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Michigan State basketball needs transition offense to become a factor

It’s about time the transition offense becomes a factor.

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Michigan State basketball
© Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Transition offense has been a staple of Michigan State basketball under Tom Izzo. That has not been the case this season.

Transition offense has been a staple of Michigan State basketball under Tom Izzo. That has not been the case this season, however.

Since 2011, MSU hasn’t shot less than 27.2 percent of its initial attempts in transition. In the 2019 and 2020 seasons, when Michigan State fielded a top-10 offensive efficiency, that number hovered around 33 percent. This season, that number is currently sitting at 22.7 percent, good for 287th in the country.

This difference is even more pronounced when examining the shot attempts after grabbing defensive rebounds and opponent-made baskets. After defensive rebounds, they take an attempt in transition only 35 percent of the time. After made baskets, that number drops to 13 percent.

In 2019 those numbers were 50 and 21 percent, respectively; in 2020, 56 and 17 percent, respectively.

Pushing the pace in transition creates higher-quality shot opportunities. The amount of mid-range jumpers taken has been one of the biggest complaints about the offense this year. Michigan State has taken more mid-range shots than all but two teams this season. This problem would be easily solved by pushing the ball in transition.

In transition, Michigan State is taking only 23.4 percent of its shots in the mid-range, while taking 37.4 percent of its shots at the rim and 39.2 percent of its shots from behind the arc. In the half-court, the Spartans’ mid-range percentage nearly doubles to 41.8 percent, while shots at the rim fall to 26.6 percent and 3-pointers sink to 31.6 percent. Somewhat surprisingly, their field goal percentage is nearly identical at all three locations in transition and in the half-court.

However, just by having a better shot selection, their eFG% goes up from 50.4 to 55.6.

Game analysis

The benefit of actively making the effort to push the transition offense was evident in the game against Ohio State. Michigan State had the chance to put the game away late, but they stopped pushing the ball in transition and allowed OSU to get back into it.

MSU only took seven opportunities in transition in the second half, and only took five shot attempts. This was after scoring 17 fast-break points in the first half.

Here I will be analyzing each of MSU’s transition opportunities in the second half:

(16:52): Jaden Akins runs the floor after a rebound and passes the ball to AJ Hoggard at the top of the key, who hits an open Joey Hauser in the corner. Hauser passes on the shot to hit Tyson Walker, who is all alone for a three at the top of key. Hauser is fouled on the pass, and the play is blown dead. The ball is on its way to Walker, and every OSU defender has his back turned. OSU gets away with one here.

(16:08): Hoggard pushes the ball up the court off an OSU make and immediately hits Mady Sissoko for a good look at the rim, who is fouled on the shot attempt.

(13:56): Walker gets a steal, drives to the rim for a contested layup, and misses wildly. Walker makes a bad decision here. He had three guys on him and could have passed to an open Akins for a much easier layup. Hauser was available for a trailing wide-open three as well.

(12:31): Walker runs the floor off a miss and takes it straight to the rim for a layup.

(8:27): Hauser gets the rebound and passes to a running Hoggard up the floor, who hits Walker for an open three in the corner, who misses, but no one is in position for OSU so MSU retains possession.

(6:08): Akins gets the rebound, runs the floor, and takes a contested mid-range jumper, which misses. He had Walker wide open in the corner, but it would be a tough cross-court pass. He also could have given the ball back to Hoggard at the top to start the offense.

(3:40): Mady Sissoko gets the board and passes to AJ Hoggard who runs the floor and draws a foul on the drive.

The outcome was positive on five of the seven opportunities, and there were open threes available on the other two. If MSU continues to push the pace in the second half the way they did in the first, this is likely a comfortable double-digit win.

Going forward

Michigan State basketball has been on an absolute heater from deep over the past couple of weeks. However, it is unlikely that it can depend on consistently shooting above 50 percent from deep in the tournament.

This team is fully capable of making a deep run, but it will likely have to come off the back of our guards pushing the ball in transition and consistently creating higher-quality shot attempts for their shooters.

When they push the ball, the outcomes are consistently positive. This team does not have any less ability to run than Izzo’s teams in the past, but they are hesitant to do it. If they can make the effort to run the floor consistently, this team could have an excellent chance of pushing to a Final Four, if they allow the offense to stagnate in the half-court, this team could once again be facing a first-weekend exit.

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