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Statistical analysis supports Michigan State’s defense

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

West Lafayette, Ind. — As Michigan State prepared to take on Purdue on Tuesday night, Tom Izzo wasn’t so sure the numbers were correct.

The No. 8 Spartans sit atop almost every important defensive statistic in the Big Ten through 11 games, and the Michigan State coach wondered if they really tell the story. However, having win four straight coming into the game, he wasn’t complaining, either.

“I’m not a big analytics guy,” Izzo said this week. “(Draymond Green) was not a very good analytics draft. So, I don’t believe in the numbers all the time, but we have been very solid.”

The statistics prove that point.

Michigan State came into its only meeting of the regular season with the Boilermakers as the top scoring defense in the Big Ten, allowing just 62.9 points a game. The Spartans also lead the conference in field-goal percentage defense (.370) and 3-point field-goal percentage defense (.282).

On top of that, Michigan State leads the Big Ten in rebounding margin at +12.8, a number that is also the best in the nation.

Michigan State roars back but falls to Purdue in OT

It’s been a gradual progression toward being a top defensive team. The last five games, in particular, have been impressive, including the win over Michigan when the Wolverines were only 8-for-28 (.286) from 3-point range.

The play of shooting guards Bryn Forbes and Eron Harris has been a big reason.

“When I see Bryn Forbes, I’m just using him as an example, two to three times diving after a loose ball,” Izzo said, “that almost means more than the defense to me because I think we’ve got some guys that have changed (how they play). Eron Harris now is becoming a lockdown guy.”

The Spartans faced a different type of attack against the size of the Boilermakers, but they’ve proven they can adapt. It’s something Izzo has emphasized all season, and he still thinks his team can get better.

“Stats, at the end of the day, I’m sure those numbers do mean something and I feel good about it,” he said. “I don’t feel great about it because I don’t think we’re always doing the things that we need to do. But we’re probably doing it better than most teams in our league and probably a lot of teams in the country. Our field-goal percentage (defense) in the country is fourth. Either nobody is guarding anybody or we’re better than I think at that.”

Davis opens up

As freshman Deyonta Davis is getting more comfortable with his game, he’s also starting to feel more at ease in general.

The 6-foot-10 forward is one of the quieter players on the team, but he’s starting to speak up, and that has helped him both on the court and off.

“He’s talking 10 times more,” Izzo said. “He’s not gonna go into a salon and sit at the hairdryer area and have a conversation with people, but he has really been fun in how he’s grown. I enjoy bringing him in the office. He actually stops by the office now.

“He has made big-time strides. He has been a fun kid to coach. (It’s) frustrating that he doesn’t talk to you all the time because sometimes I look at him and I say something and if he will say, ‘Well why do you get mad at me?’ And I say, ‘Because you never answer me. Just answer me. Say yes or no and then I’ll know that you at least heard me.’ ”

Davis entered Tuesday’s game averaging 7.8 points and 5.7 rebounds while collecting nearly two blocks a game.

Slam dunks

After playing the first 12 games of the season with the same starting lineup, Michigan State has used six different starting lineups since.

Tuesday’s unit of Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello, Harris, Forbes and Davis was together for the sixth straight game and had a 4-1 mark entering the matchup with Purdue.

… Michigan State made its first trip to Mackey Arena since 2014. In that game, the Spartans made a school-record 17 3-pointers in a 94-79 victory.

That record was matched against Rutgers on Jan. 31, one game after they made 16 in a win at Northwestern.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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