What in god’s name has happened to the Michigan State Spartans? This can’t be the same team that was ranked No. 1 just a few days ago and was steamrolling everyone in their path.
Michigan State hit rock bottom on Saturday when in-state rival Michigan came into the Breslin Center and walked away with a 10-point victory over the Spartans. It was an embarrassing game for Michigan State as the Wolverines flat out took over in the second half and made all of the winning plays while the Spartans didn’t. It’s also double painful that Michigan State won’t get a chance at revenge with Saturday being the only guaranteed matchup this year — still crossing my fingers for a rematch in the Big Ten Tournament.
The loss was the Spartans’ second in its last three games, and the one win sandwiched between those double-digit losses was a lackluster home victory over bottom-feeder Rutgers. And that could have been a loss as well if Corey Sanders hits his buzzerbeater jumper. Michigan State now finds themselves two games back of Purdue and Ohio State — who are both rolling right now — in the Big Ten standings, and making me wonder how they are going to figure this thing out.
Well, I have a few suggestions that could help explain this terrible recent stretch of games and what must be done to help get the Spartans out of this rut. Let’s take a look at a few reasons for why we’ve seen Michigan State fall flat on their face as of late.
Turnovers, turnovers and more turnovers
If you’ve been following my coverage of Michigan State this year, you know where I stand on the turnovers issue. You know how I’ve harped and harped on this issue all season long, and how I said eventually it would burn this team. Well it is starting to burn them.
Michigan State has turned the ball over an average of 13.7 times across this terrible three-game stretch. The turnovers issue was especially noticed on Saturday when Michigan State turned it over an astonishing 17 times against Michigan. That’s extremely terrible, especially for a team that is as talented as the Spartans are.
Michigan State has now reached double-digits in turnovers in all but three games this year. Three out of 19 games. That won’t cut it. By this point in the season, I’m not expecting Michigan State to become an extremely careful team that will constantly win the turnover advantage, but this area must be improved at least a little bit. A good start is by trying to keep it under 12 turnovers per game. Let’s see if they can start there because right now that doesn’t even seem possible on a consistent basis.
Not hitting three-ball like they were before
The Spartans have shot the long-ball pretty darn well for most of this season, but lately they’ve struggled and that has led to some rough outings.
Michigan State is shooting 41.2 percent from three-point range this year — that ranks 13th nationally. However, across these past three games the Spartans are shooting only 33.3 percent and even worse in their two recent losses — 26.3 percent. For a team that normally shoots it so well from behind the arc, less than 30 percent won’t cut it. Especially when you combine that with the abundance of turnovers.
The solution to this problem is pretty easy — make your open looks. Michigan State has the guys capable of hitting three-point shots — even some of their bigs have proven they can — so I’m not truly worried about this area. The three-ball will come back, but this little drought should show Michigan State that they need to figure out a backup plan when shots aren’t going in from outside.
Need more from bench
Michigan State has been hailed as a very deep team this year, but that hasn’t been the case over the past few games. The bench has been a no-show during this three-game stretch.
In the last three games, the bench has combined for 21 points, which averages out to seven points per game. In comparison, the Spartans have gotten a combined 17.7 points per game on the season out of its six guys that play regular minutes off the bench. So there has been a noticeable drop off lately.
One non-starter who’s been a key contributor at times is junior guard Matt McQuaid. He’s averaging 6.5 points across 19.6 minutes per game this year. However, during these last three games he has scored only three points and is only 1-for-7 on three-point attempts. He’s not a guy that is ever going to be relied upon to dominate a game, but he’s a spark-plug deep shooting threat off the bench so his absence over the past few games has been noticed.
Right now, the Spartans’ bench is still eating up minutes and providing depth in that regard but is not producing enough. Especially, McQuaid. Hopefully he can get back on track because he was off to a very good start to this season before this recent drought.
It seems like every year Michigan State falls into a little rut during the Big Ten campaign. That is obviously the case right now so it’s time to panic … at least not yet. The Spartans can’t really afford to drop another game this month if they plan on winning the Big Ten, especially with how tough the February schedule is looking. So that means they must correct these three problems immediately, and I’m confident they will.
The talent is there, and I don’t doubt Tom Izzo and his coaching staff. They are going to figure it out one way or the other, and I know it’s cliche to say Izzo will have them ready by March but he will. I’m confident that’ll be the case. However, if they don’t figure it out soon, they’ll miss out on winning the Big Ten and make their road to San Antonio only harder by the time March rolls around.