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Michigan State Loses to Wisconsin: Post Game Grades for The Spartans

Michigan State let familiar problems cripple their effort against the Badgers. The grades tell the story.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State lost to Wisconsin, ceding control to the Badgers from the opening tip through the final buzzer. The 70-57 score matched the spread for most of the game. Even when MSU pulled to within three, they felt like they were behind by a lot more.

The problems were all too familiar for the Spartans this season. Poor shooting, lapses on defense, and a complete lack of coherent identity all combined for a poor showing.

Here’s how it all graded out.

Details of the Curve for this Game: Wisconsin is a strong team this year. They are clearly better than their pre-season assessments. The team is tall, disciplined and incredibly balanced in their scoring. This game would provide MSU with a tough test, but also a test that should be well matched for MSU. If the Spartans want to be in the discussion as one of the better teams in the Big Ten, then Wisconsin should at worst be a peer program, meaning there is no real curve for the grades in this game.

Offense:

The Spartans offense started with all the nightmare signals of November. AJ Hoggard opened the game with a terrible pass intercepted for a turnover. The second possession saw Tyson Walker get not one, but TWO wide open looks for three and missed both. The second was cleaned up by a powerful Mady Sissoko rebound and put back dunk, but the misses were a bad sign. Compounding that Akins missed a wide open corner three.

MSU clearly then went gun shy for the rest of the first four minutes of the game. After all the misses they stopped swinging the ball and started dribbling in circles which led to at least three wasted possessions. A problem that started to appear was Carson Cooper playing out of position at the four spot left a few pick and rolls looking very awkward. Malik Hall was subbed in for Cooper but the offense didn’t flow any better before the first break.

The first sign of life from the offense was an all out effort by Fears to take a panic pass from Malik Hall and turn it into an and-1 drive to the basket. The next spark was a deep three pointer from Holloman.

The offensive end just looks difficult. Everything looks difficult. It starts with AJ Hoggard’s turnovers, near turnovers, and terrible plays that end possessions. He took a hesitant drive into the lane and launched the least confident (read: ugliest) floater seen this side of an elementary school game.

A mini run featured a Walker snake dribble drive where he went through three players and got a hard earned layup. On the next possession two Badgers ran into each other chasing a near Malik Hall turnover (who clearly looks slow and a bit out of it). It left Jaden Akins wide open for a three that he airballed into Carson Cooper’s hands and he scored on a layup. Even those points looked difficult.

Malik Hall helped wake the team up a bit late in the half. Clearly looking fatigued, Hall essentially didn’t leave the court after entering the game at the 16:30 mark. A turn around jumper and a great feed to AJ Hoggard were among the plays he started to make to open up the offense. Hoggard added to the feeling of a renaissance for the veterans hitting a big three to cut the lead to five with two minutes left in the first half.

The second half came out with an equally mixed bag. AJ Hoggard looked strong in transition and then hit a big three. Tyson Walker was starting to get his points, even if he had to do it on his own. The team as a whole though still looked like they were waiting for someone to move them, rather than impose their will on the floor.

The offense finally got rolling behind Tyson Walker and AJ Hoggard finding their long range shooting touch. AJ Hoggard hit two threes and Walker added two threes and a great drive to the basket. The backcourt powered MSU to within three before Walker missed a wide open transition three. Still they kept fighting even as they missed a few. AJ Hoggard forced a steal and drove the length of the court and drew the foul.

Unfortunately after that, MSU went cold. Izzo had to get some rest for the backcourt after they missed a few shots. It destroyed the chemistry and MSU went almost six minutes without any serious offense (a 1 for 10 stretch). It let Wisconsin take a three point lead and turn it into a 13-point lead.

Tyson Walker tried to keep MSU in the game with a flurry of late scoring and effort. It was just too little too late. MSU briefly found its shooting touch but like much of the year couldn’t sustain it. When shooting 32% from three is actually an improvement, your team is in trouble. Michigan State is in trouble.

Offense Grade: C-

Defense:

While the Spartans struggled shooting early on, the Badgers were on fire. Cooper playing the four hurt them as Badgers power forward Crowl hit back to back threes after only taking six three pointers in November. A third three put the score at 9 to 2 for the sixteen minute timeout.

The Spartans dug in on defense after the 16-minute mark. They didn’t shut down Wisconsin, but they slowed them substantially and started forcing longer possessions. If the offense was hitting with any regularity it would have been enough to put MSU ahead. Instead it just kept them hanging in the game while the offense lurched from possession to possession.

Coming out of the 12-minute time out Wisconsin went on a 7 nothing run. Guards were digging down on the big men leaving the three wide open, and the Badgers were taking full advantage.

Even after the defense started to dig in and allowed the anemic defense to pull within five with two minutes left in the first half, they found ways to fall apart.

Over the final two minutes Wisconsin went on a 6-0 run behind two deep threes late in the shot clock. The Badger’s height and shooting ability across their roster meant smaller Spartan defenders were closing out to little effect. Wisconsin went 6 of 13 from three in the first half.

After a lackluster start to the defensive effort in the second half, Coen Carr had a huge block that led to an AJ Hoggard three. The freshman was largely left off the floor in the first half, as he looked lost still on defense. Against a disciplined team like Wisconsin that makes sense but it cost the Spartans his energy.

The defense kept allowing Wisconsin to score but they started limiting the threes. MSU forced the Badgers to score at the line and on contested shots in the paint. That was an improvement that allowed an offense finally connecting on its shot to bring the Spartans close.

Malik Hall looked exhausted in the second half and his defense suffered. After bottling him up for most of the game, he got outmuscled twice by Tyler Wahl. After failing to step up on a screen to defend the three, Izzo pulled him for Coen Carr. Carr let Steven Crowl hit his fourth three pointer over him so it was not a huge improvement.

Objectively the defense technically played well enough to let MSU win this game. The offensive struggles dictated the outcome for Michigan State.

Wisconsin scored well under its average. The Spartans forced one of the most balanced offensive attacks in college basketball to rely on Steven Crowl to go lights out from three to really pull away.

Still they let Wisconsin shoot 45% for the game and 44% from three. That’s not going to win big time games.

Defense Grade: B-

Transition:

The Spartans had no transition offense in the first half. The closest to it was the team pushing the ball up court around the 3:30 mark that ended in a AJ Hoggard wild dribble and turnover. On the defensive side they kept Wisconsin from running, but that isn’t really their offensive approach so it can be hard to tell if that was influenced by the Spartans or just the way Wisconsin wanted to play.

The first real successful transition moment for the Spartans came on the first play of the second half. A forced turnover led to a powerful move by Hoggard driving to the basket and finishing through enough contact to send Wisconsin’s Tyler Wahl to the floor with a bloody nose.

MSU’s defense started picking it up midway through the second half and transition speed started opening up shooting opportunities for the Spartans. For once, MSU starting hitting. Walker and AJ Hoggard combined for four three pointers in short order, not all technically in transition but early in the shot clock setup by pressure caused by pushing the ball.

It’s notable that the offense opened up with Coen Carr on the floor, even if Carr wasn’t always central to the success, he provided energy and push to each possession - defensive and offensive.

In the end, the Spartans could not really get the transition game going. They made it work in small spurts, but Wisconsin got back on defense and kept MSU from getting any rhythm going.

Transition Grade: D

Coaching:

Coach Izzo’s first half was not one of his best. The prolonged illness of Malik Hall forced him to roll out a two big man lineup featuring Sissoko and Cooper. It didn’t really work. Sissoko got exposed as the Badgers Power Forward Steven Crowl went 3-3 from three point land, all with Sissoko laying off him on defense (that would repeat itself late in the first half for Crowl’s third three pointer).

The offense also did not flow with Cooper and Sissoko sharing the floor. That was in part on AJ Hoggard, but it also looked awkward with MSU in a lineup it appeared they had not practiced since last year (when Cooper did play some time at the four spot).

The decision also looked stranger in context as Malik Hall checked in at the 16:30 mark for Cooper then never left the floor for the rest of the half.

Izzo also repeated his tendency to pick his poison and end up paying for it. It seemed MSU was very worried about being beaten out in the paint by Wisconsin’s size. It led to a defensive approach with consistent dig downs by the guards. Wisconsin answered by lighting up the three point line for 46% shooting in the first half.

Even after a week of practice, Izzo looked unable to unlock AJ Hoggard or the shooting touch for this team (minus the one stretch where Hoggard and Walker combined for four three pointers). It’s mystifying where those elements for this team have gone.

Izzo did not seem to have an offensive plan for this game. He rode Malik Hall into the ground, for his defense and paid the price on the offensive end and overall in the second half as he tired. When the team focused on Walker, the offense seemed to get some traction, but there was nothing else working for MSU.

Defensively the first half approach that let Wisconsin take open threes bit the team hard. The Badgers built a big first half lead and got players like Crowl comfortable from long range.

The team had too much time to prep for this game and play this poorly. That reflects badly on Coach Izzo.

Coaching Grade: C-

Overall:

This game had exactly one true positive to come out of it: 14 points and 7 assists for AJ Hoggard. That stat line is the first really good sign for the Senior point guard. The truth behind the stat line is a lot more concerning. Hoggard looked absolutely terrible for almost the entire first half. Like the Arizona game, Hoggard found a way to take over the game for a stretch in the second half and yet was a net negative for the other 35 minutes of the game.

Outside of that, MSU did nothing really of note. Their defensive effort was at times commendable, but the strategy was atrocious. The Spartans clearly wanted to let Wisconsin shoot any three they could, which did not work out. Wisconsin finished shooting over 40% from three and constantly made MSU pay for that approach.

This was a dispiriting loss that made MSU look weak at many positions and like a team completely devoid of any identity.

Overall Grade: C

How do you grade Michigan State for this game?