After losing to Minnesota in tragic fashion, here are four desperate fixes for Michigan State basketball moving forward.
After another frustrating Michigan State basketball road loss in the Big Ten on Tuesday night, Tom Izzo sounded like a man searching for answers. The Spartans have underwhelmed at every turn this season. As we’ve found out, the roster construction is flawed. They are overly reliant on Tyson Walker. They miss free throws. They don’t rebound. And to top it all off, they’ve been bad in late game situations.
But the season is not over. There is still a month left to turn things around.
We’ve seen MSU teams in the past find their footing late in the season. For that to happen though, there need to be changes made. Izzo has nobody left to be frustrated with but himself. We’ve seen very few adjustments to the lineups, minutes distribution, and coaching decisions late in games.
At this point in the season, the Spartans are who they are. It’s difficult to change your identity and correct your deficiencies on the fly. Rather than take corrective action, I’m going to suggest the Spartans focus on what they do well. Stop trying to become the team you dream to be and focus on becoming better at what you are.
Here’s what I’d suggest to Izzo – who I’m sure is reading.
1. Play small
We all know the strength of this Michigan State basketball team is in the backcourt. They are at their best when the guards are getting out in transition and hitting shots. MSU has struggled to find consistency at the center spot. Izzo is undoubtedly worried about rebounding and defense. But through 25 games, playing with a center in the game at all times, Michigan State is still a bad rebounding team. Between Carson Cooper and Mady Sissoko, we know MSU won’t be missing anything offensively.
Put Malik Hall at center with Coen Carr or Jaxon Kohler at power forward with the three guards. Yes, you’ll be giving up size on the boards. But you’re not getting rebounds with Sissoko or Cooper in the game anyway. This lineup also allows Carr to play more freely as the definitive fifth offensive option on the floor. I suspect his minutes have been capped because Izzo is worried about having his limited offensive game on the floor at the same time as Cooper and Sissoko. This lineup takes away that problem.
The Spartans have dabbled with this lineup at times this season. It worked pretty well against Wisconsin back in December when Carr played 17 minutes. It’s not a lineup that is sustainable for 40 minutes. Izzo will have to pick and choose his spots with it. But it also forces the opponent to adjust to what you’re doing. Sure, take your advantages on the boards. But it forces a decision on the other end to counter MSU’s speed and athleticism.
Again, we’re trying to play to the strength of the roster. MSU has good guard play with forwards who are limited offensively and struggle to rebound. Put your guards on the floor with your best scoring forwards and live with the idea of losing on the boards. You’re not winning that battle even with your center play.
2. Bring A.J. Hoggard off the bench
This point seems a little counterintuitive to point No. 1 but let me explain. I’m not calling for Hoggard to be benched altogether. Even with his struggles, the Spartans need him for his passing and scoring. I’m simply floating the idea of him sitting for the first 3-4 minutes of the game. Start Tre Holloman. Let AJ Hoggard watch the game and see what the opponent is doing. Ease him into the game.
We’re to the point with Hoggard where we need to be open to radical ideas. I know he’s a better player than what he showed Tuesday at Minnesota. He knows it, too. Hoggard has started every game but two the past two seasons. While he’s too important to have his overall minutes change, this shake up might be a wake-up call to him that ignites his swagger.
Hoggard is at his best when he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder. Coming off the bench could build in that adversity every night. His playing style could also be impactful because he’s not reliant on shooting to be effective. If Hoggard comes into the game fresh, his attacking and aggressive downhill style could be a punch in the mouth for defenses that are a little bit winded.
Maybe it wouldn’t work. We don’t know. But what we do know is that Michigan State’s long-term success this season rests on Hoggard’s shoulders. The Spartans need him to be an elite playmaker and facilitator. They have to find a way to get more out of him.
3. Embrace the 3-ball
If there’s one thing this Michigan State team does well, it’s shooting from deep. Tyson Walker, Jaden Akins, and Tre Holloman are all over 38 percent on the season. MSU is top 50 nationally in 3-point shooting percentage. However, they rank outside the top 300 in 3-point attempts per field goal attempt. They also get just 27 percent of their total points from deep, which is well below the national average of 30.4%.
Michigan State’s offensive efficiency metrics continue to plummet. Three-point shooting is their most redeeming quality. Embrace it. Give Walker and Akins the green light to pull it more often. So many times, it feels like the Spartans will pass up an open look early in the shot clock hoping for a better look that never comes. For this offense, any open look from a good shooter should qualify as a quality shot.
The Spartans simply don’t have the scoring punch in the front court to become the balanced offensive team they want to be. MSU has also proven to be a dreadful free throw shooting team. Playing in the paint increases the chances of getting to the line. The Spartans haven’t been able to cash in on those opportunities. The 3-point shot is the greatest equalizer in basketball. Lean into the 3-point variance and let it fly.
4. Play Xavier Booker
This is pretty simple. I understand that Xavier Booker is still adjusting to the speed and physical nature of the Big Ten game. I understand that he’s going to make some mistakes and drive the coaches crazy. But at what point does it become unfair to Booker to bench him for his mistakes while allowing others to play through their own?
I’m not at practice. I don’t see the daily work that goes on. I can only see what happens during games. But from what I’ve seen, Michigan State basketball is no worse off with Booker in the game than they are with the other three big men. In fact, given his ability as a shooter, you could argue they’re better offensively.
I’m not calling for him to play 35 minutes. But by default, he’s earned the chance to play more than three. It’s a different conversation if the players ahead of him were producing or the team was winning. Neither is happening. Put him in the game and see what happens. This thing is going nowhere as constructed.
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