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MSU Basketball Roundup: Miles Bridges, turnovers, and the MSU block party

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Miles Bridges looks to round into form while MSU needs to take better care of the ball.

NCAA Basketball: Houston Baptist at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

We have reached the least interesting portion of the Michigan State basketball schedule. The Spartans are currently in the midst of a stretch of six straight games against lesser opponents, with five of them coming at home.

There isn’t a whole lot that can be learned from these games, unless of course they lose one. And after grinding out the win over Oakland in Detroit, that outcome seems pretty unlikely. Kenpom has MSU at 99% or better odds to win each of the next three games. Those next three games will round out the non-conference season on New Year’s Eve, and MSU will dive fully into conference play after the calendar turns to 2018.

So with that in mind it doesn’t seem relevant to focus on any one game right now, but look at some trends overall as the Spartans edge closer to full time Big Ten play.

Miles Bridges

It seems like good timing to write about Bridges after he just posted a career game, but really I wanted to look into some of his numbers even before that. Quite frankly I think his performance against Houston Baptist might have calmed a lot of Spartan fans, and probably helped Miles himself.

Coming into that game Bridges had posted just one 20 point game since the third game of the season, after starting the season with 20, 19, and 20 point performances. Obviously he was also dealing with the ankle injury for part of that, but he just didn’t seem like the same Miles Bridges we came to expect last year.

However, MSU didn’t really need him to be. The team depth overall, and the stifling defensive performances were more than enough to pick up wins over UConn, North Carolina, Notre Dame, and Nebraska. Then came the Rutgers game, where MSU struggled offensively, and Nick Ward found himself on the bench. That was Bridges’ first 20 point game since the injury, and while he wasn’t dominating or super-efficient (21 points on 7-17 shooting), he kept them in the game early on.

What really stood out was the Oakland game this past weekend. Bridges didn’t seem to be very aggressive, and was settling for outside shots. He only took 10 shots the whole game, half of them threes. He went 3-for-10, scoring 11 points, and only grabbed two rebounds.

Then he comes out against Houston Baptist and drops 33 points, goes 11-for-14 from the floor and 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. So that was much more encouraging. Bridges was a perfect 7-for-7 inside the three point line in the game as well.

It was Bridges best game of the season, and his best three-point performance since the Duke game.

We figured there would be some issues with Bridges transitioning to the small forward spot this year, on both sides of the floor. Well, so far the defensive side has progressed much quicker than the offensive side. This is actually really good news because it has helped MSU’s insanely good defense this year, especially on two point shots. It is also good because MSU has plenty of offensive weapons this year to help carry the load. We should also assume that the ankle injury played a role in setting back his development early in the year.

What has changed in his offensive game from last year? Well for one, the three pointers have been coming with higher frequency. Last season 39.5% of Bridges’ shot attempts were three pointers. This year that number is up to 43 percent. Now that isn’t a huge jump, but it’s a jump none the less. He is basically attempting a half a three pointer more and a half a two pointer less per game.

Unfortunately for Bridges, he is currently shooting worse from downtown than he did a year ago, despite the added emphasis on that part of his game that you hear about so often. He was at just under 39% from deep last year and is currently at 35.5% this year.

And he has actually been shooting more threes of late compared to two pointers. He has more or the same amount of three point attempts as two pointers in four of the last seven games, and three of the last four. Over that seven game stretch he has 43 attempted threes and 51 attempted twos.

On the whole I think we probably want to see Bridges taking more twos, and that is for a number of reasons. If he’s taking most of his shots inside the arc, he is likely being more aggressive. It also means there is a good chance he is getting some easy transition buckets. It also means he is more likely to get to the line. And that brings us to our next topic.

Bridges is currently shooting 93.3% from the free throw line and hasn’t missed in his last five games, making 18 straight. Last year Bridges was a 68.5% free throw shooter. Now I am not sure if he is going to continue to make free throws at this rate, but while he is, he should really make it a priority to get himself to the free throw line as much as possible.

Overall the rest of the numbers for Bridges are really close to where he was last year, with room for improvement. Let’s hope that Monday’s game was a harbinger of things to come and what a lot of people expected from Bridges this year.

Offensive Rebounding

Michigan State isn’t the best offensive rebounding team in the country, but they are damn close. The Spartans are grabbing 38.9% of their misses this year, fourth best in the country. And it has been a group effort.

Kenpom has Nick Ward listed as the second best offensive rebounder in college basketball with an 18.8% offensive rebounding rate. Only Aaron Epps of LSU is better at 18.9 percent. In addition to Ward, MSU has four other players with a double digit offensive rebounding percentage.

The bench guys have done a really good job in that department, in limited playing time. Schilling, Tillman, and Goins are all in double digits and Matt McQuaid has the highest OR% of any of the full time guards.

Combine the offensive rebounding with MSU’s 57.1 eFG% and it makes up for a lot of other mistakes.

Speaking of which…

Turnovers

Michigan State continues to give away the basketball like it is a specific part of their game plan. A 20.5% turnover rate is 244th in the country and I assume the thing that is driving Izzo the craziest so far this year. Many of them are unforced mistakes resulting from general carelessness with the ball.

And it should come as no surprise that the point guards are at the heart of the problem. Both Cassius Winston (25.4%) and Tum Tum Nairn (29.2%) are not doing a good job protecting the ball. But it isn’t just them. Jaren Jackson is at 25.5%, Bridges and Ward are both over 15% and Langford is at 14.6 percent. Schilling and Carter off the bench are turning it over at more than 30% clips.

This is a team wide issue and something that needs to get cleaned up. As the schedule gets tougher in conference play, you can’t afford to be giving away the ball on a fifth of your possessions.

Block Party

We figured that this MSU team was likely to set some block records this year, and they officially picked off one on Monday, setting the single game record with 16 blocks. Jaren Jackson has already tied a couple individual records this year as well.

Michigan State is back up to number one in the country, blocking 21.3% of their opponent’s shots. The Spartans have blocked 104 shots, and are now 73 blocks away from tying the single season team record. They are on pace to break the record before we hit February. Not only are they going to set the team record, they could blow it away by more than 100 blocks.

Jaren Jackson is more than halfway to the individual record for blocks in a season. He is 34 away from breaking the mark Ken Johnson has held since 1985. At his current pace, Jackson will finish the regular season as MSU’s seventh all-time leader in blocked shots. With a couple deep post-season tournament runs he could find himself as high as fifth all-time. In one year.