Michigan State pulled out a defensive battle against the University of Maryland, winning 63 to 58. This game was made up of huge runs. Michigan State opened the game on a 15-0 run, and Maryland used runs of 9-0, and 14-0 to eventually tie the game at 38 with about 14 minutes left in the second half. From there both teams traded blows before Michigan State could pull out just a few more baskets than their opponent.
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: Lineups: They are the Problem and the Solution
Michigan State played some odd lineups in the first half. After exploding out of the gates to score 15 unanswered, MSU started mixing in a lot of their second line players, and it destroyed the teams rhythm.
Even Izzo mentioned the lineups as part of the problem in his half time interview. One area I’d quibble with from his comments was, he claimed the two freshman lineup that featured Holloman and Kohler on the floor was due to foul trouble on Tyson Walker. This lineup of Kohler and Holloman on the floor together was before Walker got his second foul - though they did have to go back to this two freshman lineup after that foul.
Michigan State is finding out that it is a thin rotation team. Yes, fans will yell about the transfer portal, and only going into the season with 10 scholarship players. At this point in the season though, Freshman like Kohler and Holloman should be able to deliver more than they did in this game.
Holloman is starting to look like a net negative on the floor. His early tenacious defense has slipped, and his offensive involvement is clearly regressing. Holloman struggles to push the ball, to run the offense, and almost never takes a shot. Holloman has 29 points total on the season, with just 6 of those points coming in conference play. Beyond his absolute lack of scoring, the rest of the team stagnates immediately when he is running the point.
Kohler has obviously been better at times. In this game he was not. When MSU is mixing these two players together, nothing good is happening.
There are two solutions to the rotation problems. The most obvious is play Tyson Walker as many minutes as you can. When Walker is touching the ball, and at times taking over the offense (even with Hoggard on the floor) good things are happening.
The other solution may be a lineup that played most likely less than 4 total minutes tonight: Small Ball. MSU has one of those rosters where a small ball lineup is inherently intriguing. Watching Hauser (or Hall) play the center position, allowing Hoggard, Walker, Akins, Hall, and Hauser all to be on the court at once looks fascinating on paper.
Tonight, MSU did more than experiment with the lineup - something they’ve been doing for 60-90 seconds a game the last few weeks. They deployed the small ball lineup to close the game, only switching out of it when Julian Reese was on the floor.
This could be a very powerful way to closer out games. Granted, not every opponent will help MSU out by having their big man have four fouls for the last ten minutes of the game. That said, MSU may have found a lineup they can roll out to generate some offense and put a different kind of pressure on their opponents. They just have to trust it for more than 90 seconds at a time.
POINT 2: Malik Hall is NOT Yet Malik Hall
Malik Hall had a rough game. One game after going 1 for 9 against Rutgers, the talented Senior Forward scored only 7 points. At least against Rutgers, Hall had 13 rebounds, in this game he logged only 2.
Hall is valuable on the floor for his steady hands, strong defense, and overall leadership. His contribution is not always in the stat sheet.
That said, Malik Hall is struggling. The first half particularly saw Hall revert to his Sophomore year problem of not knowing his identity.
Three separate plays in the first half saw Hall miss shots because he seemed to be unable to decide if he was going up to slam the ball or lay it up. In at least two of those plays the idea that he COULD slam the ball seemed far fetched. All three of those plays resulted in lost possessions for the Spartans.
The amount of time Malik Hall has missed and been interrupted this season means he gets a pass for any struggles he has on the floor. Hall has earned the benefit of the doubt, and I want to be clear this is in no way writing him off, or saying he is not valuable.
What I am saying is: Hall seems to be confused about the player he is, and the role he can play on the court. That’s a serious problem. Hall is too valuable to be losing confidence in himself, and the impact he can have on the court. It’s a reminder that injuries need physical time to heal, and time for the mental mindset to get right.
Hopefully Hall can figure it out fast, as time is running out on this season.
POINT 3: Three Players Stepped Up Tonight - and that Could be the Difference maker for a Late Season Run
AJ Hoggard, Joey Hauser and Tyson Walker played great games tonight. None of them were flawless but they were very good, and they were seemingly responses to concerns people were having.
After hearing that Tom Izzo thought AJ Hoggard would be better served playing closer to 25 minutes a game, MSU rode Hoggard for a game high 35 minutes (Akins had a similar number as well). Hoggard struggled at times, and it may be long term better to have him play closer to 30 minutes, but the final results speak for themselves. Hoggard had Draymond Green-esque stats with 8 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. MSU needed every ounce of his effort tonight.
Joey Hauser started aggressively and kept it going all game. Every single one of his game high 20-points were needed to pull out this defensive slug fest. More than just the point total, Hauser provided different types of offense. He did it all, bail out threes at the end of shot clocks, zone busting spot ups from the top of the paint, and even some nice post up moves. Hauser’s point production becomes even more important if he can do it in more ways than just open threes.
Finally, Tyson Walker hunted his shot whenever he was on the court. Even though he was limited in playing time in the first half due to two fouls, Walker still recorded 17 points. Like Hauser, the point total is just as important as how those points were scored. Walker hit threes, didn’t just rely on 15 foot jumpers and drove to the basket.
Walker showed that some of MSU best offense comes when he touches the ball, and creates leverage against the defense with his handle.
If Michigan State is going to make a late season run, they need players to step up. These three heard that and delivered at home.
Only time will tell if they can do it consistently, and elevate some of their teammates along the way.
And 1 (POINT 4 - because the refs helped me out to see me in pain): Julius Marble….Why ESPN? WHY?
I tuned into this game for tip-off. Unfortunately, at tip off the 7pm game was still underway. This meant while MSU was going on its 15 point explosion to start the game, I was stuck watching Texas A&M outlast Auburn. And that game was heartbreaking.
Not because I care particularly about either one of these teams - I don’t. It was heartbreaking because Texas A&M won the game largely because of their talented transfer center: some guy named Julius Marble. Or to put it another way, some guy who used to play for Michigan State named Julius Marble.
Marble is averaging just over 10 points and 4 rebounds a game for Texas A&M this year. Since the team started conference play all of his numbers have gone up and he has one SEC player of the week twice. In the game against Auburn, Marble scored 20 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. That 20 points is more than the three centers on MSU have scored in the last three games combined
Objectively, I am happy for Julius Marble that he is doing well. I believe that he left MSU on good terms, and the move back home was driven by the tragedy that struck his family. I only have good will for Marble.
My grief driven anger though is driven by ESPN. ESPN made me miss one of the great offensive runs for Michigan State while forcing me to watch a player that could have been a huge difference maker on the squad this year, help another team to victory.
That was just mean, ESPN. Just mean….