Sunday, March 28, 2010
Summers makes good as Spartans advance
By Eamonn Brennan
To look at Durrell Summers' game log is to look at a player capable of anything. That's not always a compliment.
Summers can dominate a game, can score 30 points, can get to the rim and finish with high-flying dunks almost at will, can hit long threes and do all of the things that have made NBA scouts drool since Summers arrived in East Lansing, Mich. Summers can also completely disappear for large stretches of seemingly random games. He can settle for bad jump shots. He can frustrate his coach. He can make you think that maybe, despite all that talent, Summers might never put it together. Maybe he's just one of those guys.
No more. After four outstanding games in the NCAA tournament -- the latest of which came Sunday, when he scored 21 points on 8-for-10 shooting, including 4-of-6 from the arc -- Summers has officially made good on his prodigious talent. The Spartans are in the Final Four, and Durrell Summers is a major reason why.
Sunday's 70-69 win over Tennessee sends Michigan State to its second Final Four in as many years. It's Tom Izzo's sixth appearance in 12 years. But this year feels slightly different -- Michigan State wasn't its typically powerful self for much of the season, and it didn't have that typical Michigan State swagger entering the NCAA tournament. The Spartans were given a No. 5 seed; few complained.
Then Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas was lost to an achilles tendon injury in Michigan State's last-second win over Maryland, and the Spartans' fate was supposed to be sealed. If UNI didn't beat them, Ohio State would. This was not a Final Four team. This was, despite the name on the front of that new jersey, an underdog.
Oh, but it was, and Durrell Summers' emergence made it so. Consider Summers' last four games -- 14, 26, 19, and 21 points in each. Kalin Lucas' replacement, Korie Lucious, is a capable point guard but isn't nearly the scorer Lucas was. The Spartans needed perimeter scoring. They needed threes. Against Tennessee, an efficient game played at a high offensive level throughout, the Spartans couldn't afford to drop off the pace. Summers' shooting ensured they didn't.
Everything is magnified at the Final Four. Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green and Tom Izzo will receive plenty of plaudits in the next few days, as the Spartans prepare for their match up with fellow No. 5 seed Butler. But perhaps most deserving (other than Izzo, of course, because his consistent success is completely insane) will be Summers, who, after giving MSU fans three years' worth of tantalizing glimpses followed by disappointing disappearances, has finally made good.
A couple of other random observations from Michigan State's Elite Eight win:
The immediate consensus about this game is that it was extremely well-played on both ends of the floor, and the numbers bear that out: Both teams got points in very efficient fashion -- Michigan State scored 1.2 points per possession, Tennessee 1.19 -- but that had more to do with offensive excellent than defensive ugliness. Take a quick gander at the four factors: Both teams shot the ball well, both teams got to the free throw line at a marginal but not overwhelming, rate, and both teams committed minimal turnovers. There was very little to separate these two, efficiency-wise, and so the game came down to a handful of plays that Michigan State made and Tennessee didn't. That simple.
This is already an overworn cliche, but it bears repeating: The fact that Tennessee made it to its first Elite Eight after the New Year's Day arrest and eventual dismissal of Tyler Smith is truly remarkable. By all rights, the Volunteers could have looked at the situation, blamed Smith for being an idiot, realized their title hopes were essentially kaput, and packed in the rest of the season. (Like, say, North Carolina. Ahem.) But Tennessee didn't do that. They upset Kansas and Kentucky, stayed competitive in the SEC, got a No. 6 seed, and then made an unlikely but thoroughly impressive run through the NCAA tournament. For all the love Tom Izzo (deservedly) gets for his team's NCAA performances, Bruce Pearl's coaching job since he arrived at Tennessee is worth some serious consideration. He's been excellent. And 2009-10 was his best coaching job yet.
I'll miss Wayne Chism. The floppy headband, the at-a-whim three-point shots, the sneakily physical interior play -- all of it was awesome. Here's to four entertaining years of Chismball.