The Michigan State Spartans have all the pieces needed to make a deep run through March. With Cassius Winston running the show, Nick Ward in the post and freshman growing into big roles, MSU has all of the stereotypical pieces in place.
Except a consistent second shooter.
At the beginning of the year that role was not only thought to have been filled, but filled with depth. Joshua Langford started the year on fire from deep, pulling defenders away from Ward and Winston and making them pay when they failed. On the other wing was Matt McQuaid, the senior sharp-shooter with the ability to take over a game from beyond the arc. If the freshman grew as everyone hoped, that’s a perimeter attack that few can stop.
Unfortunately, things haven’t quite worked out that way so far. Obviously, the biggest blow came with the season-long loss of Langford to injury. There is no replacing his production and role with the team.
With Langford gone, McQuaid has done his best to emulate the junior guard. McQuaid has had his best shooting night from deep since his freshman year. But McQuaid’s game has changed, instead of being the pure shooter from the outside, he’s adjusting to become a slasher. While that has meant more points for McQuaid, it’s left the team without a viable spot-up shooter.
This isn’t to say Michigan State’s shooting problem can’t be fixed. There are multiple ways and players that could fix the issue. Kyle Ahrens, Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown are all shooting at least 31 percent from deep. While that’s not good enough, they have the ability if the game plan forces them to focus on hitting three-pointers.
The easier solution is probably the harder sell. If anyone of that group can emerge as a dependable, consistent option, McQuaid can go back to being a spot-up shooter. The issue here is two-fold. First, Tom Izzo needs to trust one of these players in crunch time with the ball in their hands. Otherwise, defenses will still be able to sag off and double on Winston. Second, McQuaid needs to be ok with his role in the offense diminishing slightly. While he is clearly a good enough player to score both off jumpers and on the bounce, the team is in a better position when he is hunting threes, rather than beating defenders off the dribble.
Part of this isn’t just about someone who is going to hit with a high percentage. There just aren’t enough people consistently attempting threes. Winston leads the team with 5.9 attempts a game, the next closest is McQuaid with one and a half fewer per-game at 4.5. None of the other active players are even attempting three a game. Even if percentages stay the same, the attempts alone will change how defenses attack MSU.
As is, Michigan State is a good enough team to beat most opponents. They don’t need a second deep threat to win Big Ten games. However, if they plan to buck the trend of the last few years and make a deeper run into March, someone will need to fill this position. Jackson isn’t coming back, so who is going to take those shots?