Well that sure escalated quickly didn’t it? Last week we are talking about how they were bound to lose one at some point and no shame in losing on the road at Purdue, and now we are in the midst of a three game losing streak, the last two that just shouldn’t have happened. So what went wrong? Well it’s a combination of several things, but let’s try and tackle a few of the big ones here.
Three Point Defense
Earlier in the year I was holding up Michigan State’s three point defense as a key reason why they were winning so big so consistently. They were defending the arc very well and teams were taking a lot of threes and just not making many of them. Well that has changed, and with it, has come problems.
It started with Purdue, where the Boilers were the first Big Ten team to crack the 40% mark from three against MSU by going 12-for-28 (42.9%). It would have been even better if Carsen Edwards had not been jacking up as many contested threes as he was, as he was 3-for-11 while the rest of the team was 9-for-17 (52.9%).
Then it continued against Indiana. The Hoosiers shot an even 50% from the arc, making 10-of-20 threes. This was especially concerning because Indiana is 243rd in the country in three-point shooting. Indiana gets about 25% of their points off threes for the season, but got 38% of its points against MSU off threes. Not good.
Then onto Illinois, where the Illini weren’t great from three, shooting 37.5% on 9-of-24 shooting, but they made some big ones at big moments. They were hot early, and late, which sealed MSU’s fate. Still the nearly 38% shooting is above their average for the season, which is just 34.5%.
That is 31 made threes against MSU in the last three games, on 72 attempts, which is 43 percent. Again, MSU had not allowed a conference opponent to break the 35% mark until Purdue.
What has changed? Not entirely sure, but MSU has seemed a step slow the last few games. That isn’t surprising when talking about the Purdue game because it was the third in a week, but they had nearly a week off before the Indiana game. It’s possible the perimeter defenders are wearing down a little due to high usage and the closeouts just haven’t been as quick and sharp as they were before.
Maybe some of this is just a regression to the middle. Either way, it’s been an issue, and one that MSU will need to fix in a hurry.
This is another area where the Spartans are suddenly and uncharacteristically struggling of late. Purdue grabbed 36% of their misses, the Hoosiers grabbed 43.5%, and Illinois got 35.3% of theirs.
Even with these recent results MSU is allowing opponents to grab offensive rebounds at only 28% for the season. Of these three opponents, only Purdue is a good offensive rebounding team. Indiana is downright bad and Illinois is middle of the pack.
It’s not just the defensive glass that has been an issue. The Spartans have not been grabbing offensive boards either. Against Purdue they grabbed only 27.3% of their misses, against Indiana it was 33.3%, and 38.1% against Illinois. The Purdue game was the real bad one, Indiana was slightly below season average, Illinois was slightly above. However, Indiana is a below average team at allowing offensive rebounds, and Illinois is one of the worst in the country.
Once again, this could be a result of guys being a step slow the last few games, as loose balls are not corralled, guys are trying to tip things rather than grabbing them, but it’s concerning to see that it is happening against teams that are weak in these areas.
And they won’t have much time to clean this up. Minnesota comes to town Saturday as one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country, checking in at 32nd overall and grabbing 34.5% of their missed shots.
This is something that really is a big cause for concern. Nick Ward has basically disappeared the last few games, and it has caused the Spartans to struggle in the half-court and is turning them into a one dimensional team.
Ward has 31 points in his last three games, scoring nine, eleven, and eleven respectively. In his previous 14 games he only had two where he scored 11 or fewer points.
Over the same three game stretch Ward is shooting 46.4% from the floor, he was at 63.2% through his first 20 games of the season.
And of course there was the incredible 1-for-9 from the free throw line against Indiana.
It’s not just the scoring that is down either. Ward has grabbed just nine rebounds in the last three games. He was averaging nine rebounds per game over the previous five games before this stretch, and over seven per game for the season.
The reason this is such a concern is that MSU really needs to be able to get the ball inside in the half-court offense, especially without Langford coming back. They need an inside post presence to open things up and space the floor. Without it, teams can key in on Winston and force him into bad spots or bad shots. That leads to the increased turnover rate, and the decreased perimeter shooting.
We knew that the Spartans would go as far as the juniors could take them. Langford is gone and Winston is averaging 40 minutes per game over the last three games. They need Nick Ward, and they need him now.