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Basketball Roundup: The Streak is Over

The Spartans finally lose in conference play, and while Winston continues to shine, the shooting overall has been on the decline.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Well the streak had to come to an end at some point, and that point was Sunday afternoon in West Lafayette. I think a lot of people saw it coming. A tough place to play on the road, the third game in a week, fourth road game in the last five, down two players…it wasn’t a shocking result.

But before we move on we need to take stock of how damn impressive the streak was. Twenty-one straight regular season conference wins in a row. That’s incredible. And this isn’t Villanova beating up the Big East, this is the Big Ten. Even more impressive, 12 straight road wins in the Big Ten.

The streak spanned more than a calendar year, beginning on January 19th, 2018 and running until January 27th, 2019. If this team should go on to win the Big Ten outright again this year, it should be remembered how dominant MSU was in the Big Ten over the last two years. This just isn’t something that happens in the Big Ten very often.

Three Point Decline

Up until Sunday the Spartans had not shown too many signs of what they were missing without Joshua Langford. They had managed to win seven straight games without him, most in convincing fashion. But Langford has big time shooting and scoring capabilities, and at some point, not having him out there catches up.

Not all the deficiencies show up every night, and when you continue to win, it’s easy to overlook some of them. When you lose, everything is amplified. If you were to ask anyone who watched the game on Sunday what stood out, you would probably get a few answers back about how MSU couldn’t make a shot in the first half to save its life, especially from three-point range.

That isn’t a new phenomenon, it just happened to really stand out on Sunday because of how poor it was in the first half. In fact MSU stepped it up and made some second half threes as part of their comeback attempt, but still finished 9-for-26 (34.6%) for the game.

The Spartans are currently a very respectable 31st in the nation in three-point shooting at 38.3 percent. Nothing to sneeze at. However, since the injury to Langford, MSU is shooting 33.9% from beyond the arc, which is actually 0.3 points below the national average.

Prior to Langford’s injury, Michigan State was shooting 40.7% from three, which would currently be the fifth best percentage in the country. Langford himself was shooting 40.3% from three on the season, and is second on the team in terms of number of three-point attempts and makes per game.

That is a pretty significant drop off in three-point shooting without Langford. You aren’t just losing a great shooter, but also a guy the defense needs to account for that can leave other players open for threes. As a result you have seen an uptick in three-point attempts by players teams are probably willing to live with taking shots.

Kenny Goins is now fourth on the team in total three-point attempts, and is shooting 28.6 percent. In the pre-Langford games he was attempting 2.6 threes per game, and had only two games with four or more attempts. If you throw out the season high eight attempts in the opener against Kansas it drops to 1.9 attempts per game.

Since Langford has been out he is at 3.1 threes per game, and has four games out of eight with at least four attempts. This isn’t a knock on Goins, he’s actually been much improved in that area, but it’s still not a real high percentage shot, even when he’s wide open.

The injury to Ahrens hasn’t helped. While Ahrens hasn’t been a great three-point shooter either, that has been a part of his game before, and you feel more confident about him knocking down open threes than guys like Goins or Tillman.

Cassius Winston is a Drug

Tom Izzo referred to Winston’s game as having become like a drug to MSU. Part of what he is talking about relates to the playing time, which is starting to get worrisome. Over the last seven games Winston is averaging about 36 minutes per game, and he’s doing an awful lot while he’s out there.

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

In fact he’s kind of doing everything and doing it incredibly well. Over that same seven game stretch Winston is averaging 21.1 points per game, while shooting 50.6% from the floor overall, and 45% from three. He’s averaging 6.3 assists, three rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game as well, and is getting to the free throw line 7.6 times per game.

This is why Winston continues to rack up Player of the Week honors in the Big Ten and is being talked about as a National Player of the Year candidate.

By the way, we have been keeping track of Winston on the career lists, he is now up to sixth all-time in assists, and is only six behind Drew Neitzel for fifth place. Neitzel played in 138 games as a Spartan, Cassius Winston has played 91 so far.

Tough Stretch Done, Slightly Less Tough Stretch Ahead

As we talked about last week MSU just finished a stretch of seven straight Tier A games per kenpom. The Spartans went 6-1, and are now 8-3 in Tier A games this season.

The Purdue game was the second toughest game remaining according kenpom’s projections, with the hardest being the game at Ann Arbor.

The next six games for MSU feature only two Tier A games and three Tier B games. The toughest in that stretch is by far the game at Wisconsin, which MSU currently is a slight favorite. The other five games kenpom gives MSU an 89% chance or better to win. The Spartans will also play four of the six at home, after five of their last seven on the road.

It would be a good idea for the Spartans to take care of business in these next six games, because the end of the season is another brutal stretch. Four straight Tier A games including two games with Michigan and a game at Indiana await them.