Michigan State dropped a lackluster game against Minnesota. The Gophers showed more fight - particularly late - and found unstoppable offense from freshman Cam Christie. The Spartans couldn’t find much beyond Tyson Walker and truly had a poor game from AJ Hoggard.
Here are the grades for this disappointing road loss.
Details of the Curve for this Game: Minnesota is a middle of the pack Big Ten team - just like the Spartans. They were a tough win for the Spartans at home. In this game, the Gophers have their star point guard on the court unlike in the first matchup. The grades should be pretty straight up as these teams are comparable in many ways.
The Spartan half court offense started sloppy. Some individual plays - a three by Malik Hall, a great drive by Tyson Walker - helped the Spartans keep pace alongside their transition offense. Outside of that the Minnesota defense was able to force turnovers and regularly push Spartans off their spots.
7th year Minnesota player Parker Fox was an absolute menace early on. The Gophers seemed to be double teaming the ball handler on every single possession. To make it worse, Minnesota seemed to be grabbing every rebound. The Spartans looked visibly uncomfortable and annoyed.
The most obvious sign of how discombobulated the Spartans were was the traveling. For a team that has limited their turnovers for most of the season, three traveling calls in the first 15 minutes of the game is shocking. MSU was charged with 7 turnovers in the first half, one more than they had the entire first game this season against Minnesota.
The offense finally got it rolling once they figured out the double teaming. Minnesota was defending each pick and roll by abandoning the pick man and trying to wall off the ball carrier with two defenders. Minnesota was initially able to use the height of its defenders - particularly Parker Fox - to keep the smaller Michigan State ball handlers from being able to pass out of the double. Once Fox went to the bench with two fouls, the Spartan guards were able to find the pick man a few times for some open baskets (one was the play Booker drew the foul on).
This helped sparked an 11-2 run that put the Spartans back in the lead late in the first half.
Their next counter to the double team off the pick and roll was to ignore the roll man and swing the ball back to the strong side - largely to a consistently wide open Jaden Akins. Minnesota was so dedicated to chasing the ball handler with two defenders it pulled the entire focus of their defense. Akins made them pay with back to back threes that gave MSU a three point lead with one minute left in the half.
A final play of the half was saved by a great Tyson Walker move, a hesitation to a floater. It gave the Spartans a 5-point lead at the break, which felt like a big lead in a game that had seen some serious swings.
The second half saw Jaden Akins continue to cook from outside, going 3 for 4. The Spartans stopped turning over the ball in the second half which helped them to build a 9-point lead. Unfortunately, once Tyson Walker had to take a seat with an apparent groin injury, the offense across the team disappeared. Michigan State was forced at least three times to put up a shot as the shot clock expired (they missed all three).
The return of Walker stemmed the bleeding as he was able to hit on yet another possession where the shot clock was running out.
What crippled the Spartans late was free throw shooting. Both Malik Hall and Carson Cooper went 0-2 on back to back possessions. It was part of a 5 of 14 performance for the entire team (Hall alone was 1 for 6). That allowed Minnesota to take a 51-50 lead with 3:30 left.
From there on out it felt like the Tyson Walker show. Yes, Walker is the star of the team and can create on his own but this is not how a team sport is played. The Spartans ran minimal action to help Walker. AJ Hoggard buried himself in the corner and rarely touched the ball late. Akins seemed to do the same. Malik Hall tried to set screens that should have been set by Sissoko (who was on the bench in favor of Carson Cooper) to minimal benefit. It led to back to back misses by Walker trying to do it all himself.
Hoggard got involved in the closing seconds taking a big three. He missed badly but drew a foul. Hitting only two of three, it led to another missed rebound by the Spartans and a bad choice by Carson Cooper to foul Cam Christie (leaving out the question of how does a guard outrebound Cooper under the basket???).
After Christie hit his free throws, Michigan State rolled out a small lineup to try and overcome the three point deficit.
Hoggard, Walker, Holloman, Akins and Hall took the floor together in a lineup that arguably should be tested at some point this year. In this situation, the Spartans did nothing to maximize this lineup as the play call (or on the court decision) was for Hoggard to power drive the length of the floor, force a bad shot over a defender in good position and miss the rebound. This miss was essentially the game for the Spartans.
The Spartans offense had a strong performance from Tyson Walker and some hot shooting from Jaden Akins. Outside of that they had almost nothing going. AJ Hoggard played one of his worst games in recent memory. Malik Hall contributed as he does in more ways than scoring, but was also substantially limited in points. His free throw shooting alone was a major factor in the offensive struggles.
MSU only managed 56 points against a Minnesota team that allows 68 points a game. The Spartans have too much firepower for this type of anemic offensive output.
Offensive Grade: C-
As good as Michigan State’s early offense was, its defense looked porous. Minneosta got up shots relatively cleanly and started hitting them. MSU was rotating deep into its bench and it seemed like no one had a good answer defensively.
Tre Holloman got blown by and Carson Cooper and Sissoko were both being outrebounded. Even Malik Hall got beaten badly by Parker Fox - notably a guy who is mostly a bench player.
Michigan State kicked off a big run to retake the lead in large part because they started defensive rebounding. Minnesota was still getting shots up a bit too cleanly, but when they stopped hitting all of them the Spartans were ready to grab the rebound. After it being all Minnesota early on, the Spartans ended the half with a big advantage on the boards.
The second half saw Minnesota rediscover its dominance on the boards. Particularly against Mady Sissoko. It felt like the start of the game where Minnesota players were getting their hands on every missed shot. It gave Minnesota 7 second chance points in the first 24 minutes of action, to MSU’s 2. That advantage allowed Minnesota to keep the game near even.
The Spartans started to pull away once they could even up the rebounding again. Carson Cooper rotated in and things improved. Sissoko eventually returned and started rebounding with a vengeance. This led to a stretch of almost four minutes without a Minnesota basket.
Once Walker went out with a groin injury, Minnesota found new offensive life. Mostly over AJ Hoggard, Cam Christie went nuts from the three point line. His 4 of 5 shooting from deep helped Minnesota even up the score at 45 at the 8-minute media timeout.
Minnesota forward Pharrel Payne then started giving the Spartans problems. Late in the first half he was able to outmuscle MSU’s entire front court - including Malik Hall. His inside presence gave even more room to Cam Christie who hit big three after big three.
Michigan State simply could not get a stop when they needed it against Cam Christie. AJ Hoggard had one of his worst defensive performances in a long while (he was also pretty poor offensively). The result was big threes for the Gophers and a loss for the Spartans.
Beyond Cam Christie the Spartans were decent on defense by the stats. Minnesota scored only 59 points. Only two Gophers were in double digits. The biggest problem was the rebounding. Despite winning the rebounding battle for stretches, Minnesota outrebounded the Spartans in the end and definitely in key moments.
Defensive Grade: B-
Speed was the clear priority early in the game for the Spartans. After a few games where Michigan State’s transition game was disappointing, MSU came out looking to run and try early offense on every possession. Initially it worked very well with Tyson Walker getting loose for a transition three. On the next possession a Malik Hall rebound turned into offense as an unmarked Mady Sissoko sprinted down the court and slammed it down.
Transition continued to be the only real part of the Spartans game plan that was working midway through the first half. After the half court offense stagnated and Minnesota built a 7-point lead, Tyson Walker casually dribbled up the court in transition and drained a three. It’s an incredible luxury to have his skillset on the floor.
In the second half, pushing the ball turned into the most rare of Spartan occurrences this year - a back to the basket post bucket for a center. Carson Cooper sprinted down the floor, took a deep position in the lane, and was fed the ball before his defender really got set.
Beyond the Cooper play, Michigan State was unable to generate much transition offense for the first 15-minutes of the second half. Minnesota was hitting at a high shooting percentage, but even off the made shots, MSU was not getting any push.
MSU was credited with 10 fast break points to Minnesota’s 3. That was a slight advantage, but once again this phase of the game played a much smaller role in the outcome of the game than the Spartans want. The Spartans had an advantage in this phase of the game and were not able to exploit it enough to win.
Transition Grade: B-
Tom Izzo clearly wanted to get more people involved than he did against Maryland. Maryland played essentially a 7-man rotation with Cooper really the only non-starter to log significant minutes in the game. In this one, Holloman and Cooper were both off the bench before the 16-minute timeout. Jaxon Kohler was on the floor very quickly after that and even Coen Carr and Xavier Booker saw the court before the 9 minute mark.
Izzo looked like he might need his depth as particularly AJ Hoggard looked well off his game early on. At least two early turnovers and one more lost possession were attributable to the senior point guard. Izzo went to sophomore backup Tre Holloman, despite the Minnesota native looking a little overwhelmed on his first short stint in the game.
Izzo also showed some early faith in Xavier Booker. Booker got his longest stint in competitive time in recent memory, including coming back on the floor after the 8 minute media timeout. It was a mixed bag as Booker had a nice assist to Tyson Walker and drew a foul on the offensive end (hitting both free throws), while being a mile out of position and giving up a score on defense.
Izzo was able to give his starters a bit of rest, play his freshman a decent amount of minutes and have a half time lead. There are few combinations the coach loves more than that.
For the second game in a row, Tom Izzo largely rode his starters to start the second half. Other than switching in Carson Cooper for Sissoko, the remaining starting four: Hoggard, Walker, Akins and Hall played the first seven plus minutes of the second half. Walker was only replaced by Holloman after going down with what appeared to be a severe aggravation of his groin injury. That group built a 9-point lead.
Izzo rode his shortened lineup in the second half like he did against Maryland. The dedication to getting time for Kohler, Carr and Booker was gone in the second half. Cooper continued to rotate with Sissoko, but only Tre Holloman saw the floor beyond that from the bench.
Down the home stretch Izzo went with Carson Cooper in the closing lineup. Sissoko had struggled for long stretches of the game but he did have six rebounds. Until late in the game, Cooper only had 1. It was a bold call for sure going with Cooper late. Cooper looked like the better man to man defender, but the absence of Sissoko’s screening ability showed up on the offensive side. It contributed to Tyson Walker playing hero ball as the only way shots were created late in the game.
Cooper then missed a devastating rebound off of AJ Hoggard’s missed free throw. To make matters worse he was outrebounded by Cam Christie, a player he is 5 inches taller than. To make matters simply egregious, Cooper decided to foul Christie. This mini run of bad play by Cooper led to Izzo going with a small lineup for the final plays of the game.
Sissoko was struggling in this game, but Cooper was not exactly dominant. There should be questions for Izzo about what he saw in Cooper’s play that justified switching up his closing lineup in favor of the Sophomore. The gamble clearly did not work in this game.
The final choice made by the Spartans was either a bad call by Izzo or AJ Hoggard going freelance and making a poor choice. Neither reflect well on Izzo as even Hoggard going rogue is embarrassing when it’s your senior point guard.
AJ Hoggard decided to render the decision to pack the floor with shooters (Hoggard, Walker, Holloman, Akins and Hall) down three with 18 seconds left by driving the length of the floor and throwing up a terrible attempt at a floater. The decision made almost no sense strategically, was confounding with the personnel chosen to be on the floor and was executed embarrassingly poorly.
Izzo went deep into his lineup in the first half which should be applauded. The hard question is would the Spartans have been better if they’d limited that depth play in the first half to try and build a larger lead. The final lineup decisions were questionable at best. This leads to a generally poorly coached game.
Coaching Grade: C-
This was not a good performance. Teams tend to go as their point guard goes. AJ Hoggard looked out of sorts early on, never imposed his will on this game, and was beat defensively over and over again.
Add to that the most passive and non-factor game from Malik Hall in weeks and you have the recipe for a loss.
Worse, the Spartan Centers simply did not play well in this game.
Decent defense on everyone not named Cam Christie, Tyson Walker and some hot shooting from Jaden Akins cannot make up for all of those deficiencies.
This was a game the Spartans should have won, needed to win, and will regret losing. It also confirms MSU’s place as a middle of the pack team in the Big Ten. This loss will haunt them come seeding time for the Big Ten tournament and more importantly the NCAA Tournament.
Overall Grade: C-