The Illinois game was a microcosm of MSU’s season to date: so much good and so much bad at the same time. The biggest takeaway, though, was this.
Not sure I can oversell this Tom Izzo exchange with Bridges, it is hilarious pic.twitter.com/7xeCIHIDpf— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 2, 2017
That clip, like this game, is Tom Izzo in a nutshell. He may seem terrifying and he will scream in your face with no hesitation, but at the end of the day he cares about his guys as if they were kids of his own.
Anyways, I blame the loss the toothbrush holder promotion. Damn you Illini and your creative giveaways.
Now for the final test, Maryland. The Terps and Spartans have not met this year but, like last game, will do so for the first time on Senior Night. They’ve flirted with the Top 25 all season but Maryland is definitely a beatable team.
Can MSU finally drive a stake into the heart of the bubble or will they continue to play with fire heading into the Big Ten Tournament?
- Record: 23-7 (11-6 Conference / 12-5 Home)
- Best Win: vs Minnesota (RPI: 18), 85-78
- Worst Loss: @ Penn St (RPI: 95), 64-70
Last Five Games
- 2/28 — @ Rutgers, W 79-59
- 2/25 — vs Iowa, L 69-83
- 2/22 — vs Minnesota, L 75-89
- 2/19 — @ #11 Wisconsin , L 60-71
- 2/15 — @ Northwestern, W 74-64
Until crushing Rutgers earlier this week, Maryland was in the midst of an ugly skid that began by blowing a seven-point halftime lead in Madison. They backed that up with two double-digit home losses to Minnesota and Iowa. The Gophers you can excuse, but getting smacked on your own floor by Iowa just three days later speaks to some deeper issues.
Offensively, this team doesn’t do anything particularly well. They can’t really shoot: only one player is shooting the deep ball at over 40%, and only two rotation players shooting free throws over 70%. They aren’t great on the glass: their two leading rebounders are 6’7” freshmen swingmen averaging a combined 11.2 boards. They don’t share it overly well, either: only two players average more than 2.6 assists.
Defensively, they’ve struggled since losing 7’1” center Michal Cekovsky to injury in the Wisconsin game but do have length at most other positions. Although, that length does not manifest itself in the turnover category (210th nationally in turnover margin at -0.5).
When you look at their schedule, it’s hard to tell why they were ranked in the Top 25 most of the season. Their toughest non-conference opponent was Oklahoma State, currently a 7-seed, and in conference it has been a mixed bag without a “signature win”.
This is a team in the midst of a season-long search for identity, but, in reality, that identity begins and ends with one young man.
Terps To Know
Melo Trimble has been the face of Maryland’s program since he stepped foot on campus. He became an almost immediate household name thanks to a freshman year where he averaged 16.2 points per game, shot 41.2% from three-point range and chipped in three-plus rebounds and assists, keeping Maryland in the Top 10 for long portions of the season.
Most thought Trimble was bound for the NBA but he surprised everyone coming back for a sophomore campaign. His second year numbers were reflective of another good team as his assists spiked to nearly five and his scoring dipped thanks to other options on the floor. This season, he is the clear-cut alpha and his numbers are indicative of a team that needs him to do a lot of the heavy lifting himself.
He’s averaging a career high in points (16.9) and shot attempts (12.3) and his assists are back down under four. The only other two scorers to average double-digits, Justin Jackson and Anthony Cowan, are both freshmen, as is Kevin Huerter, who averages the second most minutes on the team.
There is a lot on his plate, which for a player of his talent is generally OK, but the issue is that what separated Trimble his freshman year — a lights out shooting stroke — is not what it once was.
Trimble’s still an excellent free throw shooter at 80% but that’s down from almost 87% a year ago and, even more concerning, is that his three-point shot, which was outstanding as a freshman (41.2%), has not really bounced back a bit from a disastrous sophomore season (31.5% to 33.5%).
Melo is not the marksman he was once thought to be and as a point guard who’s relied on to create just about everything, that can make life tough.
How Does MSU Match Up
First and foremost, Michigan State needs to slow Trimble down. Considering how poor MSU’s perimeter defense has been, that’s much easier said that done. The key is doing what Wisconsin did in their second half comeback: limiting his ability to get into the lane where he’s at his most dangerous.
Jackson is the only stud three-point shooter (44.1%) but he, Cowan, Huerter and Jared Nickens all feed off of Trimble’s drive-and-kick game. When Melo can’t get room, it leads to a lot of standing around, and due to the lack of a true post presence there isn’t a high-percentage bailout option, a la what MSU has in Nick Ward.
Offensively, Michigan State needs to STOP TURNING THE BALL OVER. The Spartans committed 15 turnovers against Illinois, helping spark two huge runs for the Illini, one in each half. Instead of building a lead, they put themselves into a hole they couldn’t climb out of. Maryland is not the same team Illinois is defensively but it’s still up to the guards to be strong with the ball.
Otherwise, go to Nick Ward and try to get center Damonte Dodd into foul trouble. With Cekovsky sidelined, he’s Maryland’s only big guy and getting him on the bench will help open up driving lanes for Miles Bridges and get the Spartans to the foul line.
Chris and I talked briefly about this game on The Only Podcast and I said MSU’s chances were better in this game than they were against Illinois. After watching a little tape and digging even deeper into the numbers, the confidence level has only risen.
What made Illinois such a tough test was three-fold and Maryland fails to check any of the same boxes.
First, at 17-12, the Illini were fighting for their tournament lives. Maryland (23-7) isn’t playing well but is getting in, it’s just a matter of which seed.
Secondly, Illinois was playing tight, cohesive defense and feasting on one of MSU’s biggest weak spots by causing a lot of turnovers. Maryland is tied for 227th nationally in turnovers forced per game, at 12.27 per, and has given up 172 points in their last two home games, combined.
Finally, Illinois was loaded with seniors playing for the last time on their home floor. Maryland’s two Seniors, Dodd and L.G. Gill, are far less impactful and combine for only 10.0 points and 6.8 rebounds a game.
Michigan State took a couple gut punches against Illinois and, despite the turnovers, did an impressive job of fighting through them, which is something they had yet to do when getting pummeled on the road. Had they played cleaner, MSU would have (and should have) won on Wednesday.
Even though they didn’t get the W, I think they set themselves up to turn a mental corner. At least, that’s what I’m counting on.
The Spartans dig deep and make up for their latest loss by ruining Maryland’s Senior Night.