Michigan State traveled to Nebraska and took care of business. The 80-67 final score covers a lot of sins and stellar play.
Michigan State faced a team getting every break and hitting every shot in front of a rowdy crowd excited for their team’s senior night. The Spartans were down 15 points during the first half.
It took AJ Hoggard taking ownership of his poor play in the first half to turn the tide. In the second half, MSU figured out how to balance their recent offensive firepower and desire to play defense.
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: AJ Hoggard owned his mistakes and delivered a half of offensive basketball for the ages
“I thought the first half was the worst half that AJ [Hoggard} has ever played,” said Tom Izzo as he opened his post game press conference. To go from that sentiment to the end of the second half where AJ Hoggard dished out 14 assists and scored ten points is an amazing swing.
The swing from Hoggard propelled a massive swing in the entire offensive output for Michigan State.
In the second half MSU shot the ball 68% overall, and 12 of 17 from the three point line. A stark comparison to their 28% shooting in the first half.
Obviously assists are easier to tally up when your teammates are hitting shots. That said the offense - particularly in Tom Izzo’s offensive structure - has to start somewhere, and that is always the point guard.
In the second half, Hoggard found ways to push the pace, smartly probe and re-set when transition wasn’t open, and then create some of the best ball movement the Spartans have had all year.
In the first half, MSU looked like they were trying to run their way to a win. Every possession felt frantic, every single shot felt rushed. One of the announcers pointed out at half time that MSU missed more shots in the first half of this game then they did in the entire Iowa game.
The pace featured aggressive play from Tyson Walker and Joey Hauser, but overall everyone was trying to do too much. Only Hauser seemed capable of slowing his motion down so he could set his feet and shoot. It allowed him to hit three 3-pointers in the first half - effectively the only Spartan with decent shooting.
After taking ownership of his poor play at half time, AJ Hoggard took control in the second half. Hoggard brought the ball up, he probed the defense and he found teammates open for their shots. This is the type of point guard play MSU has not seen since the departure of Cassius Winston.
If Hoggard can control the tempo, push the ball around, and locate teammates in scoring positions, MSU is a completely different team.
After struggling to score throughout Big Ten Play, Michigan State has found offense over the last four games. MSU scored 72 against Michigan, 80 against Indiana, 100 (in regulation) against Iowa, and 80 tonight.
This higher scoring offense could power a much more dangerous Michigan State in the postseason.
POINT 2: Michigan State is still struggling to balance faster offense with solid defense
For 26 minutes tonight, Michigan State’s defense looked non-existent. MSU was so geared up to shoot in the first fifteen minutes of the game, it looked like they wanted to let Nebraska score so MSU could go back on offense.
It didn’t help that Nebraska was so hot, it felt like they could have shot blind folded. Regardless, Nebraska was given way too many open looks, and punishing passes into the paint for embarrassingly easy layups.
Michigan State is still learning to control their newly potent offense. It’s exciting to watch Michigan State finally run with the ball, and take shots aggressively. It’s a lot less fun to watch that paired with a defense that looks like an afterthought.
Nebraska is not nearly the matchup problem many in the Big Ten are for Michigan State. There is no wildly dominant big man (though Derrick Walker is very talented), and athletically Nebraska is not particularly scary.
This is the type of team MSU can game plan their way to success on defense. And eventually the game plan came together. Coach Izzo said in postgame comments that the message at half time was simple: “Guard Someone. Anyone!”
Sometimes it is just that simple.
As AJ Hoggard started controlling the pace more effectively in the second half, it helped the Spartans settle in on defense. The team needed Hoggard to lead the break in transition, probe for weak spots early, and then bring the ball out to the top and start swinging it around.
When players have that type of consistency on one end of the court, it gives them a greater ability to dig in on the other end of the court. This became clear as MSU held Nebraska without a field goal for 8 minutes in the second half.
If MSU can find a way to be comfortable with its new up-tempo offense, the team’s season-long strength on the defensive end should come together.
An MSU team scoring around 80 points and playing defense should give almost any team in the country a run for their money.
POINT 3: Turning 3 points into 2 points
Michigan State has a lot of shooters on their team. Walker, Hauser and recently Akins are shooting the ball lights out from three. Hall is no slouch, and even AJ Hoggard has improved his outside shot this year.
The scouting report on Michigan State is essentially just stop the three point shot. Tonight, Nebraska found a way in the first half to fly at any Spartan shooter - even if their wild motion wouldn’t get close to actually defending the shot - to impact the shooter. This worked, as Spartan shooters would let the defender fly by, take a dribble to set their feet and let a shot fly.
The problem Michigan State has in these situations is they are then often turning a decent three point shot into a slightly better setup long two. The analytics on this are solid. Teams should NOT be taking long 2s, even with slightly better set feet.
Every time MSU stepped inside the three point line, they were giving Nebraska what they wanted, a shot at less points. It hurt more that MSU wasn’t hitting these long 2s (or anything for most of the first half). Even if MSU was hitting these long 2s it would still have hurt that they were giving up that extra point by stepping inside.
Michigan State needs to teach their shooters to take that settling dribble and space sideways. Stepping and settling to the left or right allows you to avoid the leaping defender and stay on the three point line.
If that’s not possible. Then step in and swing the ball to the open shooter.
In the second half, Michigan State followed that second route Every time a leaping defender came at them, they would either stand strong on the three point line and shoot, or dribble inside and swing the ball to the open shooter still standing on the three point line. It’s a small part of the explanation of the better shooting in the second half.
MSU under Tom Izzo will never abandon the jumper. What they can do - and did do in the second half - is make sure their three point shots stay three point shots.