Michigan State rolled over Georgia Southern 86-55. On paper the game was a domination. In reality, there are still some serious concerns.
Here are my three point shot (and 1) on the important points from the game:
POINT 1: Is Tre Holloman for real?
This game had a range of personnel based storylines. Two of these started before the game even started. Mady Sissoko returned to the starting lineup (more on him below) and AJ Hoggard was benched. Hoggard was held out deep into the first half, seeing his first action around the 13-minute mark. This left the door open for Tre Holloman.
This was the sophomore guard’s second start of the season.
Holloman had flashed scoring potential in the Spartans previous tune up game when he started for a “sick” (read: load management) Tyson Walker. In that game, Holloman had a green light to shoot and went 5 for 5 from three.
In this game, Holloman did something equally as impressive, he had 10 assists in just 21-minutes of play.
In a crowded backcourt where the attention continues to be hogged by the Hoggard drama and the exciting development of Jeremy Fears, Holloman is making a case to be essential to this team. The most interesting part of this game was Holloman’s return to the point guard role. It had looked like Holloman had firmly moved to the shooting guard role, playing off Jeremy Fears in a potent second unit.
Against Arizona, the offense went with Tyson Walker as the backup point guard for an extended period while Hoggard sat with fouls (to great effect). Holloman has only rarely run the point this season. In this game he showed he can run that position and get others involved.
The young guard still has holes in his offensive game. He is not aggressive enough with his outside shot, and is at times slower to push the ball in transition than Hoggard or Fears. This game proved he can be a scorer and distributor for the team. The next step is doing it against higher level competition. Coach Izzo will have to test him in the upcoming Big Ten games.
POINT 2: Mady Sissoko is… back?
One of the two major “coaching changes” coming into this game was Mady Sissoko starting over Carson Cooper. It was a return to the status quo after a few games of Cooper starting. Coming off an Arizona game where Sissoko played well on defense, and provided excellent screens for Tyson Walker, the change was well earned.
Sissoko seemed determined to prove that the change was the right change. Sissoko played his best offensive game in probably a year. Yes, it was against a generally smaller and less talented team. It was still an impressive improvement.
The knock on Sissoko has been his lack of aggression on offense and his limit on the offensive flow. Sissoko looked in the flow in this game. He scored face up to the basket, back to the basket, and in transition. He even had a nice little jumper. Better competition may still keep Sissoko scoreless, but the idea that he can only score on low post dump offs and backdoors was disproven tonight.
POINT 3: Shooting is a serious problem. Even in a game where you score 86 points.
Yes, Michigan State blew out Georgia Southern. That was the expected outcome. The Spartans shouldn’t - and didn’t - need the three pointer to beat a team as overmatched as the Eagles. Still, it’s concerning to see Michigan State struggle so much from three.
Akins, Walker and Hall combined to go 2 for 9 from three point land. And they simply stopped shooting the shot for much of the game. As a team, they shot 28% from three. This included Davis Smith making a three.
The Spartans had wide open looks the entire game. They simply did not hit them.
Worse, it’s not just the long range shooting that is struggling. The Spartans shot 63% from the free throw line. That is unacceptable for any team. On a team full of offensive threats, that is shocking. This included Sissoko and Carson Cooper combining to go 3 of 4.
Malik Hall alone missed five free throws.
This is not just an early game problem. MSU is now 7 games and a month into the season. They are shooting 27% from three and 67% from the free throw line. Both are 12% lower than last year (39% from three and 76% at the free throw line). Most of these players have it in them to shoot better. It’s simply not happening.
Michigan State will beat teams like Georgia Southern with most of their players sleep walking through the game. Against Big Ten Teams, the results will be very different if they can’t find a way to hit free throws and more three pointers.
And 1 (POINT 4 - because the refs helped me out): It’s time to start worrying about Xavier Booker
Ok, I have to admit my bias here. I saw a segment of the fan base calling for Xavier Booker to start over Malik Hall and went full on contrarian. I have pointed out that it will take time for Booker to develop. That came with my belief that Booker would emerge later in the season as a true weapon, even if he did it from the bench.
Now, I am actually concerned.
Here is my unofficial tracker of the play by Booker:
- First half, came in at the 16:30 mark in the first wave of substitutions
- Gets muscled out of the post on his first possession
- Then hangs out on the three point line and misses a wide open spot up shot
- Drives in transition and gets blocked
- Misses wide open corner three again
- Proceeds to be late getting back on defense and has a guy dunk over him
- Yanked from the game by Izzo
- Returned at the 7:13 mark with a lineup of Fears, Walker, Akins, Booker, Cooper
- Fouled and gets sent to the line - misses front end of 1 and 1
- Gets rotated out. He didn’t really impact the game at all during that stretch, either positively or negatively
- Second Half: didn’t get in till the 10 minute mark
- After running around and showing good energy, Booker got a defensive rebound.
- He immediately traveled and turned the ball over.
- Izzo tried a new lineup and moved Booker to the five spot
- The result was two straight cutting layups by Georgia Southern for easy baskets
- On offense, Booker fumbled back to back hand offs under the basket for turnovers
- Hits a trailing three (wide open) - he can clearly shoot
- BOOKER comes back in at the 3:30 mark and immediately gets dunked over
- Booker let up a post move by Georgia Southern for an easy layup
- Booker missed a rebound on defense by not being in position and then fouled to prevent a basket
- Booker gets driven on and fouls
Freshmen will struggle with being in the right position. They will rotate late and let guys past them. They will turn the ball over trying to go too fast on offense. That’s fine. Some of Booker’s problems tonight can be chalked up to being a freshman.
The problem is not all of them can be covered for that. Booker looked outclassed by a team led by a guy who spent four years in Division II basketball. Other than his clearly sweet outside shot, Booker looked worse than Carson Cooper did a month into the season last year. That’s shocking and concerning.
Booker still deserves a lot of time to develop. It may just need to be development aimed at second year impact, not impact this year.