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Michigan State 54, Illinois 59: Kneejerk Reactions

Basketball goes to DEFCON 3

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes these recaps are hard to write because basketball is a complex sport, you know? This is not one of those recaps. This one is simple.

If MSU is able to shoot 72% from the line (13 for 18 instead of 7 for 18) this game is a win. Shooting just 38.9% from the line is unacceptable. There were other issues too, of course, but none quite as simple.

I don't know where this team goes from here. The loss drops Michigan State to 15-8 (6-4). Does a record of 19-12 (10-8) and one win in the Big Ten Tournament get the Spartans in the tournament? That wasn't a rhetorical question. I really don't know.

The Big Ten is not exactly murderer's row this year, and every game other than at Wisconsin is winnable. The flipside to that point is that every game is also quite lose-able, too. And because of the relative weakness of the conference, there are precious few opportunities to get signature wins. That Wisconsin game, the Ohio State game at home on (Denzel) Valentine's Day and the regular season finale at Indiana are perhaps the only chances for quality wins going forward.

Because of all of the factors above, the variance for the outcomes for the remaining eight games is quite high. I wouldn't be surprised by any record between 3-5 and 6-2. The low end of that scale probably drops MSU out of the tournament. The high end of that scale puts them pretty safely in.

For all of those reasons, I've downgraded MSU to DEFCON 3 (or use SpartanDan's nomenclature, BUBBLECON 3). This team needs to avoid bad losses, and there's an opportunity for one at Northwestern on Tuesday.

A few bullets before I go:

  • Branden Dawson is a frustrating player. I thought we were over the hump with him when it comes to the intensity narrative but he came away with just 6 rebounds and went invisible for long stretches. Illinois was starting a true frosh in Leron Black who played just 17 minutes due to foul trouble. In his place, they played a guard-heavy lineup. To Dawson's credit he was efficient when he did take shots, going 6 for 7 from the field. But he should have dominated, and he didn't.
  • Three-point shooting has been surprisingly poor since the Iowa game. MSU hasn't shot above 40% from three since then, and to me this should be a quality three-point shooting team with Bryn Forbes, Travis Trice, and Denzel Valentine (and to a lesser extent, Marvin Clark). Forbes and Trice went a combined 2 for 8 from beyond the arc in this game. That's got to turn around at some point, right?
  • Javon Bess didn't play today and I think that really hurt. In his place, Alvin Ellis played 19 minutes and went 1-4 from the field with 1 rebound and 1 assist. Visually, Ellis didn't look too bad, but I just don't understand how he could play 16 more minutes than Marvin Clark in this game. It seemed like going big might've been a good move in a pretty slow game, and Valentine has the versatility to play the 2-guard spot if necessary.
  • The technical on Jaylon Tate seemed questionable, but I understand why the refs did it. It seems like Tate's bump was unnecessary and over the top; you should be able to box out the shooter but you shouldn't get that physical with someone not expecting the bump.
  • Speaking of Trice, I thought he showed great toughness given his general banged-up-edness. He single-handedly stopped a two-man Illini fast break at one point. He didn't have a great game, but I did appreciate the way he competed.