Michigan State Spartans Evaluation: NCAA Tournament Ahead
If someone had said a few weeks ago that the Michigan State Spartans would beat Nebraska and Wisconsin and lose to Illinois and Maryland in their last few weeks of play, many people would have thought that person was kidding.
MSU vs. Illinois
After essentially securing a spot in the Big Dance just over a week ago with a Senior Night win against No. 16 Wisconsin, the Illinois game was not really a must-win for the Spartans, but more of an expected win. In the last few weeks, though, Illinois has become a potential tournament team after winning four of five games prior to beating MSU last Wednesday night. Turnovers continued to be an issue for Michigan State. After committing nine in the first 20 minutes, the Spartans still managed to get two baskets in a row after a steal by Alvin Ellis to cut Illinois’ lead to six heading into the second half.
Malcolm Hill led the offense for Illinois, finishing with 22 points as he played his final game at the State Farm Center. Freshman Miles Bridges of MSU finished just short of Hill with 21. This season has felt all over the place for Tom Izzo-led Spartans – they win games they aren’t expected to and lose ones they’re expected to win. Does this happen with most teams at some point or another in the season? Sure; look no further than previously undefeated Gonzaga handing their first and possibly only loss of the season to an unranked BYU team at home. Surprising things happen, but it seems that these things happen too often to Michigan State.
Is Too Much Youth a Problem?
This Spartan team is a young one, with three freshman starters – Ward, Bridges, and Langford – and another coming off the bench in Cassius Winston. The whole idea of having freshmen help lead a team isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself, as Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf of No. 3 UCLA prove. However, with four freshmen and a younger overall roster like Michigan State’s, inexperience is an issue. That, along with the very obvious lack of frontcourt depth, is why Michigan State will finish somewhere near the middle of the Big Ten and drop one spot down from last week to a projected 10 seed prior to Selection Sunday. Game in and game out, the team suffers from a lack of size. Then, whether it is turnovers, free throw shooting, or shot selection, another problem arises and the Spartans begin to struggle.
MSU vs. Maryland
There are some games that generally go well, such as Michigan State’s regular finale against Maryland on Saturday. It was a very close back-and-forth type of game, with the Spartans holding a slight 28-27 edge over the Terrapins at halftime. Michigan State’s only major issue in this game was foul trouble. The game ultimately came to a close after Melo Trimble sealed the deal with a three-pointer to give Maryland the 63-60 win.
Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament Ahead
The Spartans are set to play either Penn State or Nebraska on Thursday in the Big Ten Tournament, with their March Madness fate in the hands of the selection committee on Sunday. Although we can make predictions about which teams they will play and where they will end up in rankings, what we can’t predict is which Michigan State team will show up. Will it be the team that lets its small mistakes take over and get in the players’ heads, or will it be the confident, freshman-led Spartan team that builds off of its strengths and perseveres? Only time (and Tom Izzo) will tell.