That game was vintage Big Ten Basketball. Ugly shooting, rattled teeth and some extremely questionable officiating.
Luckily for the Spartans their NCAA Tournament bid appears to be safe in spite of falling to Minnesota today. They were squarely in entering the game and it’s hard to imagine a five-point loss to a Top 25 RPI team knocking them off a soft bubble.
Before we look forward, let’s look back.
2016-17 has not been a banner season for Michigan State guard play, but today they had one of their worst displays of the year. The rotation of Tum Tum Nairn, Alvin Ellis, Josh Langford, Matt McQuaid, Cassius Winston and Kyle Ahrens shot 7-of-26 (26.9% FG) including a dismal 4-for-19 (21.0% 3PT) from long range.
We’ve harped on it all season, but at least one guard needs to be going well for this team to be cohesive on offense. They don’t lack for options, but today none of them were good ones.
A major concern moving forward is the ankle injury Winston suffered in the first half. He apparently twisted it and it kept him out of most of the second stanza. Losing the most natural playmaker on the team — and the only guy who keeps Tum Tum pinned to the bench where he belongs most of the time — would be a crushing blow to MSU’s already paper thin chances of doing any damage in the Big Dance.
2. Not Enough Puddin’
I don’t enjoy criticizing Tom Izzo. Frankly, he knows more about coaching the game of basketball than I know about anything but today was not his best day.
Izzo’s rotation has been questionable all season. In fairness, he has been dealt a tough hand due to injury, but that’s no excuse for not playing your best and only big man in crunch time. For some reason Nick Ward was visibly absent from the game during the key stretch run.
When your guards can’t shoot and your best creator is sidelined, your most consistent source of offense AND only post defender with any length cannot be on the bench. If there’s a reason here, I certainly can’t think of it.
3. Some Silver Linings
This game, while ugly, wasn’t ALL bad. It’s worth noting that the Spartans, despite all of their issues, didn’t quit which speaks to a mental progression.
They also dominated the glass, grabbing 19 (!) offensive rebounds and out-rebounding Minnesota by five, despite the usual height disadvantage. And for all their offensive struggles, the guards did a phenomenal job slowing their Gopher counterparts, especially Nate Mason who shot 2-of-14 from the floor and only scored 10 points.
AND ONE: What’s Next?
SPIN ZONE: MSU may have actually dodged a bullet by losing this game. Hear me out.
Had the Spartans won, they would probably have moved up to the #9 seed line from their current presumed spot on #10 seed line. As a #9, they would have stared an almost surefire loss to a #1 seed square in the face in the second round, assuming they could get by the #8 seed in the first.
Instead, they lost and will most likely stick on that #10 seed line. We may be getting ahead of ourselves a bit, but should they win their first game against the #7 seed in their region, they would face a #2 seed with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. Not ideal but better than facing a top four overall team.
Regardless of how it shakes out, fans can breath easier today than they could Wednesday knowing that Michigan State has once again punched their ticket to the tourney. Everything after that is pudding, i mean, gravy.
Enjoy the weekend, folks.