INDIANAPOLIS – “Freedom of movement” and Tom Izzo have never been friends, and that rocky relationship was on display for all to see Saturday in a city where they first clashed.
It was 15 years ago, after MSU’s wrestling match of a 53-41 win over Wisconsin in the Final Four, when Roy Williams and others started calling for less physicality in the college game.
In the past two seasons, officials have been instructed to emphasize rules restricting defensive contact on the perimeter and allowing more freedom of movement, as has been the case in the NBA in recent years.
After MSU’s 81-61 loss to Duke on Saturday in the Final Four at Lucas Oil Stadium, Izzo all but threw up his arms – the game was decided in the second part of the first half with Duke driving and picking up calls at will, while the Spartans mostly settled for jump shots.
“I’ve got to do a better job of coaching,” Izzo said after Duke earned 37 free throws to MSU’s 16. “It’s the way it’s going to be called. I’ve got to do a better job of recruiting because I’m just going to get guys that can drive.”
There was some sarcasm in that remark, but Izzo reiterated later that he has to be able to take advantage of the rules and said: “We’ve got some guys coming in.”
Indeed, with West Virginia transfer Eron Harris active next season, the Spartans will have an athletic slasher playing some point guard and some shooting guard. And if Javon Bess can get fully healthy after two foot surgeries robbed him of most of his freshman season, there’s another driver.
“(We’re) gonna be a different offensive team next year,” Izzo said, “I can promise everybody that.”
The next question is whether freedom of movement will continue to be an emphasis. Some believe it’s not being enforced enough. Some, such as Izzo, wonder why touch fouls are being called on the outside while football-worthy contact is going uncalled inside.
All have seen wild inconsistency in the way the emphasis has been applied, often within the game game. Saturday’s saw 46 fouls called and 53 foul shots.
“Did anybody enjoy that?” Izzo asked.
Worst loss, technically: Saturday’s 20-point loss was the largest margin of defeat in MSU’s NCAA tournament history – though it wasn’t as ugly as at least three other NCAA losses in Izzo’s tenure.
Those three would be an 80-61 loss to Arizona in the 2001 Final Four, the previous largest margin; a 92-74 loss to Memphis in the Sweet 16 in 2008 that was 50-20 at the half; and an 89-72 loss to North Carolina in the 2009 national title game in Detroit that was essentially over 5 minutes into the game.
Still, Saturday now stands as the largest margin, and it was MSU’s 10th by double figures in 27 tournament losses. It was also MSU’s most lopsided defeat of the season.
Dawson milestones: MSU senior forward Branden Dawson blocked two shots in his final game, making him MSU’s all-time leader in blocks with 142. That’s one more than Adreian Payne, a senior last season.
Dawson also collected seven rebounds, making him just the seventh player in MSU history to reach 900. He finishes with 902, four behind Mike Peplowski’s 906 for first place.
During the past two seasons, Dawson scored in double figures in 12 of 15 postseason games (six Big Ten tournament games, five NCAA tournament games). In those games, he averaged 14.2 points and 8.3 rebounds, shooting 58.8% from the field.