Michigan State basketball must get back to basics of Spartan ball

EAST LANSING, MI - JANUARY 17: Brad Davison #34 of the Wisconsin Badgers drives to the basket and draws a foul from Aaron Henry #11 of the Michigan State Spartans at the Breslin Center on January 17, 2020 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
EAST LANSING, MI - JANUARY 17: Brad Davison #34 of the Wisconsin Badgers drives to the basket and draws a foul from Aaron Henry #11 of the Michigan State Spartans at the Breslin Center on January 17, 2020 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images) /

Michigan State basketball is entering its toughest stretch of conference play. What can the Spartans do in order to win some of these games?

Michigan State’s regular season is coming to a close and they are ending with one of the toughest four-game stretches in the country.

The Spartans play No. 20 Iowa at home then they travel to No. 7 Maryland. They stay on the road and head to No. 9 Penn State and end the season back at home against No. 25 Ohio State. This is going to either show how the postseason will go for the Spartans or will show us glimpses of hope to make a run in the big tournament come March.

If Spartans want to have any chance at winning these games, they need to get back to the basics of what Spartan basketball is all about. They need to show that toughness Tom Izzo preaches. Ball movement and defense are also vital parts of the basic formula for Spartan ball.

Toughness is something Izzo expects out of every one of his players throughout the season. This is a trait that you have to want, a trait which can be instilled in anyone and if you do not show this toughness to Izzo he will let you hear about it.

One way this toughness is shown in the game setting is getting physical on the glass. Izzo demands his players win the battle of the boards. These Spartans have fallen short of this in recent weeks.

This uncommon ability has been a season long mishap for these Spartans. If they want to show the country they really are the Big Ten’s best chance to bring home a championship come March, they will need to show toughness on the rebounding aspects.

Another metric in toughness is an ability to come back from being down and being able to finish games. The first part is something Michigan State has excelled at. In the last two weeks, the Spartans have lost on the boards leading their opponents to take a huge lead into halftime and beyond. The Spartans have been able to show toughness by grinding back into the game and either making it even or taking the lead with only a few minutes left. As soon as this has happened, they have fallen apart, made mental mistakes and ended up losing four of those five games.

They need to prove they have the ability to finish games on a high note before they will be recognized as contenders again.

Some of these mental mistakes which they have struggled with have been on the defensive side of the ball. They have become lackadaisical at times giving up big runs to their opponents all while not being able to produce offense digging themselves a bigger hole.

In their most recent loss against Maryland, they were down by as much as 19 before coming back and taking a seven-point lead. After this they loosened up on the defensive side of the ball and let Maryland go on a 14-0 run to end the game.

The Spartans need to show more of a tenacious defense if they want to be able to have a good postseason run. This includes their ability to defend the perimeter. Izzo knows the importance of being able to guard the perimeter and preaches it to his team consistently and yet they are not proving they have that ability. They are consistently getting caught going under screens instead of fighting through the screens to eliminate that space for the guards.

The Spartans need to show this toughness on defense and not letting their opponent command the game. Getting up in their face all while not using their hands to defend but using their feet. It’s all fundamental and these players know this. Izzo has been preaching this to his teams for two decades. These players just have to take that and translate it out onto the court. It only take one or two open looks for a shooter to gain confidence and the Spartans need to suppress that at all costs.

Lastly they have to get back to moving the ball. The Spartans are in the top 10 in the country in assists per game and yet there are a lot of times where they will run iso sets. These Spartans have the ability to excel when they get out and run, they dribble drive for the open kick out 3-pointer. They need to swing the ball around and inside to Xavier Tillman just for him to make a quick move or to kick it back out. Movement is important in any basketball program but for the Spartans it’s crucial.

In order to avoid a four-game losing streak to end the year, they need to continue to move the ball at a fast rate. Continue to share the ball and getting everyone involved. When the ball is moving, it’s easier for someone to emerge as the third scorer on the team. It is when there is no movement when it becomes the Cassius and Tillman show.

This team needs to get back to the basics of what defines them as Spartans. Izzo preaches these things to his players every year and every day at practice. It’s up to them to translate that toughness onto the floor. It’s up to them to bring the tenacity of a deadly Michigan State defense to the game. It’s up to these players to not get caught being lackadaisical and not moving the ball.

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This is what will lead to a strong end of the year run. This is what will lead to showing the country why they were ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls. They know these things they just have to go out and show them.