes up for that early season lost to No. 1 Duke. Michigan State will again be tested on Thursday in another top 10 battle against No. 5 Notre Dame.