Michigan State Men’s Basketball went to Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye’s arena and put on an offense show for the ages, and still managed to find a way to lose.
The final 90 seconds of regulation and overtime will forever overshadow a very strong game by the Sparatans. Watch this space for a longer break down of that 90 seconds and what it means for the teams who played, and college basketball as a whole.
In the interim, here’s what we should know and learn from this game.
Read my colleague’s full game recap HERE.
Here are my shoot from the hip takes on the game. Like an end of shot clock heave, ready them and let me know what your deep shot after the game is in the comments.
POINT 1: Michigan State has found its alpha dog(s), and today they lived and died with them
Michigan State has been criticized over the last few years for not having a true “alpha dog”. Dissecting this critique is the role of another article (or book), but this year it has largely been true. Through injuries, early departures (Max Christie, arguably Julius Marble), and no game changing talent in this year’s new roster members, Michigan State has been unclear who it will go to when it needs a basket.
At times it’s looked like Malik Hall, at times AJ Hoggard, and even Joey Hauser has flirted with being this guy. We now know definitively that Tyson Walker is THAT guy for Michigan State this year.
Walker scored 31 points in this game and 23 points against Indiana. When Walker is hunting for his shot, serving as safety net at the end of the shot clock, and generally letting the offense run through him (even when he is not formally the point guard), the Spartans are simply better.
At one point in the late first half in this game, Walker orchestrated a non-traditional two man offense with Joey Hauser that dissected the Iowa defense. Joey is a great sidekick to Walker, and showed it contributing 18 points.
In the second half, Walker kept MSU up 6 to 8 points for most of the half with timely shots and clutch shooting at the end of the shot clock.
He provided the offensive power that allowed AJ Hoggard to drive and draw fouls - something that feels shocking at how rarely that happens in other games.
AJ, Hauser and Walker are clearly the pillars this team has relied on all year. Yes, Akins contributed a career best 21 points tonight and Malik Hall 16, but injuries to those two have left the team relying on their three pillars.
The 101 points this collective put up in regulation seems almost otherworldly after Michigan State spent most of Big Ten play struggling to break 60 points a game.
Then just as much as this game seemed like an amazing breakthrough, it fell apart. And it fell apart because the three players it has learned to count on just didn’t have it down the stretch.
Joey Hauser disappeared at the end of regulation and overtime. He essentially had one serious offensive touch during the overtime period. The play by play for overtime reads with the following highlights:
-Walker Fouls on defense sending Iowa shooter to FT line
-Hoggard iso drives to layup that he misses badly and Iowa scores in transition off rebound
-Walker drives wildly and misses, Iowa scores off rebound
-Walker dribbled the air out of the basketball at the top of the key, leading to a short pass to Hoggard who misses a three pointer,
That stretch in OT determined the result of the game. Hauser touched the ball on the very next possession and drew a foul. Hauser hit both FTs but it was too late to matter.
Before anyone says this end of game fizzle was because MSU doesn’t have depth, checking the final box score, both teams played six players 20+ minutes in this game. Both teams were tired by the end.
MSU’s big three did not deliver at the end of the game, when Iowa’s best players - Kris Murray in particular - delivered late in the game. That was the difference.
Michigan State can play with almost anyone in the country. Focusing on Walker as the catalyst will make this team better than they have been earlier in the season. But when Walker, Hoggard and Hauser all run out of gas at the end of the game, it means Michigan State runs out of gas.
POINT 2: A shorter rotation should define who plays the rest of the season, and it includes an unexpected deployment of the small ball lineup
Michigan State has a thin bench. Only ten scholarship players have been a concern since July. After struggling to find rotations, Michigan State seems to be settling into their final form.
The starting five of Hoggard, Walker, Akins, Hauser, and Sissoko looks set to finish the season. Izzo prizes winning the jump ball too much to have anyone other than Sissoko on the floor for the start. After that, Malik Hall plays the technical “6th man”, coming in to allow the lineup to shift in a variety of ways depending on the early matchups.
In terms of the rest of the rotation, Kohler and Sissoko platooning back and forth in the first half seems like a smart way to move forward. Each game will have advantages for one or the other And tonight MSU found out that SIssoko was the better rebounder and defender (though still not great), and Kohler provided some offense while being destroyed defensively. Cooper looks like the go to only for foul trouble.
This rotation essentially means that Brooks should never see the court outside of severe foul trouble - his 2 minutes tonight saw him beat twice on defense.
Holloman is still limited, but he generally played ok as a person to soak up some minutes for Hoggard to rest, and provide some fouls in situations where MSU needs to foul.
Where MSU is starting to settle beyond Sissoko and Kohler platooning at the five is a small ball lineup that moves Hall to the five.
This lineup is relatively new. Most of the year, the small sample size of small ball lineups had Hauser playing the five, as he has experience there.
The more dangerous lineup seems to be Hall at the five. At Indiana and at Iowa, Hall had some good stretches using his athletic abilities to anchor the defense at the five. It also avoids Hauser’s limitations and frustrations playing defense against larger centers - something he is public about his shortcomings doing it.
Against Michigan, MSU deployed Hall at the five to cover Dickinson, the problem was Michigan put their backup center, Reed, at the four spot once Jett Howard went down with injury. This meant despite their best intentions, Hauser was still guarding a center - to pretty poor results.
Tonight MSU finally showed that they can also put pressure on the other team’s defense with Hall at the five. Hall had some decent post moves, and in the second half that small ball lineup contributed to Iowa’s Filip Rebraca only scoring 2 points in the second half and eventually fouling out. Ironically, Iowa went on its run when they went small, and MSU lost some of its advantages.
Moving forward, MSU should keep their rotation to seven players, with Sissoko and Kohler platooning early on, and the small ball lineup with Hall at the five being deployed a significant amount.
POINT 3: What this loss will mean (Other than deep depression among the fan base)
From a NET perspective, this game won’t cost MSU a whole lot. But it will still raise questions. On paper, this is a loss on a quality opponent’s home court. That is not super damaging.
More concerning this loss means MSU moves to the lower half of the Big Ten. Instead of showing they belonged in the top third, Michigan State looks like it could be the 9th or 10th team in the league. That’s bad news for the Big Ten Tournament, and possibly bad news for the NCAA tournament. At some point, there will be a limit to how many teams from the Big Ten the NCAA Tournament will take.
I still think MSU is safely in the NCAA Tournament. It may take a bit of noise in the Big Ten Tournament to avoid the dreaded first four play in game.
What really needs to be defined is what this means to the team. This was a completely demoralizing way to lose.
Michigan State went in as a team that struggled to score points all year, and in regulation threw up 101 points. That was a MASSIVE effort. For most of the game, MSU held Iowa’s prolific offense - that had AVERAGED almost 89 points a game at home - to well below their season average. MSU held Kris Murray (admittedly in a bit of a funk in the last few games) to well below his average, until the end of the game.
And before the last 90 seconds of regulation, Michigan State was clearly the winner to everyone.
That last 90 seconds, and the way they melted in overtime will haunt some of these players.
The hope is the team is old enough that they can move on. Everyone of consequence on this roster (Hoggard, Walker, Hauser, Hall) has been through a LOT of college basketball. Tom Izzo has been through a lot of basketball, and knows his team well.
Izzo will have one of his most difficult turnarounds in short order on his hands to avoid this game having any hangover. The good news for Michigan State is they have Nebraska, Ohio State and possibly Minnesota to finish out the regular season. That is two to three absolutely winnable games that can help get some much needed momentum for the postseason.
And 1 (POINT 4 - because the refs actually are the topic here): On a lighter note… a staring competition between coach Fran McCaffery and the Ref
The scene of Iowa’s coach literally foregoing talking to his team during a late timeout to instead theatrically stare down a ref should go down in history.
Also, the ref stepping closer to the coach for no conceivable reason should actually be investigated. I think this should be laughed off, but it’s one of those moves that should be made clear to all sides - coaches and refs - it should never happen again.
Outside of that, I cannot wait to see the memes.