After entering this season being ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press, Michigan State has faced more than its fair share of adversity. Just a few days before the season, the team found out that they would be without senior caption, Joshua Langford, who reaggravated the foot injury that cost him the last half of the 2018-’19 season. In November, the team had to cope with the passing of Cassius Winston’s brother, Zachary. So far, Tom Izzo has been able to regroup his team in both these cases as best he can.
Izzo and the Spartans face another test after falling out of the AP rankings for the first time since 2017. They are the fastest team to drop out of the Top 25 after being preseason No. 1 in the 52 years of AP Top 25 rankings.
Michigan State becomes the second preseason No. 1 team since 1968 to drop out of the poll entirely...in case MSU fans needed more good news today https://t.co/IHH7EeUjM9— Kyle Austin (@kylebaustin) February 10, 2020
While fans may be freaking out over the magnitude of the situation, it is important to consider context. They’ve lost three straight in conference by a combined 15 points, to Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan. It stings to lose a game against the Badgers but Wisconsin is a Bubble team, so it’s really not a bad loss. Losing a close one to No. 13 Penn State isn’t the end of the world either.
And Saturday’s loss to in-state rival, Michigan, hurts the Spartans’ pride more than their Tournament chances. With how deep the Big Ten is this year, the only losses that would qualify as a “bad loss” on a resume are to Northwestern or Nebraska.
Now that Spartan fans have hopefully taken a step back from the ledge, we can look at what’s at the root of their recent woes.
To start, Cassius Winston has been asked to shoulder too much of the offensive load. He’s been forced to take a combined 58 shots in their last three games. That’s just under 33% of total FGA for the Spartans. Winston is a great player but whenever one guy is taking almost one-third of a team’s total shots, there’s probably issues with ball movement. As result, he’s shooting only 38% from the floor. He and Xavier Tillman have been the only guys that can provide consistent offense for the Spartans.
What Izzo needs is a third scorer (or committee of guys) to step up and be able to provide 12-15 efficient points on a nightly basis instead of getting to halftime before figuring out who can contribute on offense. If Rocket Watts, Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry, or a combination of those guys, can step up, the Spartans will be really tough to beat going forward.
The road doesn’t get any easier this week as they face two ranked opponents. They travel to Champaign to face off against No. 22 Illinois on Tuesday before hosting No. 9 Maryland on Friday night. It’s completely possible that the Spartans are atop the conference standings after these two huge matchups.
There’s more good news for Spartans’ fans. Their team is currently receiving the most votes of any team not ranked, which means that they’ll most likely be ranked next Monday if they can pick up wins this week and another team falls out of the Top 25. They still have one of the most dependable point guards in the country in Cassius Winston, despite his recent shooting struggles.
And, by the way, they still have Tom Izzo. With all that this team has gone through this season, give them a chance to respond. Michigan State has proven time and time again that their seasons don’t truly start until late-February and March.