This latest loss to the Illini has Tom Izzo and the Spartans losers in three of their last four contests. Since the Jan 25th loss to Michigan in the Breslin Center, this team has lost it’s identity. Izzo has done everything in his power to keep his team above water, but now with all his pieces back, a team once ranked No.1 in the country doesn’t even look like a team capable of cracking the Elite Eight come tourney time. For this team to make a tournament run that is accustomed to Michigan State Basketball, there are a handful of issues that need to be remedied.
Cut down on crucial turnovers:
One of Tom Izzo’s pillars of success has been keeping possession of the ball when it counts. With the arrival of Denzel Valentine, a certain flair has been added but that flair needs to be reined in. His vision is something this program hasn’t seen in decades but for every jaw dropping pass that Valentine makes, the next time down he makes a decision that leaves you scratching your head. But to blame it all on a sophomore is in no way fair. The Spartan’s back court has been suspect the last half of the season and hasn’t been that big of an issue until they dropped their home leg against the rival Wolverines. Since then Travis Trice, Keith Appling, and Gary Harris have almost seemed timid in driving to the basket late in games and when they don’t push the ball, they rely on heavy passing and that leads to turnovers at the worst times.
Feed the ball to the “Bigs”:
Adreian Payne will be the key for the Spartans to make a run in March. Averaging just over 16 points a game, he needs to get more involved in the offense. Payne has only scored 16 points in Michigan State’s last two games, both losses, and that needs to change. Payne’s presence down low gives defenders a big target to worry about and he is as good as any big man in the country in drawing fouls in the paint. With Matt Costello picking up the slack late in the season to the tune of just under five points and a shade over three rebounds a game, there should be no excuse in feeding these guys the ball as much as possible. When Payne gets on a roll and Costello hits timely shots when necessary, the Spartans are as hard to stop as any team in the nation.
Cut down on the three ball:
The Spartans have some of the best three point shooters in conference in Gary Harris, Travis Trice, and Kenny Kaminski. Which has led Izzo’s team to rely on the three ball way to much and way too early. In their Feb. 16 loss to Nebraska, the whole game was Michigan State trying to go toe-to-toe with Terran Petteway and Walter Pitchford from behind the arc. When Izzo went away from going inside and heaving threes, Nebraska was able to clamp down and neutralize the Spartans down low.
Defend the perimeter:
Defense is what Tom Izzo takes pride in with his team. Good defense leads to turnovers which leads to points. But the last month has seen the Spartans leave too many shooters wide open in the wing. In Michigan State’s last three losses they have left shooter after shooter all by his lonesome just waiting to hit a momentum killing three. They have let their opponents complete nearly 40 percent of their shots from three point range in their last three losses. You simply can not allow that and expect to have a successful March.
If Tom Izzo can get his team back into their early season form where they ran out to a 18-1 record, there is no reason Michigan State shouldn’t be looked at as a favorite to bring home it’s first national title since 2000.