The latest loss from Michigan State’s basketball highlights worrying trends

Chris Solari

| Detroit Free Press


Before the State of Michigan basketball started one of the worst Big Ten in Tom Izzo’s 26-year career, when the Spartans were 6-0 up and among the top five teams in the country, the Hall of Fame coach indicated something.

He talked about how minutes between his indoor rotation could work out. But it now appears to be a preliminary look at what has happened since then.

“We may have to sacrifice a little early,” Izzo said, two days before MSU played cold in the Northwest West in the opening of the conference.

The words he used after the December 20 defeat to the Wildcats 79-65 condemned his players, his staff and himself.

SHAWN WINDSOR: What’s wrong with MSU after its third consecutive loss? What is it not?




Those he selected Monday night to no. 18 MSU’s 81-56 blowout loss in no. 24 in Minnesota, was much more cautious, although much evidence points to something greater than just a number of missed shots.

‘The good thing is, it was not defensive. I will continue to build on that, ”said Izzo, who maintains the same focus on the positive as after Friday’s Christmas Day loss. “The bad thing is, it’s offensive, and I’m going to try to improve it.”

The Spartans’ quest for a fourth straight title of the Big Ten consecutive season has endured a significant blow in an eight-day long run. MSU (6-3 overall) played Big Ten 0-3 for the second time in Izzo’s 26 seasons.

And he knows he needs to keep reminding his team that it’s just three games out of first place – even if he felt the Spartans had beaten “offensively” against the Gophers (9-1, 2-1).


Thomas Kithier, Michigan, on missing Cassius Winston this season

Michigan State Thomas Kithier spoke on December 28, 2020 after the loss of the Spartans against Minnesota on how the offense could get out of its groove.

Michigan State Athletics

“This is my job. I mean, I get paid to do it. “It’s a challenging task,” Izzo said. ‘Like I said, the conference is going to be good – Minnesota is still a good team. But I’m not worried about losing my players.

“Where I talked about the energy level in the North West, there has been no problem the last two games with the energy level.”

But there were worrying trends.

Izzo shook up his starting lineup in Minnesota, putting Foster Loyer on guard and bringing Aaron Henry off the bench. That changed Rocket Watts to shooting guard, but his fight continued. He won 1-for-9 for just two points against the Gophers and he is 5 of 29 who shot just 12 points in three Big Ten games.

Izzo said returning to his natural position, that was what Watts ‘kind of wanted’ because he was not comfortable at the time.

ESTABLISHMENT OF THE SPARTANS: Their biggest concern: how to make Rocket Watts take off

“I’m just trying to help Rocket get the things he needs to do,” Izzo said. ‘He was more comfortable on the (shooting guard) year. So these are kind of experiments. I mean, they are different experiments you have to do. It’s sad to have to do this during the year, but we’ve known this problem since Day 1. ”

As Watts went, so did the rest of MSU’s offense.

The Spartans scored just 6 of 38 in the first half, and they missed 10 of 12 3-point attempts, battling lay-ups and deep shots. Stagnation permeates half court cases. They went 7 minutes, 10 seconds into the period without a field goal, and missed 12 at one point.

MSU trailed 36-16 at halftime, the lowest points ladder since scoring just 14 points against Maryland in the first half on December 30, 2014.

The weak shooting carried over as MSU finished 18 of 70 off the field (25.7%). The Spartans committed just six turnovers leading to six Minnesota points, but Izzo pointed to long setbacks as a boost to the Gophers score.

Watts was not alone.

Henry shot 3-for-10 for an 11-point team high with four rebounds and three assists, and Izzo said the junior was not “going to keep going.” No other MSU player scored double figures.

Loyer scored 2 of 6 for eight points, Joshua Langford was 2 of 10 for five points, Joey Hauser hit 1 of 8 for six points, and Gabe Brown missed all five of his shots by being pointless.

“It just wasn’t our night that shot the ball,” Loyer said.

The conspiracy of Izzo also placed his two freshmen in bigger roles. Point guard AJ Hoggard scored nine points on 4 or 9 shots in 15 minutes, while forward Mady Sissoko was pointless in 12 minutes but hit six rebounds.

While pointing out the offensive shortcomings, Izzo said ‘the good thing is that it was not defensive. I’m going to build on that. He felt his guards included Marcus Carr of Minnesota, who finished 7 of 13 for a game-high 19 points with five assists and four rebounds.

The Gophers also used Liam Robbins’ length and attacking aggressiveness to get 12 of his 18 points in the opening period. And the toughness of the 7-footer in the paint allowed him to get five of his nine rebounds before the half, helping Minnesota to a definite 52-36 lead.

“Everyone who knows Michigan State knows they’re a team that wants to drop the offensive glass in the transition,” Robbins said. “So we knew it was important to end the possession so that we could enter into a transition and start our offense.”

The Spartans had no second chances on their six offensive setbacks in the first half. The Gophers had a 6-0 lead on the highway to be in the first 20 minutes with a dominant lead of 14-2.

“I have no problem with our defense,” Izzo said. “That was our offense.”

Still, Robbins hit a three-pointer over Kithier’s late shutdown to start the game, then held Hauser back for an easy bucket. Carr’s step-back 3-pointer over Watts to start on a 9-0 run from which MSU never recovered.

Watts closed around a screen on Jamal Mashburn Jr., Minnesota, and crashed the 3-point shooter of 15.8%, giving him three free throws in a further 7-0 run. Henry disturbed Gabe Kalscheur, a 19% 3-point shooter, too little and knocked off the dribble. Brown and Hauser’s assist defense showed up late, with Henry in the lead, and Kalscheur completed a three-point game that left Minnesota standing 29-11. Henry transferred Carr to Kithier at the end of the half, and the Gophers star drained a 3-pointer back to increase his team by 20.

Now comes a few days of soul-searching, more experimentation with composition combinations, possible pairing of the game rotation and grueling exercises without classes. The Spartans travel to Nebraska on Saturday to try and make it to the losing line after winning all of its non-conference games. The Cornhuskers (4-5, 0-2) play Wednesday night in Ohio State. Izzo has never started 0-4 in Big Ten play.

He knows the questions that need to be answered. He also knows that it is up to him to figure out the puzzle.

“Are we tough enough? No. Are our leaders enough? No. But these are the things that were the same problems when we were 6-0 that I talked about and that we need to improve on, ”said Izzo. “We’re just going to work on it. We will get better for the next game, I promise. ”

Contact Chris Solari: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari. Read more about the Michigan State Spartans and sign up for our Spartans newsletter.


Michigan State Captain Foster Loyer says it’s a time for MSU

Foster Loyer of Michigan was part of several Spartans teams, but no one started 0-3 in the Big Ten. Here is what he had to say on December 28, 2020.

Detroit Free Press