Previewing Michigan State vs. Duke: Who Will Chase Ryan Kelly Around?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 29th, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of RTC. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g. 

Duke was scorching hot during the non-conference season which vaulted them to the #1 ranking in the polls but one of their tougher games was against Ohio State at Cameron Indoor during the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Why is that game important when assessing Michigan State‘s game against Duke? Because despite their offensive woes back in November, the Buckeyes were able to control the tempo for most of the game because they held the Duke backcourt – Seth Curry and Quinn Cook – to a combined 4-16 shooting from the field which stymied the Blue Devils’ offense for most of the game. The Spartans play good perimeter defense by holding their opponents to just 29% shooting from beyond the arc so it is likely that they won’t have too much trouble with Curry or Cook, but Ryan Kelly could cause some havoc which will be the key to the Sweet 16 match-up between these teams. Kelly can shoot from anywhere in a half-court set (55% eFG) and will challenge the State defenders to play good defense consistently against the pick-and-roll. The following are two thoughts around the Spartans’ chances of being effective against Ryan Kelly.

Branden Dawson will be busy on the defensive end against Duke. (Al Goldis/AP)

Branden Dawson will be busy on the defensive end against Duke. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Branden Dawson’s services are needed on Friday night on the defense. Dawson is best equipped player to take on the assignment of chasing Kelly around the screens and covering him on the pick-and-roll plays. Even though Dawson gives a few inches in height to Kelly (6’11” to 6’6″), the sophomore wing has the weight to prevent Kelly from dribbling past him into the paint. Dawson is also quick enough to run around the screens to defend Kelly’s perimeter shot and exhaustion won’t be an issue for him because he isn’t one of the primary scoring options for Tom Izzo. Unlike Dawson, if Adreian Payne is asked to run around Kelly, he will be tired and State needs him to produce on the offensive end. Historically, Izzo’s successful teams have always had a designated defensive stopper, for example Travis Walton from 2009. Dawson has the athleticism and the commitment to defense which could make him that stopper that State needs to make a Final Four. In case he gets into foul trouble, freshman guard Denzel Valentine can step in to give him a breather. 
  • The Spartan defense has been battle tested in the Big Ten against versatile forwards. Izzo preps his team for March by scheduling a tough non-conference slate of games but he could have done without it this season because the Big Ten has been so competitive. By playing twice against Ohio State, Michigan, and Indiana, the Spartans have seen different styles of offense. They defended the pick-and-roll against Trey Burke’s Wolverines but turned around to defend Indiana’s perimeter oriented wings. Due to this experience, their team defense ought to be ready to take on the challenge of control Kelly and frustrate the Duke offense. One full week is plenty of time for Izzo to set up a defensive game plan for this game and he has all of the pieces to execute it effectively on Friday night.

Kelly may not light up the scoreboard, but Duke’s offense is highly correlated to his performance. The Blue Devils hit a mid-season slump when Kelly was out with a foot injury but they finished strong in the regular season once he came back. Just containing Kelly won’t guarantee success to the Spartans because they still have to deal with Mason Plumlee in the paint, but if Kelly has his way, the game could get out of hand very quickly for the Spartans.

Deepak Jayanti (270 Posts)

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