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Michigan State Basketball: Good, great, bad, and ugly from flat performance in Northwestern loss

A lot of bad and ugly in this one.

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Michigan State basketball
© David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball went six games giving us a hard time trying to identify what they did poorly. Sunday night wasn’t difficult. 

Michigan State basketball has shown us two different teams this year. One team looks as though they can challenge anyone in the country for a championship, and the other is destined for the NIT. On Sunday night, the Spartans were much more the latter against the Wildcats.

MSU always struggles against Boo Buie and Northwestern, they were labeled as Spartan killers back in December. 

On Sunday evening, MSU opened the game decently and went blow for blow with the Wildcats, who didn’t seem to be able to miss. Michigan State gave up its small lead with seven minutes remaining in the first half, and Northwestern capitalized, eventually taking a 15-point lead into the half. MSU would actually win the second half 43-42, but the damage was already done. Michigan State would fall to Northwestern 88-74, and 1-3 in Big Ten play. 

Let’s jump into the good, great, bad, and ugly from Michigan State’s loss.

Good: A.J. Hoggard

A.J. Hoggard was great on Sunday evening. Across the board, Hoggard was playing like the veteran that MSU needs. He went 3-for-9 from the field, 2-for-4 from deep, four rebounds, eight assists, and 13 points from the senior point guard. What isn’t reflected in the stat sheet was his ability to jumpstart Michigan State runs when they needed it most. Unfortunately, other supporting aspects didn’t come to fruition, and Michigan State was never really able to get the run it needed, but Hoggard was leading this team to do so when needed.

Hoggard has gotten a good amount of criticism over his last year or two but seems to have turned a corner over the last month and a half. Whether that can be tied to his increased 3-point shooting success or the emergence of a title-contending backcourt, he is taking advantage. He has now scored in double figures in 12 straight games, dating back to the Gavitt Tipoff game in November against Duke.

Over that course, he is also averaging over five assists, just two turnovers, and shooting 40 percent from three. 

Great: Three-point shooting

Even though Michigan State basketball dropped yet another game in Big Ten play, its recent three-point shooting success continued on Sunday evening. Going back six games to their loss against Nebraska, MSU is now shooting 44 percent from deep.

That is far and away better than the 27 percent from three throughout their first eight games. It was a known fact that, outside the shooting abilities lost when Joey Hauser turned pro, this team was still expected to be an elite 3-point shooting squad. They did not play like it to start the year, but things turned around in December for the Spartans. 

Michigan State continued to shoot the long ball extremely well on Sunday evening against Northwestern. They would finish the night shooting 47.4% from three. Almost 50 percent from deep is an excellent clip, especially when your best 3-point shooter, percentage-wise, Tre Holloman, did not aid in the shooting category. Jaden Akins, Hoggard, and Tyson Walker all shouldered the load from deep, hitting multiple threes and being the only Spartans to connect. That’s a lot to ask of your backcourt, but they did all they could to keep this game close.

Michigan State will need more out of some other guys from deep if they are to right this Big Ten title ship. More on that in a minute though. 

Bad: Turnovers and points off turnovers

Watching the game, it was apparent that Michigan State was not able to play its game against Northwestern. Michigan State loves to get the ball out and run, and not only were the Spartans unable to do so, but Northwestern did it repeatedly against them. The Wildcats were able to put a stop to most of MSU’s transition game, which was possibly due to their hot shooting night.

Nonetheless, the Spartans were forced to utilize a half-court offense, and they executed it terribly. Michigan State had turnover after turnover, eventually ending the game with 13. While this amount doesn’t tip the scale for most in a game by MSU this season, what became of those turnovers does. Northwestern had 21 points off of turnovers. In contrast, Michigan State only had two. 

Against a team that was already having a hot night from the field, allowing this many points off turnovers will bury you. Northwestern did a great job of having someone on the run immediately as a turnover was in process, leading to what Tom Izzo calls turnovers for touchdowns. There were multiple times Northwestern had a five-point swing, as the Spartans were in position to get a bucket, coughed the ball up, and the Wildcats hit a three down on the other end in transition — credit to Chris Collins and his squad for doing this so well against the Spartans.

Ugly: Power Forward Production

I mentioned above that the MSU backcourt played pretty well, especially from deep. In the +/- category, Akins struggled, but he still finished the night with 13 points and four rebounds.

Who really struggled for the Spartans was essentially any player rotating in at the four position. Coen Carr finished with zero points, two rebounds, one assist, and two fouls in his 12 minutes of action. Even during the time that Izzo went with a big lineup, MSU got no production. Xavier Booker had zero points and just one rebound. Yet somehow, Malik Hall had an even worse stat line than both of them.

Hall got the start against Northwestern and had one of the worst games I have seen in a long time. Playing 25 minutes, Hall finished with zero points, zero rebounds, zero assists, zero steals, zero blocks, two turnovers, and one foul. That is unacceptable from your most veteran guy on the roster. Hall has had a handful of great games in December. You know what he is capable of, and yet, he will have multiple, seemingly random games such as this one. If he contributes in any way whatsoever, MSU has a chance in this game. If this were a one-off game, I would tell Malik to shake it off and get back out there. But, again, he tends to disappear for games at a time. His random disappearances will end up sending Michigan State basketball home come March. 

Writer and contributor for Spartan Shadows. Tyler Dutton, a graduate of Michigan State, is a college and professional basketball specialist with over four years of experience writing on both the Spartans and Pistons.

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