It wasn’t pretty, but let’s not get picky. Tom Izzo’s bunch bounced back from a deflating loss to Northeastern to beat a talented Oakland team in a game that was sloppy and riddled with fouls. They did it mostly thanks to two freshmen, so we’ll start there.
1. The Cassius and Puddin’ Show
It looks like Izzo has found a maestro comfortable doing everything offensively — shooting, passing, driving — and a versatile big man with soft hands to pair with him.
Right now, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward are the best players on the team, by a pretty wide margin. Redundant, perhaps, but the importance of the development really cannot be overstated.
Winston followed up a career high scoring game with another strong line (9 pts, 8 assists, 2 steals and only 2 turnovers) that included several next-level dishes. An important byproduct of Winston’s play is the relegation of Tum Tum Nairn to a more fitting bench role (he played only 11 minutes).
Ward must’ve been jealous because he came to ball, scoring a career-high 25 with 9 rebounds and a block. He can be a bit of a black hole in the post, but having a guy who can get you two in the paint more often than not is a major resource for a still-developing team.
Add in a healthy Miles Bridges and you’ve got an exciting young trio to build around.
2. Wanted: Wing Help
MSU needs the combination of Eron Harris, Matt McQuaid, Josh Langford and Alvin Ellis to create a semi-efficient and functional rotation. In this one, they kinda got that.
Harris bounced back from his late-game benching with a strong defensive performance and 15 points. Ellis took some of Langford’s minutes (25 to 15) and responded with 8 points and a couple three’s, but did have some patented turnovers that make you marvel at Izzo’s self-control.
McQuaid’s struggles continued, however, especially from deep, where he went only 1-for-5. He’s only shooting 35% from three on the year — down from almost 41% in 2015 — and for a guy who is pretty one-dimensional and supposed to be a lights out shooter, that’s concerning.
With all the injuries, there isn’t much choice but to play him, but if others progress it’ll be hard to find minutes for a three-point specialist who doesn’t hit many three’s.
3. Free Throw Woes
This officiating crew must have watched the tape of last year’s whistle-palooza because they were really bad. A whopping 53 fouls were called, many of them of the touch variety, which led to a free throw parade and, once again, MSU was unable to capitalize.
As a team, the Spartans were 24-of-37 (64.9%), which kept them from putting Oakland away. This has already hurt them and will continue to do so if they can’t get at least a little better.