On Saturday night, Michigan State tipped off for its 12th game of the season at home against 1-8 Texas Southern. The Spartans pushed ahead in the 1st Half, but were unable to pull away by any significant margin. They pushed ahead with about 5 minutes left in the game, but Texas Southern came back and tied it up. In overtime, Michigan State scored 9 points, but most were in the final minute when the game was already decided. As such, Michigan State was upset at home by a final score of 71-64. So what did we learn from Michigan State's loss tonight?
What We Learned
The Spartans Will Need A Big Conference Season
Coming into this game, the story for Michigan State was that it was a quality team that had just failed to convert against a pretty challenging schedule. Having played no marquee opponents at home and facing tough teams like Duke and Kansas on neutral courts, it certainly is not surprising that MSU failed to secure a big win. However, the other side of that was that the Spartans had no bad losses. This certainly does not make a complete resume for the NCAA Tournament, but if a team can at least make it out of non-conference play without a bad loss, that can do a ton for seeding in March. However, with the team's loss to Texas Southern, the Spartans now have a terrible loss on their resume. The season is certainly far from over, but this is going to put even more pressure on the team's conference performance. Now, they have to not only secure some marquee wins, but they have to make up for the team's loss to Texas Southern. They should be plenty of opportunities, but it will be a challenge.
Branden Dawson Will Be Crucial For This Team
It was pretty well accepted that Branden Dawson would be Michigan State's best player this season, but before he was forced to miss the game on Saturday due to injury, nobody understood just how important he is to this team. On Wednesday, the Spartans beat a solid Eastern Michigan at home by 20 points with Dawson playing for 18 minutes. Other guys certainly helped out in that one, but without him in the lineup, the Spartans struggled offensively in the game against Texas Southern. At the end of the game, the team finished at just 0.97 points per possession, had a total of 2 players with 10+ points, and only 3 players had offensive ratings over 100. Matt Costello certainly did his share upfront with a double-double, but Dawson's absence put a ton of pressure on a young and inexperienced wing. Denzel Valentine made some big plays for the Spartans in this one, but Javon Bess, Marvin Clark, Bryn Forbes, and Colby Wollenman just could not do enough for the team. In fact, those 4 players went 2-7 from 2PT range and 1-11 from 3PT range in 80 combined minutes. If Dawson is out, these guys have to step up more or Michigan State is going to continue to struggle.
Michigan State's Backcourt Needs More Consistency
There is some crossover between this point and the last one, but the inconsistency of Michigan State's backcourt could be something fans have to get used to this season. During this season, the leaders in minutes for the backcourt have been Alvin Ellis, Bryn Forbes, Lourawls Nairn, and Travis Trice with Forbes and Trice starting. Trice has easily been the best of the group this season with Forbes operating as one of the team's outside shooting threats. Ellis and Nairn's contributions have been relatively limited this season with Ellis limited due to injury. However, this combination has been up and down all season. Part of this is certainly just the nature of the game, but look at Trice. He had a good game against Arkansas Pine Bluff, followed it with an underwhelming game against Oakland, followed it with a solid one against Eastern Michigan, and followed it with a bad game against Texas Southern. Forbes has been incredibly reliant on 3PT attempts, which make his performances linked with whether he is shooting well on any given night. There is plenty of potential in the backcourt for the Spartans, but if Forbes is not shooting well and Trice has a off night, things could get rough. Against Texas Southern, MSU's backcourt of Ellis, Forbes, Nairn, and Trice combined for 16 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds on 3-13 from 2PT range and 2-13 from 3PT range in 128 minutes. Those are downright bad numbers. In fact, true freshman Javon Bess who saw his first time on Saturday may have had the best overall game statistically with 3 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists in 17 minutes. If the Spartans are going to be a top team this year, they need to see more consistency out of this unit.
This loss to Texas Southern is a huge blow to a program that has avoided bad losses under Tom Izzo. However, this team still has plenty of potential left and if they can have a big conference season, they should be in fine shape when March rolls around.