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Michigan State basketball: The great, good, bad, and ugly from Nebraska win

There was a lot of good and great in MSU’s win over Nebraska.

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Michigan State basketball
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

After a near perfect first half, Michigan State basketball wins its fifth straight game against a solid Nebraska team.

Continuing with its five-game home stretch, Michigan State basketball invited the Nebraska Cornhuskers to Breslin on Tuesday night.

Nebraska came into this matchup on a two-game winning streak, while also taking the consensus No. 1 team in the Big Ten, Purdue, into overtime. The Spartans, themselves coming off a great non-conference win against Buffalo, put together one of the best first-half performances in quite some time.

For the Spartans, just about everything was going right in the first half. After suffering a slight wrist injury Friday night, Tyson Walker proved it was only a slight inconvenience as he poured in 16 of his 21 points in the first half. To put this red-hot performance in perspective, the Cornhuskers, as a team, only had 17 going into halftime. Even though Nebraska is not a high scoring team, that should not take away from Walker’s impressive feat.

Despite a small surge to begin the second half, the Spartans handled business and gain as much momentum as they could going into the weekend clash with the Wolverines.

Here is the great, good, bad, and ugly from the Spartans victory over the Cornhuskers.

Great: Michigan State’s ball movement

MSU had multiple possessions that were extremely short in length, some as short as just three to four seconds, and yet, four Spartans touched the ball. The ball movement, at times, was so clinical that the Cornhuskers were not even aware who had the ball, leading to uncontested shots.

Basketball is a game of energy, and effective ball movement equals energy. More often than not, the team with the most energy will find that the basket begins to look like a hula-hoop. Michigan State was the beneficiary of this tonight, finding themselves with countless wide-open 3-point attempts, or simple mid-range jumpers.

Multiple Spartans got in on the energized passing/scoring offensive performance, finishing as a team with 24 assists on 31 made field goals.

Good: Jaxon Kohler

While Mady Sissoko played the better big man game tonight, finishing with 10 rebounds and three blocks, Jaxon Kohler deserves credit as well. Putting together the best performance of his young Spartan career, Kohler finished with 10 points (5-for-5) in 15 minutes.

Continuing a season long trend thus far, Kohler showed his above average shooting touch in the mid-range. Utilizing smooth turnaround jumpers while also simply squaring up and letting go, Jaxon made the Cornhuskers respect him outside the paint. Along with the offense supplied, Jaxon also contribution to the infectious energy Michigan State displayed throughout the game.

Even with struggling on defense, a game like this from the young center is a great sign of things to come.

Bad: Free throw attempts

In what has proven to be one of the more difficult tasks for this Michigan State offense, free throw attempts were, again, extremely low. Just attempting six total free throws, Michigan State was unable to get fouls called. While this could be contributed to the extremely efficient shooting performance in the first half, there were plenty of opportunities during the second half to get the ball down low, and attack Nebraska’s big men.

On top of the possibly adding to their lead, Michigan State would have benefitted from getting senior big man Derrick Walker in foul trouble. Walker led the Cornhuskers with 15 points, playing 29 minutes.

Rotating the ball down low and forcing opposing centers/forwards into foul trouble is going to be paramount as Michigan State moves deeper into Big Ten play.

Ugly: Inability to defend the paint, allowing multiple and-one opportunities

Nebraska managed to put together a second half comeback of sorts thanks in hand to their efforts below the rim. With the outside shots not falling for the Cornhuskers, just 2-for-16 from three, the Big Red relied on the drive and look for the foul method.

Doing so actually began to work for Nebraska, as the Spartans were called for six and-one fouls.

Nebraska had a difficult time converting on the three-point opportunities, but by safe to say MSU was playing with fire. Players are often coached that if you find yourself out of position and forced to foul, make sure the defender is not able to get a decent shot up.

One can assume this will be a point of emphasis for Michigan State basketball in practice this week.

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Michigan State basketball: 3 quick thoughts from lifeless loss vs. Rutgers

This was an ugly loss.

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© Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball was unable to pick up a Quad 1 win on Saturday afternoon against a solid Rutgers team.

After almost a whole week to prepare for Rutgers, Michigan State basketball looked lost and completely overmatched in the final minutes of the game to surrender an eight-point second-half lead and lose by six, 61-55.

There’s no way a break like that should have resulted in the poor shooting and lazy turnovers that we saw on Saturday afternoon from the Spartans at Madison Square Garden.

But unfortunately, that was all we saw.

Michigan State was controlling the game for the first 20-25 minutes like it usually does but then it had a stretch in which it couldn’t score and Rutgers reeled off nine straight points. That was the difference in this game. Then Michigan State cut it to two, 46-44, but then allowed five straight points as they couldn’t seem to defend without fouling.

The Spartans now drop to 6-6 in conference play and 14-9 overall. It’s time to make a serious push toward an NCAA Tournament berth because these losses are piling up.

Here are a few of my thoughts on the Michigan State basketball loss.

1. Dry spells after building leads are killing this team

Think about the last 4-5 losses Michigan State has suffered. What do all of them (outside of the Purdue loss in West Lafayette) have in common? Michigan State had a decent lead in each one of them and was controlling the game before going on long dry spells.

At Illinois, Michigan State was up nine points in the second half before collapsing. At home against Purdue, the Spartans had a four-point lead with under four left before losing. Michigan State led Indiana by nearly 10 on the road before falling apart in the second half. And on Saturday afternoon, the Spartans were up eight in the second half before giving up a big Rutgers run. That’s a trend that has to be concerning.

Michigan State could very well have 4-5 more wins but these dry spells are killing it.

2. This was probably the worst game of Malik Hall’s career

Malik Hall is going to want to burn the tape from this one.

After missing the first matchup with Rutgers, Hall finally got a chance to face the Scarlet Knights and he probably wishes he didn’t. He did have 13 rebounds and was a monster on the glass, but he turned it over three times and was 1-for-9 from the floor. And his defense on Paul Mulcahy late in the game was mediocre, at best.

Hall will want to forget this one but it’s good to get this ugly game out of the way now.

3. Too much timid play

It was apparent from the start that Michigan State basketball was being passive on offense. AJ Hoggard would drive to the hole and instead of finishing strong, he’d pass it out to a covered guy or throw it away. He had five turnovers to just two assists because he was unsure of himself and way too passive and indecisive.

Tyson Walker passed up some open shots, Jaden Akins did, too, and Pierre Brooks should have gotten more shots up but you can tell he’s just afraid to miss at this point. He did, however, have one of his best games in weeks so that’s a good sign.

No more timid play as it leads to turnovers, shot clocks being melted down, and bad shots.

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Michigan State basketball: Key factors and a prediction vs. Rutgers

Will MSU squeak out a win at MSG?

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© Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball will head to Madison Square Garden for a huge matchup with a pesky Rutgers team on Saturday.

Michigan State basketball and Scarlet Knights will meet for the second time this season at the world’s most famous arena in New York City. Michigan State won the first matchup in East Lansing 70-57.

Let’s discuss what will be important in round two.

1. The three-ball

The first matchup between these two teams on Jan. 19 was a great example of how the three-point shot can be the great equalizer in basketball. MSU and Rutgers shot 42 percent from two while turning it over 10 and 11 times, respectively. Rutgers shot eight more free throws and committed five fewer fouls.

The Scarlet Knights abused the Spartans on the glass – 42-34. Yet, Rutgers lost by double digits because Michigan State hit 12 3-pointers compared to just two for Rutgers. It’s hard to win when you get outscored 36-6 from the 3-point line. This is a Rutgers team that struggles to shoot the ball, converting just 32.7 percent of their 3-point attempts on the season.

Believe it or not, though, Michigan State may have had something to do with that performance earlier in the season. The Spartans currently lead the Big Ten in 3-point shooting defense. Opponents are making just 29.6 percent of their attempts against MSU. So, while that terrible shooting performance from Rutgers is likely an outlier, the Scarlet Knights shouldn’t expect to see a vast improvement.

Michigan State, meanwhile, is very reliant on shooting well to score. Three-point shooting percentage is about the only thing MSU has going for it from an offensive metrics standpoint. Keep in mind, this Rutgers defense currently ranks second in America in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rating. Baskets will be hard to come by for MSU. It’s not simple enough to say, “whoever makes more threes will win,” but Rutgers will need to make more than they did on Jan. 19.

Conversely, for a struggling offense, Michigan State probably needs to hit as many – if not more – than they did in round one to come away with a victory.

2. Can Michigan State rebound?

As noted, Rutgers dominated the glass in the first matchup. Because the Rutgers offense generates a lot of missed shots, there are going to be plenty of chances for rebounds. This is a classic “something’s gotta give” scenario. Rutgers is second in the Big Ten in offensive rebound percentage, while Michigan State ranks second in defensive rebounding percentage. So it’s not surprising to see how well Rutgers rebounded in the first game.

It was surprising to see Michigan State give up so many offensive rebounds.

The Spartans should find some comfort in knowing that Malik Hall did not play on Jan. 19. His return should help on the glass. But they still have to be really concerned with Cliff Omoruyi and Caleb McConnell. The two combined for nine offensive boards. They can also do it from different areas on the floor. Omoruyi is going to bang down low in the post while McConnell is going to come crashing in from the perimeter. Neither is a particularly skilled offensive player, so second-chance points are where a lot of their production is going to come from. MSU’s ability to keep those two off the offensive glass will go in tandem with Rutgers’ ability to score.

Jaxon Kohler came up huge in the first meeting, scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. It’s unlikely that Kohler can be as efficient as he was from the field (6-for-8 shooting), but Michigan State will absolutely need him to be as aggressive as he was rebounding. He and Mady Sissoko will be tasked with keeping Omoruyi in check.

3. Balance

These two teams are very similar in terms of their reliance on the collective over an individual. Both teams obviously need their best players to play well. But neither team is extremely reliant on one guy to carry them. For both teams, any number of guys has the potential to be that go-to guy in the second half.

We saw it in the first meeting when Michigan State got an unexpected game out of Jaxon Kohler.

It would not surprise any MSU fans to see A.J. Hoggard, Tyson Walker, Malik Hall, or Joey Hauser lead the team in scoring. For Rutgers, it’s a similar story with Omoruyi, Cam Spencer, Aundre Hyatt, or Paul Mulcahy. Both teams are at their best when they’re getting contributions from everyone, on both ends of the floor. Because of that, I think the coaching in this game is going to be crucial. Both coaches are going to have to recognize who has an advantage and who is playing well. They’re going to have to manage minutes in what should be a very physical game that will be littered with whistles.

The fact that I don’t give an edge to either coach in this matchup should say how much respect Steve Pikiell has earned. He’s taken a program that couldn’t sniff the NIT and turned them into a legitimate Big Ten force that should see consistent NCAA tournament bids.

Prediction

The projected line for this game is Rutgers -5, with a low total of 125. Michigan State got a huge break from the schedule gods for avoiding a trip to Jersey Mike’s arena. It ranks as the ninth-best home-court advantage in the country according to KenPom. Because of MSU’s alumni base, and the game being on a Saturday, this should be a true neutral site game. That’s significant because Rutgers has won just two games away from home this season.

Because of that, I’d expect this line to move toward MSU. I can’t see Rutgers giving any more than 3 or 3.5 by the time this game tips off.

I like Michigan State to cover the number and win this game outright for two reasons. First, Malik Hall. The Spartans didn’t have him the first go around and his presence should be crucial from an offensive and rebounding perspective. Second, turnovers. Michigan State’s guard play has made them less susceptible to turnovers this season. It’s a Rutgers defense that relies on turnovers for transition opportunities.

Offensively, the lack of a true point guard has Rutgers turning the ball over on 18 percent of its possessions in conference play. Tyson Walker, Jaden Akins, and A.J. Hoggard are good enough defensively to exploit this weakness.

As long as Michigan State can win the turnover battle and clean up their rebounding, I think they can steal a few extra possessions and hit enough shots to squeak out a win.

Final Score: Michigan State: 64, Rutgers: 62

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Michigan State Basketball: Transfer portal misses and what could have been

This team could have definitely been helped by a transfer or two.

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Michigan State basketball
© Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s no secret that Michigan State basketball is lacking in transfer portal participation. This Spartan team is worse off because of it.

The college basketball landscape is different than it was 10, even five years ago. College players can now transfer whenever, wherever, with no threat of having to sit out for a year. Some programs have used this new landscape to the fullest, see Illinois or LSU. Michigan State basketball, however, falls in the camp of programs that, for better or worse, have thus far decided to mostly stick with their high school recruits and bypass the transfer portal.

Even with the massive success stories that are transfer guard Tyson Walker and forward Joey Hauser to go along with the obvious lack of an above-average center, Tom Izzo and Co. did not add any top-tier transfers. Fans will never know the behind-the-scenes effort put into corralling a transfer player this offseason, if there was any. Because of that, it is unfair to place all blame on the Spartan staff.

Whether you agree with the loyalty shown to original recruits or attacking the portal, there were a few transfer targets the Spartans were linked to.

Let’s take a look at the potential transfer targets Michigan State basketball either went after or should have gone after this past offseason.

Jalen Bridges, SF — transferred from WVU to Baylor

Potential lineup:

PG: A.J. Hoggard
SG: Tyson Walker
SF: Jalen Bridges
PF: Joey Hauser
C: Mady Sissoko

Jalen Bridges was an actual target for the Spartans after he announced he would be transferring from his hometown school, West Virginia. Admittedly, the addition of Bridges would not have corrected the lack of a true big on the Spartans’ roster. Bridges stands 6-foot-8, the same listed height as Malik Hall. However, with the constant injury bug that Hall has experienced this season, Jalen would have been a great addition.

Citing two separate seven-game losing streaks as his reason for transferring to Baylor, Bridges is averaging just under 10 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Bridges is essentially a slightly less offensively gifted Hall, with a more apparent rebounding and defensive game. That would be a welcome addition to any contending team, whether they are starting or simply as a depth piece.

Micah Parrish, SF — transferred from Oakland to San Diego State

Potential lineup:

PG: A.J. Hoggard
SG: Tyson Walker
SF: Jaden Akins/Micah Parrish
PF: Joey Hauser
C: Mady Sissoko

The other player MSU was reportedly physically linked to was Detroit native, Micah Parrish.

Going to River Rouge High and then a post-grad year at Hillcrest Prep, the 6-foot-6 Parrish committed to the Oakland Grizzlies. After averaging double digits and over 46 percent from three in conference play as a sophomore for Greg Kampe, Parrish chose to enter the transfer portal, eventually committing to the San Diego State Aztecs.

Whether it be more difficult competition in a larger conference, or he is still becoming acclimated to the Aztecs, Parrish has seen a slight decline in play. Putting up 7.5 points with just 0.6 assists per game, Micah is currently coming off the bench for SDSU. It can be assumed he would have done the same with the Spartans, which would have made him a nice asset as MSU navigated the Akins and Hall injuries.

Fardaws Aimaq, C — transferred from Utah Valley to Texas Tech

Potential lineup:

PG: A.J. Hoggard
SG: Tyson Walker
SF: Jaden Akins
PF: Joey Hauser
C: Fardaws Aimaq

While Fardaws Aimaq was never linked to MSU, he was a clear candidate to fill our need for an offensively gifted center. Starting his collegiate career at Mercer, he moved to Utah Valley University and earned the honor of Riley Wallace Player of the Year as the top transfer.

While playing for the Wolverines, Aimaq became the first player in UVU history to earn both WAC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year and WAC Men’s Basketball Defensive Player of the Year. During his best season at Utah Valley, Fardaws averaged 19 points and 14 rebounds and shot the rare, yet efficient, three-ball at a 44 percent rate.

Eventually coming by way of Utah Valley, Fardaws was somewhat under the radar to many casual college basketball watchers. The major concern with Aimaq would obviously be the large step up in competition from the Western Athletic Conference to the Big Ten. He would eventually transfer to Texas Tech, where his debut was put on hold after breaking his foot back in September. After some speculation on possibly transferring once again from Texas Tech due to team doctors rushing him back from his foot injury, Fardaws put the rumors to rest and has appeared in three games this season.

Though just a small sample size, he is averaging 10 points and 6.7 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from deep, which would be nice for the green and white.

Manny Bates, C — transferred from NC State to Butler

Potential lineup:

PG: A.J. Hoggard
SG: Tyson Walker
SF: Jaden Akins
PF: Joey Hauser
C: Manny Bates

Similar to Fardaws, it was never confirmed that Michigan State was in direct contact with Manny Bates. He was, however, a popular suggestion as someone who could easily be plugged into the Spartans’ starting lineup and elevate this team.

A consensus four-star recruit in high school, Bates had a fantastic career at NC State before transferring to Butler. Before leaving, he was on pace to break the program record for both shots blocked as well as field goal percentage.

Playing at Butler, Bates is averaging 12 points and six rebounds per game. Having two years of eligibility with Bates would allow Mady Sissoko to be relegated to the bench, Jaxon Kohler to provide sparing minutes for experience, and Carson Cooper to redshirt, as was the plan this season.

Acquiring Bates or Aimaq would have been the best-case scenario for this past offseason.

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