Much like the season, today’s game against Indiana was up and down. The first half was as bad a half as MSU has played all year but the second was much more competitive.
The worst part of the whole thing was that we had to listen to Dan Dakich hack his way through yet another broadcast.
Let’s examine what went down.
1. Defensive Deficiencies
That picture pretty much sums it up.
Once again, Michigan State was a mess on defense, especially the perimeter. IU started off absolutely scalding hot, hitting their first six threes with James Blackmon Jr and Robert Johnson doing most of the damage on wide open looks. Just like against OSU, this was the fastball MSU knew was coming but couldn’t hit.
Blackmon, in particular, went bonkers matching a career-high with 33 points (11-of-16, 6-of-10 from 3). He was guarded by Eron Harris most of the day which went about as well as you would expect. Harris did play well offensively, which was a nice change of pace, and as long as he does that Tom Izzo is going to simply have to deal with his lapses on the other end.
Matt McQuaid once again brought nothing to the table but was an especially noticeable liability on defense, where he let Johnson get open a couple times. The sophomore wasn’t able to do anything on offense, either, going scoreless and turning the ball over three times. He didn’t play in the second half and, lo and behold, MSU got themselves back into the game, thanks mostly to one young man.
2. The Winston Effect
So you're telling me that when Cassius Winston plays well and Matt McQuaid doesn't play at all, MSU is a better team? WEIRD.— Austin C. Smith (@ACSmith06) January 21, 2017
We talked about it on The Only Podcast this week, but if this team wants to reach its peak — and what that is is very up for debate — Cassius Winston needs to be playing point guard during the crunch time moments.
Even though they lost the game, and his stats aren’t eye-popping (5 pts, 3 assts, 2 rebs) it was clear that Winston was the engine making the whole thing go. On a team that is offensively limited, having a point guard who can make things happen for himself and get others involved within the natural flow of the offense is priceless.
Like with Harris, Izzo might not have a choice but to take the good with the bad when it comes to his point guard. Winston, who had been scuffling lately, is the only player capable of handling the offensive demands he places on his lead guards, but is not going to be the defensive player Tum Tum Nairn is. That’s the situation, it’s up to Izzo to navigate it.
3. NIT? Not so fast
There were a lot, and I mean A LOT, of folks on Twitter throughout the first half of this game saying that MSU would miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996-97.
Pump the brakes.
Is it possible they miss the dance? Certainly, but they’re 12-8 with 11 regular season games and a conference tournament to go, in a league that is anything but predictable. This team has major flaws, can be infuriating to watch, and their backs may be approaching the wall, but there is time to right the ship if they can start making the most of their increasingly limited opportunities.
Jumping off the bandwagon after losing on the road to a talented and scorching-hot Indiana team is a little dramatic....for now.