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Big Ten Men’s Basketball Mid Season Check-In: Michigan State Spartans

Another Izzo turnaround in the making?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 30 Indiana State at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a couple days break for football bowl games (and travel), we are back to continue our mid-season check in series. Today it’s time to put Tom Izzo and the Spartans under the microscope and see how things have been going for Michigan State. As you may recall, back in November Michigan State was considered a top 5 team and national contender. How do things look now?

side note: I’m fairly certain I’m doing this one on my own since we lack a Michigan State writer at the moment and I put this out rather late for additional input from our other regular basketball writers. If you are a Michigan State fan and would like to contribute to OffTackleEmpire beyond posting in the comments, reach out to MNWildcat. He doesn’t hit us... very much.

Resume

Record: 8-5 (0-2)

Torvik: 10, KenPom: 20, Haslam: 8, NET: 29, AP: 32, Coaches: 28

*NOTE: we are listing Torvik rankings for opponents. This is because a) NET rankings suck in December and you really shouldn’t pay attention to them until February and b) Torvik is completely free (KenPom is not) and we prefer using Torvik to Haslam. Numbers as of January 2.

Wins: Baylor (23), Indiana State (47), Butler (53), Oakland (126), Stony Brook (229), Georgia Southern (315), Alcorn State (319), Southern Indiana (336)

Losses: James Madison (56), @Nebraska (51), N-Duke (24), Wisconsin (26), N-Arizona (4)

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 06 James Madison at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Michigan State started the season cold from three point range and it cost them in the loss column. None of their losses are inexcusable though. James Madison is still undefeated and a top 100 team. Arizona and Duke are probably national contenders. Wisconsin and Nebraska are going to be in the running to make the NCAA tournament and potentially make some noise if they get in.

Although Sparty has five losses early, they did get some value out of the non-conference thanks to the bludgeoning they gave then-undefeated Baylor. An unexpectedly good Indiana State team gave Michigan a stronger test than anticipated when the game was scheduled over the summer, but is also a solid victory for the resume.

Before I forget, I want to wish Michigan State freshman Jeremy Fears well as he recovers from a gunshot injury.

On pace for: At-large bid?

Oakland v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

The metrics are solid and Michigan State appears to have turned a corner after exam week. Despite some heartburn for Sparty fans during early December, Izzo appears that he will extend his tournament appearance streak. There is still some room for concern remaining. Due to the sheer quantity of losses already racked up, Michigan State probably needs to finish the Big Ten slate above .500 even with a couple of good non-conference wins in their pocket. An 18-14 record likely isn’t going to cut it during a down year for the Big Ten.

Biggest Surprises

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 23 Acrisure Invitational - Arizona at Michigan State Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

BoilerUp89: Hard to keep this section positive considering the record and preseason expectations for Michigan State, but I’ll say that Michigan State does a good job of scoring at the rim despite a lack of scoring options from their post players. The win over Baylor was shocking due to the manner in which they pulverized the Bears.

Biggest Disappointments

Oakland v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

BoilerUp89: The three point shooting may be the first thing that pops into your mind, but a) it’s up to a respectable 34% on the year after going 6.5% through the first two games and b) Michigan State lost a 46.1% shooter in Joey Hauser who helped tremendously with spacing in addition to being a volume shooter (167 three point attempts last season). Instead, the biggest disappointment for Michigan State has to be the lack of a reliable option at the center position. With the guards and wings that Izzo has at his disposal, Mady Sissoko and Carson Cooper don’t need to be great at the center spot, but they do need to be able to hold their own more than they have been. Too often, you can look at the box score and see that they got bullied on the boards in addition to being a black hole on offense.

Reasons for Optimism

Michigan State v Kansas State Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

BoilerUp89: Tom Izzo is still the head coach and Michigan State has found ways to get the guards and wings solid looks without involving the center position heavily. The shot selection has improved as the season has progressed. Tyson Walker is still an all-B1G level guard and playing at a high level. Walker has the ability to keep Sparty in any game.

Reasons for Concern

Michigan State v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

BoilerUp89: The shooting numbers of Malik Hall and AJ Hoggard has been a disappointment coming from the two seniors. The other main issue is that no amount of coaching is going to fix the black hole at the center position. It’s an issue at both ends of the court and likely caps the potential of this Spartans team. For a team that entered the season with national championship aspirations, those don’t appear reasonable at this time even if Michigan State has turned a corner.

Michigan State has also dug themselves a decent sized hole to open Big Ten play. While they are just 1 loss behind Purdue in the standings, they are already two losses behind other potential B1G contenders in Illinois and Wisconsin. Spotting teams an early multiple game lead in the standings is a poor method to winning the conference. If we set our sights lower and just consider what Sparty needs to accomplish to make the tournament, the 0-2 start also means they need to go 11-7 over the final 18 regular season games to finish at 11-9 in conference play and likely secure themselves a tournament bid.

MaximumSam: I know it’s on brand for Izzo, but it was pretty surprising to see such a veteran team look so rough early.

Remaining Schedule

Home: Penn State (100), Rutgers (91), Minnesota (84), Michigan (65), Maryland (112), Illinois (9), Iowa (70), Ohio State (21), Northwestern (67)

Away: Northwestern (67), Illinois (9), Maryland (112), Wisconsin (26), Minnesota (84), Penn State (100), Michigan (65), Purdue (2), Indiana (95)

BoilerUp89: Double plays remaining against Maryland, Penn State, Minnesota, and Michigan is a good way to rack up some victories. Single plays against Ohio State and Purdue limit the potential for quality wins as does being done with Nebraska and only having Wisconsin road game remaining. With this schedule, Michigan State may even need to go 12-8 in the Big Ten to hear their name on Selection Sunday. That’s a lot to ask considering the 0-2 start.

Poll

Michigan State will...

This poll is closed

  • 91%
    make their 26th consecutive NCAA tournament
    (51 votes)
  • 8%
    snap the streak
    (5 votes)
56 votes total Vote Now

Poll

The Spartans will...

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    win in March
    (9 votes)
  • 16%
    get a double bye in the BTT
    (9 votes)
  • 58%
    get a single bye in the BTT
    (31 votes)
  • 7%
    play on Wednesday night in the BTT
    (4 votes)
53 votes total Vote Now